Dear Denver Nuggets,
I’m sorry, but I think I’m done.
For more than twenty years, I've stuck by your side and defended you through the thick and, mainly, thin, but I just can't do it anymore. But before you call me a fair-weather fan, let me remind you about all the times you held me up with the promise of success before cutting the strings and allowing me to crash back down to the earth.
Remember that 1997-1998 team? Wow, what a stinker! Your 11-71, record made that season, statistically, the fourth worst NBA season of all time and the worst in franchise history. I was a junior in high school then and still wore my LaPhonso Ellis jersey with pride. Back then, I always hoped it would get better someday. But now, I'm just not so sure.
On Monday, you lost by 28 points to the subpar Brooklyn Nets. At 20-36, you may be world's better than the lowly 1998 team, but where there was once hope and promise, now I only see a swirling, black vortex sucking the soul and life out of a once powerful franchise.
My love affair with you and NBA basketball started around the 1990-1991 season. That's when my dad purchased tickets to two Nuggets games: one against the Los Angeles Lakers and the other against the Chicago Bulls. He also bought matching hats to wear to each corresponding game. I remember being overwhelmed with excitement knowing I would be in the same building as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Legends! At the time, those were the only two basketball players I knew, but during those first two games, I started to wonder who these other guys were? What was up with the Nuggets? Michael Adams seemed pretty cool. I liked the way Chris Jackson twitched every time he hit a three. Scott Hastings never played but seemed to make everyone laugh. I liked these guys. That year, under coach Paul Westhead, you went 20-62. You were already a bad team, but I didn’t care.
Since you did so poorly that year, you were awarded a lottery pick and, drafted Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo in the 1991 draft. Mutombo made an immediate impact his rookie year, averaging 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and wagging his finger in a dismissive "no" to every player's shot he blocked. He was my favorite player and a sign of better things to come.
The 1993-1994 season you and new coach Dan Issel shocked the world. Going into the playoffs as the eighth seed, no one gave you much of a chance. The matchup was against the George Karl coached Seattle Supersonics who finished the regular season with a league best 63-19 record.
After losing the first two games you somehow came back to tie it up at two apiece.You then fought hard in Seattle, and upset the Sonics at home in overtime in the decisive game 5. As the final buzzer sounded Mutombo fell to the floor, lying on his back, holding the game ball high in victory. As I watched this I ran around my living room with my hand high in the air before banging my toe on my family's fire place and falling to the ground in pain. I was still happy. Mutombo and I both laid there in perfect ecstatic agony. Tears of joy and tears of pain ran down our faces respectively. I wasn’t on the team, but I was reveling in this victory along with you.
In the next round you lost to the Utah Jazz ending your miracle season.
Four years later, you were the worst team in the NBA?
So what the hell happened? Was it Dan Issel getting fired for shouting an “ethnic slur” at a fan? Was it when you traded away Mutombo? Why did you get so bad so quickly? How could you do that to me?!
In that infamous 1998 season I remember my dad and I getting tickets to a game from a scalper for mere pennies. "We just scalped a scalper," I remember us proudly saying as we entered the stadium. Despite the tickets being so cheap, the seats were two rows from the court. Nuggets "superstars" like Anthony Goldwire, Joe Wolf and Tony Battie were just out of our reach but It didn't quite feel the same as being in the same building as Magic and Michael all those years earlier. I remember looking up at the empty seats throughout the stadium and asking my dad, "Where is everyone?"
"They'll be back," he said with a sly smile.
And they were. All those years of sucking eventually paid off when you drafted Carmelo Anthony in 2003. You remember him right? He sucker punched a New York Knick and married that MTV video jockey.
I remember watching you play a nationally televised game against The Cleveland Cavaliers that year. Magic Johnson, who at the time was an announcer for CBS Sports, talked about the similarities between then rookies Melo and LeBron James. "I think James is the better player, but I think Melo will win a title first," he said after you won.
We now know how wrong Magic was, but man, you came so close!
Slowly, you started to build a solid foundation around Anthony and again, you were a team on the rise. The pièce de résistance for The Melo Years came when you brought Chauncy Billups back from Detroit. That was a smart and classy move. In the 2007-2008 season Melo and Chauncy took you all the way to the Western Conference finals against the Kobe Bryant led Lakers. I didn't think you had much of a change against them but I still watched every game as intently as I had in the 1994 playoffs.
The results were not the same. You lost the series 4-2. The Lakers won the championship.
Again, I was disappointed but saw the promise of better times. Then Melo started to get antsy and In 2011 he demanded a trade to the New York Knicks along with Billups for a handful of players I had never heard of. This one hurt me probably as much as it hurt you. Not only did Melo not want to be a Nugget anymore, he didn’t want to be in Denver at all. He imposed his will and gutted the team. (Note: At the time of writing this article, The Knicks had the worst record in the NBA.)
As it turned out, some of the players you got in exchange for Melo were pretty good and you ended up making the playoffs that year and, even though you lost 4-1 to Oklahoma City. Without a superstar, I wasn't sure how good you would be the next couple of years. Slowly, you added better players and, even though you weren't an elite team, you competed, you were respected. You were not sliding back down after the Melo trade. You were somehow getting better. I was proud of you.
Before the 2012-2013 season ESPN Magazine predicted you would win the Western Conference! You ignored all the people who said they were crazy, and went out and played amazingly.
You added hard working and gritty players like Cory Brewer, Kenneth Faried and Andre Iguodala. George Karl, still manning the helm after a scary bout with cancer, had gotten everyone to buy in the results were tremendous. You were hustling, you were fun to watch, it was my favorite Nuggets team since the 1990-1991 team. And yet you still disappointed me.
Despite the regular season success, you lost in the first round of the playoffs to the hot shooting Golden State Warriors in six games. The swirling black vortex was replaced with an ugly black cloud that hung heavy over the season.
Then, shit really hit the fan. You fired George Karl, the coach of the year! The man leads you to a record setting year, survives cancer and you fire him over a dispute about Javale McGee’s playing time?
Last week you traded Aaron Afflalo to Portland and McGee to Philadelphia in exchange for some draft picks and a handful of players with some possible upsides. No blockbuster deal was made. So what’s the plan here? Are you planning on tanking the remainder of the season for a shot for future draft picks or just wallow in mediocrity and see if the fans stop showing up again?
The ten-year-old me didn't need a winning team to root for. I just needed a group of guys that I cared about led by an organization who seemed to care about the team. At 33 I still want the same and I'm just not sure this team deserves my support anymore.
Then again, after re-reading my letter, I'm not sure if I'm ready to let go just yet. After all, there's always next year.
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