“You deserve this. You, listening to this show right now, you deserve this moment. Because the Denver Nuggets are going to the NBA Finals.”
– Matt Moore, Action Network, co-host, Locked on Nuggets
I was in such a state of shock on Monday night after the Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals that I was having a hard time getting the lump in my throat to go down during all the festivities. The DNVR postgame crew had launched their show, celebrating and discussing the gamut of emotions that had run amongst the crowd at the bar, which apparently even included grown men crying.
Psh. As if. Grown men crying. SO glad that wasn’t ME, I thought, as the lump rose about 30% higher in my throat. I had things well under control, until @#$%*& Harrison Wind had to go and ask Jamal Murray to reflect on the last seven years. You can hear Jamal’s full answer in person by scrolling to 3:15 on the video below, but the part that ended up catching me (damn you, Wind) was this:
“It’s been amazing”, Murray said, “Especially with the core since the beginning. What we’ve been building. Since Gary. Since Paul. Monte. All the guys that had the culture embodied, and to see all of this come together.”
Murray continued, I think. I couldn’t hear or see anything, as the damn dam had fully undammed. De-dammed. It damned up and broke. I just sat there and cried, thinking of the guys, so many of the great guys who had built this. Gary. He had to bring up Gary. Gary Harris is simply one of my favorite Nuggets players ever, drafted the same year as Nikola Jokic.
I realized this was for him. God, how much I hope Gary Harris ends up feeling like some of this is for him. And Paul Millsap. The defensive principles Gary and Paul both helped instill in young offensive minds like Murray and Jokic. Hell, Gary was Joker’s ride back and forth to the airport for years, they were so close. Harris was also the first guy to showcase some of what Jokic was cooking offensively, as well. Millsap literally pushed the defense into place at times, with his hand on a teammate’s back, and the team saw the difference for it. It opened their eyes.
And Monte Morris… Amazing Monte Morris, teaching the extreme value of valuing the ball. The value of great relationships with players and people all over the league. Of sheer day-over-day stability and reliability. Monte’s from-the-bench example was so important to what this became.
It washes over you, if you let it. All of them so critically important. All great guys who also influenced what the core still left behind wanted their team, game, and locker room to continue to be. This epic journey is for those three, and many others as well. It’s for Will and Manimal, Juancho and Gallo. From the guys that came out of the Carmelo trade that were the building blocks of this era, a line you can draw all the way to Jamal. The disappointment of that 2012-13 team that seemed to have shrugged off the Melodrama… The Mole… those ashes somehow all ended up being the foundation of this.
This is for that previous era also, for a 19-year-old Carmelo Anthony literally turning this franchise around before just wanting to go back “home”, and K-Mart reminding the team what toughness was. For Chauncey, who dreamt of, and nearly achieved his hometown team’s ascension, and taught even the Thuggets the power of a real team. This for AI and Marcus. Birdman and even J.R.
It’s for all the guys who suffered through the sometimes-nearness and often-oceanic-distance of a championship, but never got over the hump. For the icons. Dan Issel and Alex English. David Thompson and Byron Beck. It’s for Kiki and Fat. Bobby and Ralph. TR and Wayne and Mike and a dozen more.
It’s even for the guys who may not have had the fondest of times or the greatest of careers at altitude, like Skita and El Busto. It’s eventually for every one of the 419-and-counting guys who have worn the Nuggets uniform, from Mahmoud to Nene to Yakhouba to Rodney. This trip is for and about them as well.
It’s for owners and GMs who have kept this boat afloat through 57-win feasts and 11-win famines. For Carl and Bernie and Kiki and Stan. For the guys who played basketball at what is now the Buell. For the ones who knew a Big Mac wasn’t simply a burger. It’s for the people behind the scenes who make the magic work, like Felipe and Dan and Nick and Sparky, and the guys who laid that road before like Steve and Chopper and Tim.
It’s for a longstanding and deeply loyal fanbase like Vicki and Trey, Robbie and Joe. For fans who have been jumping on this bandwagon for a decade now, even if their arrival came in the last few weeks. For those who kept season tickets in a year the team managed nine home wins.
It’s for guys who have been so loyal to the system as to engage it at almost every level, like Issel as player/coach/GM over the years, Bill Hanzlik as player/coach/analyst, Kiki as player/GM/uniform designer, and more. For the guys who still bleed Nuggets blue, whether it’s the dark blue of the skyline or the powder blue of Vandeweghe’s dreams. For Maxie Miner. It’s even for whoever decided the winningest regular season team in Nuggets history should wear electrocute-yourself-yellow.
It’s for those of us who thought we’d never see this moment, and more heartbreakingly for those who didn’t get to stay on this earth long enough to do so. For Deke and Bret and Russell and Maria and Dick… and so many more. For those who are thinking about them, and wishing the team well out of sheer existential fondness, even if they still don’t follow along.
It’s for the guys who have been writing about this stuff from some version of their garages for years now like Adam and Nate and Andy and Jeff and Ryan and dozens of others. For those who were looking for something interesting to say when the team was in its toughest moments. For those who managed to pull a beat on a team that was often easy to love, but tough to get noticed for. Who have spit out ream upon ream of love letters to an oft-sparsely populated universe.
It’s even for the media who may not be “fans”, but have been gushing over the sheer basketballyness of it all for the last several seasons. For Matt and Bill and Wos and Jalen and all of the rest. You can keep saying you’re not fans, but your voices get awfully high when delighting in this with all of the rest of us. It’s even for all of the rest of the fourth estate who are quibbling over who got in line most quickly thereafter, and are realizing that the next powerhouse may have been staring them in the face for a while now.
This is for all of us who needed to see a couple of dragons slayed, like Lakers playoffs, perfectly untimely injuries, and the longtime inanity of poor coverage empowering local and national apathy. For those who saw Nug-Life become #NuggLyfe finally become the life of this particular party.
But more than anything, and as Michael Malone has repeated often and eloquently, it’s for the 17 guys in that locker room. It’s for the seven or eight of them that will make up the bulk of the minutes in the next four to seven games, and who don’t seem to currently care about much of anything on this earth besides four more W’s. Who give no whits about history or whoever comes out of the East. It’s for Joker and ‘Mal and AG and Miiike and KCP and Bruuuuce and Uncle Jeff and CB. For Coach Mike and Coach Adelman and Coach Bowen’s fucked-up pinky, and even all of the rest of him too. For the 30 to 80 people in this organization who are “in the trenches” for what are hopefully the last four giant steps of the most glorious and wild ride that Mile High City Basketball has ever seen.
This. Whether you knew two of the names above, or have another 50 you’d like to add to the list. This moment is for you, and will pass far too quickly. Relish it, and drink it in as deeply as you can, who knows when it might come again.
Four more. Let’s go, Nuggets!