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Nuggets, No Glory

Mike Gorman

Twenty Things to Do at a Denver Nuggets Game:

1. Contemplate Bad Omen No. 1. Before the season even started, star forward Juwan Howard, who is the league's fourth-highest-paid player, at $20.6 million per year, was suspended for two games after going ballistic in a pre-season contest and trying to punch out two Indiana Pacers. Expected to start the Nuggets' third regular-season game, in Portland, Howard came down with a stomach virus and missed the trip.

2. Wonder where Melvin Booker is, now that the club needs him. In 1996-97, the little guard out of Missouri played in five games for the 21-61 Nuggets, attempting four shots and scoring a grand total of five points before vanishing from the roster forever.

3. Ponder Bad Omen No. 2. Two days into the season, the team mascot was arrested. Really. Charged with trespassing and harassment, Rocky the Mountain Lion had allegedly confronted his ex-wife and children at a doctor's office. Because it was the popular feline's first bust, Nuggets fans began wondering if he could breed in captivity.

4. Crunch the numbers. Since upsetting the top-ranked Seattle Sonics in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs, the Nuggets have compiled a record of 226 wins and 404 losses, lowlighted by their near-record 11-71 performance in 1997-98 and a 14-36 mark in strike-shortened 1998-99. Last season, they were a dismal 27-55 while losing 34 of their 41 road games. They haven't sniffed the post-season since 1995, when they were swept 3-0 by the San Antonio Spurs.

5. Consider the results of a recent Denver Post fan poll. Three pro soccer players placed among the top 25 vote-getters for the title "Favorite Denver Athlete" -- but not one member of the bedraggled local basketball team made the cut. Meanwhile, in the all-but-irrelevant "Favorite Nugget" category, the second-place finisher was none other than the baddest cat of all, our pal Rocky the Mountain Lion, who outpointed current Nuggets Juwan Howard, James Posey and Marcus Camby, former Nuggets coach Doug Moe, two players (Dan Issel and Alex English) who have been retired for more than a dozen years and two more (George McCloud and Antonio McDyess) who've been traded.

6. Wonder where Roy Marble is, now that the team needs him. In 1993-94, he played a total of 32 minutes in five Nuggets games. But this Marble was no shooter: He went two for twelve from the floor, and failed to make a free throw in three tries.

7. Think about Bad Omen No. 3: The league is using instant replay this year. Anyone (except for the coaches) who is willing to watch for a second -- or third -- time anything the spirited but inept young Nuggets do or fail to do out there on the floor should be examined for major masochism disorder. Witness the club's home loss last Thursday to the Detroit Pistons, in which Denver scored 63 points -- the second-lowest total in team history. Oh, yeah. Let's see that again.

8. Get up an informal spelling bee. It will entertain all those fidgety children in your midst who are wondering aloud if and when the Nuggets are going to make a basket. Through the years, the team has put its share of tongue-twisters and mind-bogglers on the roster -- try saying "Mamadou N'diaye passes it to Rastko Cvetkovic, who dishes to Sarunas Marciulionis in the paint" three times in a row. But this year's club is nothing less than an eye chart. If rookie Maybyner "Nene" Hilario, who hails from Brazil, has trouble making himself understood to Nikolz Tskitishvili, who's from Georgia -- no, not that Georgia; we're talking about the one next to Azerbaijan -- maybe he can get advice from Predrag Savovic, a Yugoslavian. Failing that, they can always ask for help from the coaches, assistant Jarinn Akana and head man Jeff Bzdelik. Or not.

9. Listen to the Avalanche game from San Jose on your transistor radio.

10. Consider Bad Omen No. 4: Former New York Knicks forward/center Marcus Camby, who's suffered more injuries in his NBA career than the Germans at Stalingrad, will lose at least the first two months of this season following hip surgery. Since breaking in with Toronto, Camby has missed nineteen games or more in six of his seven campaigns because of assorted sprained ankles, a strained back, pulled abdominal muscles, tendinitis in both knees and his current woes: a bone contusion in the hip and something called a torn iliopsoas (feel free to add that one to the spelling-bee list). Many New York fans also think Camby's got an even worse affliction: a bad attitude. For him the Nuggets gave up Antonio McDyess.

