For a brief period in 1993, my mother was unabashedly in love with Karl Malone. I can recall her going on about "what pretty eyes he had" and how impressive his shoulders were. When she spoke of Malone, it wasn't hard to see that same teenybopper who'd traveled from her home town of Richmond to Baltimore just to see Paul McCartney in person. And there wasn't a thing my dad could do about my mom's crush.
What could any man do? If Karl Malone walks into your house and tells you that from now on your woman is his, your only recourse is to wish the two well, offer to make Malone a sandwich and hope he's kind enough to leave you an autograph. Come to think of it, my mom's affinity for basketball players in general was quite strong that season. My family had purchased a 14-Game-Fan-Plan for the Denver Nuggets, and I remember her dragging me to an electronics outlet for an in-store signing by Bryant Stith, a player from Virginia, and also to the team store to meet Brian Williams -- the Nugget who later changed his name to Bison Dele and disappeared so mysteriously in the South Pacific. Thing is, as my mother continued to shower adoration on those hoopsters, they continued to win. The Nuggets went 42-40 that season, made the playoffs for the first time in a minute and then upset the Seattle SuperSonics, with Dikembe Mutombo clutching the basketball in a heap on the floor and wailing incoherently in one of the 67 languages he could barely speak.
The fact that the Nuggets went on to lose the next playoff series that season to the Jazz, a team that featured Karl Malone, only further proved the correlation: My mother's love of Malone was stronger than her love of the Nuggets, so Malone won.
Looking back, I can clearly see the effect of my mother's adoration on an athlete's on-court score -- and it is with this in mind that I humbly beseech her to get back on the Nuggets bandwagon. I know you haven't been paying attention much this season, Mom -- not even after I cornered you in the kitchen and explained to you how Allen Iverson coming to town was perhaps Denver's biggest sports acquisition since John Elway, hallowed be thy name -- but now, after the Nuggets straight-up out-balled San Antonio in game one of the playoffs Sunday night, I am writing to say that this team, nay, this city, needs you, Mom. And I think I have just the man to get you excited about the game again. His name is Nene.
He's a monster, Mom! For years the Nuggets have been saying this guy is going to be big -- maybe even the next Karl Malone! -- but there were always injuries and other setbacks, and many fans wondered why he wasn't dangled as trade bait. But now everyone is seeing what the Nuggets management knew all along. Nene slimmed down by nearly forty pounds over the course of the season, and all of a sudden it's like we've unleashed this beast -- except this beast has soft hands and can glide through the air like a flying squirrel, and I don't need to tell you how agile those things are; you work at the zoo.
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And he's Brazilian, Mom, so if you support him and the Nuggets continue to win, it will bring me that much closer to achieving my fantasy, which goes like this: The Nuggets make the NBA finals, and all of the Brazilian stars start trickling into Denver to watch their compatriot ball on the world's biggest stage. Ronaldinho is here, and so is Ronaldo -- irrevocably nicknamed "Cheeseburger and Fries" by What's So Funny correspondent Monty after the soccer star showed up overweight to the last World Cup -- and after the Nuggets win the championship, the Brazilian boys are left wondering what to do. Then Ronaldinho -- who in this fantasy is a prolific monitor of local media -- learns of my fondness for international soccer and moves the entire samba show to my house, where we have a Brazilian churrascaría barbecue and a bunch of Brazilian girls show up, and it's an all-out rager, Mom, and then who should show up at the party but Allen Iverson himself, kissing a championship ring and sipping champagne out of a bejeweled goblet, and then Iverson will see what a great party I'm hosting, and he'll issue me an all-time invitation to roll with his posse, and I'll be like, "Fuck, yes, son, long as we don't have to have no practice. Practice? You all talking about practice?" and then everyone will die laughing, Mom, because that line is from a famous press conference he once had, and then, only then, will I finally be able to arrange an introduction for you to Karl Malone.
And don't worry about that, Dad. You and I will be rolling with Iverson's crew by then.
Stranger things have happened, Nuggets fans. Time to get excited.