ATLANTA -– The Cleveland Cavaliers have added a new team member for their playoff run, and his name, or its name, depending on your perspective, is Lil’ Kev.
Who, or what, is Lil’ Kev? First we go to Richard Jefferson, the creator and now guardian for the newest character in the Cavs’ locker room.
“Lil’ Kev, man, he’s a wild one,” Jefferson said before Cleveland's shootaround Friday morning in Atlanta. “He’s a wild one. Everybody’s got like, alter egos. You’ve got Kobe [Bryant]; he’s the Black Mamba. You got [Michael] Jordan; obviously Air Jordan. You got LeBron [James]; and you got King James. So, you know, you got Kev [Kevin Love] and you got Lil’ Kev.
“Lil’ Kev, he’s special.”
What Lil’ Kev is, literally, is a Tommy Bahama advertisement that was ripped out of an in-flight magazine by Jefferson when the Cavs were flying back from Detroit after their first-round sweep of the Pistons.
Jefferson thought the model in the ad bore a striking resemblance to Love.
“We saw Lil’ Kev in a magazine and we just started giving Big Kev a lot of crap, even though it’s not him,” said Jefferson. “It’s not him and that makes it even funnier.”
The name, Jefferson says, is inspired by Love’s recent State Farm commercial, in which he plays a prepubescent boy as part of a fictional family sitcom, “The Hoopers,” also starring DeAndre Jordan as the mom, Kevin Garnett as the grandpa, Chris Paul as the dad and Damian Lillard as the baby.
“We were messing with Kev and we ripped it out [from the magazine] and we started doing stuff with it,” Jefferson explained. “From there, I just kept the paper and just started doing weird s--- with it.”
On the flight, the ad got passed around and several players held it up in front of their face while breaking out their best Love impression.
Jefferson has featured some more escapades with Lil’ Kev on his Snapchat account, RJeff24, where he has posted behind-the-scenes videos with the Cavs since January. Among Jefferson’s more popular snaps was one of Kyrie Irving recently participating in the “Running Man Challenge,” and back in March, a video of LeBron James eating a banana in the locker room when James, upon seeing Jefferson’s phone pointed at him, broke into improv and pretended he was a reporter asking him, “Why are you eating a banana, LeBron? Does that mean you’re going to slip on a banana peel out of Cleveland?”
“He’s becoming the little Snapchat king now,” said Tristan Thompson. “I guess when you’re old, that’s the way to keep up with the young fellas.”
Jefferson’s Snapchat followers have picked up on the joke, sending him photos with their own printouts of Love’s face with messages like, “Just hanging with Lil’ Kev, drinking a beer.”
Last week, when carpooling with Channing Frye and Love to a team dinner in between the first and second rounds of the playoffs, Jefferson gave Lil’ Kev the front seat in his car and made the 6-foot-11 Frye sit in the back.
“What happened was Channing wanted me to go to his house,” Jefferson said. “I was like, ‘Channing, just Uber to my house’ because I live closer to the freeway and then we were going to Kevin’s house. He was like, ‘Nah, just come pick me up.’ And so, I put Lil’ Kevin in shotgun to make Channing get in the back.
“We were going to Actual Kevin’s house, and for that ride Channing had to sit in the back because of Lil’ Kev.”
Said Frye: “I think it’s funny. I think it’s something that brings us together as a team. Lil’ Kev is an integral part of what we’re doing. He’s the guy from behind the scenes.”
The team's new ritual is reminiscent of the children’s book “Flat Stanley,” that encourages kids to read and write by mailing a paper cutout of a figurine named Flat Stanley to a friend or family member, who will in turn take a photo with him -- often in front of a famous landmark or cityscape -- and return it to the child with a letter. A similar activity was featured in the film “Up in the Air.”
“It’s just fun,” said Thompson. “It’s just us enjoying being around each other. We’re with each other more than we’re with our families, so great times, laughs, s---- and giggles with your teammates makes the whole process even sweeter. It’s just us being a family, that’s all it is. Being with your brothers.”
Lil’ Kev has already undergone a facelift, as the magazine page was laminated to give it more durability for all the gags that Jefferson has planned for it.
“Well, you know what, he was getting a little banged up and I was like, if he’s going to go the distance, you got to take care of your body,” Jefferson said with a smirk. “You know what I’m saying? Like, that’s really what it is at the end of the day. Like, we do a lot of stretching. ... It’s about taking care and preserving your body and Kev, once things started progressing, he decided he wanted to take care of his body and wanted to laminate himself.”
When asked who embarked on the ridiculous task of actually taking Lil’ Kev to a photocopy store for lamination, Jefferson declined to comment.
“I feel like you’re getting a little personal into Lil’ Kevin’s life,” he said. “We like to keep things basketball related.”
And as long as the basketball continues for the Cavs this postseason, Lil’ Kev is bound to be there.
“Lil’ Kevin is in Atlanta right now, as we speak,” Jefferson said Friday. “Lil’ Kevin goes everywhere. He’s a part of the team; you know what I’m saying? We’re hoping we can get a double-double out of him. ... We’re excited. Lil’ Kev goes out, he goes out at night with us. Team functions. Like, he is the alter ego. He’s there.
“He’s an important part of our group and what we got going on here and we’re going to really need him to do some big things down the stretch.
After talking to ESPN.com about Lil’ Kev, Jefferson posted a new exchange with Love on his Snapchat account Friday afternoon.
“RJ, I hear that you’re Snapchat famous now,” Love said.
“No, no, no,” Jefferson responded. “Lil’ Kev is Snapchat famous. I’m just his outlet.”