Best Front-Office Executive
Bob Gebhard, Rockies
The club drew an unbelievable 4.5 million fans in its rookie year, and it finished with a respectable 67-95 record, but senior vice president and general manager Bob Gebhard didn't rest on those laurels. A tiger in the off-season market, he tripled the Rockies' player salary total from $8 million to $24 million by re-signing NL batting champ Andres Galarraga and landing a clutch of talented (if oft-injured) free agents--shortstop Walt Weiss, center fielder Ellis Burks, slugger Howard Johnson and pitchers Marvin Freeman and Mike Harkey. They won't win a pennant for a while, but Gebhard won't quit trying.
Best Team Trainer
Dave Cilladi, Rockies
Hey, he had to be. The injury-riddled Rox roster kept Dr. Dave moving tirelessly from bed to bed last season. Most notably, he tended a certain Cat with a sore hind leg, getting him back into the lineup often enough to win a batting title. There's no rest for the wicked, though: This season the former Chicago Cubs conditioner has already had major injuries to Ellis Burks, Armando Reynoso and Kent Bottenfield to contend with. And HoJo's back? Keep your fingers Red-Crossed.
Best Local Sports Team
Who else but the Dreamers? Dan Issel's youthful club not only put together its first winning season in five years (42-40) but startled the NBA world with a first-round upset of Seattle in the playoffs before running out of gas against Utah. Streaky point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf could be the odd man out next season, but emerging stars Bryant Stith, Rodney Rogers, LaPhonso Ellis and Robert Pack will provide a hopeful supporting cast at the base of Mount Mutombo. Team architect Bernie Bickerstaff has finally lost lottery dibs, and he couldn't be happier about it.
Readers' choice: Denver Nuggets
The linchpin of Denver's startling "We Have a Dream" season, the 7-2 center from Zaire came into his own as one of the NBA's dominant defensive players. Knocked for two years as "the third best Georgetown center in the league," Mutombo led the NBA in blocked shots with 336 (breaking his own franchise mark), then swatted 31 of them away in the Nuggs' shocking playoff upset of Seattle, a record for a five-game series. Against Utah he blocked 38 more, the new seven-game standard. And what can you say of a man who literally dreams of victory--in nine languages?
Readers' choice: Dikembe Mutombo
Best New Nugget
The sturdy first-round draft choice from Wake Forest grew up fast on the Mile High merry-go-round. At 6-7 and 260 pounds, he looms as a physical force in future NBA seasons and as the likely successor to starting forward Reggie Williams, who at age thirty is the old man of the young Nuggets. In 17.8 minutes per game this year, Rogers averaged 8.1 points and 2.9 rebounds, and he led the team in 3-point shooting accuracy with 38 percent. Look for those numbers to jump up next season.
Best Local Sports Coach
Dan Issel, Nuggets
In just two years, the Horse has yanked what was a laughable NBA club out of the doldrums and started it on the road to glory. The Nuggets' 42-40 mark this year earned them their first trip to the playoffs in four seasons, and Issel's cool, we-have-nothing-to-lose posture helped fuel an upset of the powerful Supersonics that captured the country's imagination. Midseason, rumors floated around that Issel was down in the mouth and ready to quit: Now you can bet your last two bucks he won't mind coaching on Derby Day next year, either.
Readers' choice: Dan Issel
Best Coach Quote
George Karl, Seattle Supersonics
Upon seeing his top-seeded team get upset in the first round of the NBA playoffs by eighth seed Denver (the first time in NBA history for such a shock), Karl burbled thusly: "I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go. I can't sleep at night. I'm not myself. We weren't ourselves."
Best Local Sports Mascot
Rocky, Denver Nuggets
You didn't really expect us to pick that lifeless purple blob staggering around Mile High Stadium, did you? That thing could use a good hard beaning, and fast. By contrast, the Nuggets' nimble Rocky (aka Kenn Solomon, late of Utah State University), the mountain lion with the bolt of lightning shooting out of his butt, does everything a mascot should in an era when mascots might better be eliminated altogether. Rocky does handsprings. He unicycles. He flings little footballs deep to the cheaps. He trampolines into slam-dunk position. He slam-dunks. He leads cheers, flirts with skirts, rappels from the rafters and rags refs. What he rarely does is rest. What he always does is earn his money.