11. Listen to the guy at the concession stand thirty rows back dispense Diet Pepsi.

12. Say good riddance once more to Dikembe. Always unlucky (and often inept) on draft day, the Nuggets' ever-changing brain trust has made such enlightened first selections as North Carolina's Tom LaGarde, who was picked number nine overall in 1977, then played only one season here, averaging four points per game. In 1980, Denver's first-round pick (number five overall) was James Ray, who averaged 3.2 points per in three years of work. The Nugs' 1996 first-rounder was the Greek League's Efthimios Rentzias, who would be eligible for the Nuggets Spelling Bee except that he never actually joined the team. And who can forget Maurice "Mo" Martin, chosen as the sixteenth player overall in 1986, who played two years at a swift 2.9-points-per-game clip before a knee injury ended his career? The Nuggets' best draft choice ever was, of course, Georgetown center Dikembe Mutombo, in 1991. The big guy spoke six languages, blocked 300 shots a year, scored more than 5,000 points in five seasons and led the team to consecutive playoff appearances in '94 and '95. Then the management simply let Mount Mutombo go -- for no compensation whatsover -- to the Atlanta Hawks. Go figure.

13. Hit the snack bar for a Mexican combo plate and a cold cerveza. Toast the memory of Nuggets icon (and community-relations director) Dan Issel.

14. Think about Bad Omen No. 5: Before general manager and ex-Nugget Kiki Vandeweghe, a treasured relic of the Nuggets' fleeting glory days, hired former Miami assistant Bzdelik as the Nuggets' seventeenth head coach, virtually no one else on the planet wanted the job. Not Larry Brown. Not Donn Nelson the Younger. Not James Naismith. For more than three months, the front office foundered before tripping over Bzdelik. For his part, the Buzz Man calls his young team "a work in progress," and he declines to comment on local media speculation regarding the Nuggets' skill level. "Personally, I don't read the newspapers," he said. "I've yet to read one since I've gotten to Denver..." Just as well.

15. Ask where Garth Joseph is, now that the team needs him. The 7' 2", 306-pound center out of the College of St. Rose -- wherever that is -- played in two games for the Nuggets in 2001, compiling one blocked shot, zero rebounds and zero assists. In the end, his scoring average was precisely the same as yours or mine would be, because the poor devil missed all three shots he took from the floor in his eight-minute NBA career -- and both of his free throws. If you're picking a poster boy for Nuggets futility through the decades, it should probably be Garth Joseph.

16. Get into a heated argument with the guy sitting next to you about Rocky the Mountain Lion. For starters, how about his suitability as a birthday-party guest now that he's been to the slammer?

17. Think about Bad Omen No. 6: Asked what he had been doing in the ten years since being fired from his last job, as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, former Nuggets head man and now "coaching consultant" Doug Moe answered: "Absolutely nothing." A legend in the Mile High City, Moe won 432 regular-season games in the 1980s for the franchise and 24 more in the post-season -- club records in no immediate danger of falling. Asked why he accepted his current position in the Bzdelik administration, Moe answered with his usual candor. "I perfected the job of doing nothing," the Big Stiff said. "So it's time to do something else."

18. Exchange guesses about seven-foot center Mark Blount's shoe size. Does he mount outboard engines on the back of those things? Where does the guy his teammates call "Big Basic" find loafers? Does he polish them, or run them through the car wash? Alas, the old saw about filling big shoes surfaces once more. Dikembe Mutombo wore size 22. Blount's little dainties are only 18s.

19. Listen to the Rolex ticking in the row behind you.

20. Leave early. When the visitors are leading by just twenty points.


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