Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
If they were playing in the softer Eastern Conference, the Denver Nuggets -- led by Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby -- might really be flying high. As it is, though, they aren't doing too bad (first in the NBA West's Northwest Division), and much of the credit goes to no-nonsense coach George Karl, who hasn't posted a losing NBA season in fourteen years and who has a knack for turning struggling franchises around. After Karl took over from Jeff Bzdelik at mid-season last year, the revived Nuggets went on a 32-8 tear, winning 19 of 20 at the Pepsi Center before falling to the eventual world-champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. This year? The team still lacks a reliable outside shooter, but if Karl has anything to say about it, the Nuggets won't lack for toughness as the season winds down.
Denver is one of America's great sports cities, in large part because the majority of the fans here are much less abusive than their peers in other towns. As evidence, consider the incident that took place at the February 8 game between the Denver Nuggets and the Chicago Bulls: High-priced forward Kenyon Martin was sitting out yet another game with a sore knee, and when a man yelled something at him, he sent a pal into the stands to express his displeasure. But as it turned out, the offending remark -- "Suit up, you chump!" -- had to be one of the mildest insults in NBA history. Not only did the line make K-Mart's over-the-top response look even more idiotic, but it captured the polite restraint of Denver fans. And if you don't agree, you're a chump!
The Montbello Warriors may have fallen to the mighty East High Angels when the two basketball powerhouses clashed this winter, but when it came to school spirit, Montbello blew East right out of the arena. East's meager handful of cheerleaders were no match for the all-out battalion of Warriors at the opposite end of the floor: all eighteen of the school's silver-clad cheerleaders, various horn-playing troubadours from the marching band and, of course, the knockout-punch line of drummers, who flipped their sticks and danced in the bleachers with more zeal than that of any Nick Cannon flick. "This is my first full year at Montbello High School," explained cheerleading coach Andrea Mathes-Dynes. "The cheerleaders and the spirit club, they don't just represent the high school, they represent the community itself. Our hope is that the region can look at us and say, 'Hey, they're not just Mont-ghetto, they're a real school.' It's about getting that old Montbello spirit back." By bringing the whole crew out for every home football and basketball game and as many away games as possible, Mathes-Dynes, the cheerleaders and the spirit club might do just that.
The most nimble, most entertaining mascot in professional sports, Rocky the Mountain Lion has won this award so often that we might have to retire the trophy -- or at least provide the high-leaping, slam-dunking feline with the lightning-bolt tail a lifetime supply of Meow Mix. Even NBA refs love Rocky, as evidenced by their tolerance of his comic hectoring and anti-authoritarian hijinks. A Western Conference title would suit this all-time all-star just fine; he'd be sure to drain a couple of rainbows from half-court.
When versatile, multi-sport broadcaster Drew Goodman -- now in his sixth year with the Rockies -- calls a baseball game, you don't get flash or fulmination or partisan outbursts. You get good, solid reporting, well-grounded in fresh facts and delivered in the modulated, New York-accented tones of an old pro. After all, this is a man who used to double as the TV voice of the Denver Nuggets, working more than 190 games per year between hoops and baseball. The young Rox may lose ninety-plus games again this year, but Goodman's a clear winner -- not least when he greets with diplomatic silence the cackling inanities of his "color man," ex-relief pitcher George Frazier.
That Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets' third-year shooting star, was left off the 2006 All-Star roster was a travesty commented upon even by NBA commish David Stern. The seventh-leading scorer and sixth-best foul shooter in the league, 21-year-old Melo may still toil in the shadow of his even more famous 2003 draft-mate, Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James, but for the Nuggets, the 6'8" forward out of Syracuse is the one essential building block for a solid future.