Started from Nothing: The Life of a Denver Nuggets Fan in New York
“Denver has a basketball team?”
The Beginning of My Denver Nuggets Fandom
As a basketball fan in New York, I always get asked the same question – “Knicks or Nets?” It’s a big deal in New York. I respond by saying I’m a Denver Nuggets fan. In return, I usually get surprised looks. The worst reaction to my favourite team though, is an easy choice. “Denver has a basketball team?”
Something about basketball caught my eye. Growing up, I played basketball in various leagues, but watching the speed and pace of the NBA game, the shotmaking and the intensity were different than other sports and caught me by surprise. I was instantly hooked and have followed the NBA as my favorite sport ever since.
Anthony later requested a trade during the 2010-2011 season, ironically, to my hometown team, the New York Knicks, and all of my friends were wearing his jersey around town.
Even after my favorite player was traded to the Knicks, something made me stay loyal to the Nuggets. I quickly noticed that they were never talked about despite doing well in the standings. The Nuggets of this year and years past were always known as a good team, but not a serious contender. I eventually realized the reason I was such a big Denver Nuggets fan was that they, like me, were underdogs. And who doesn’t love an underdog?
Starting from Scratch
As I started to pay closer attention to the NBA, I immediately learned that the landscape of the league changes quickly. A team can be contending for a ring one year and then the next year finishes at the bottom of the standings. Small-market teams have to be a consistent contender, or they’ll remain an afterthought.
The Denver Nuggets were the third seed in the Western Conference during the 2012-2013 season. Danilo Gallinari, the team’s best player, tore his ACL toward the end of the regular season. The playoffs saw the Nuggets lose in six games to the eventual three-time champion Golden State Warriors, led by a young Stephen Curry. As the offseason unfolded, general manager Masai Ujiri left for the Toronto Raptors, head coach George Karl was fired, and Andre Iguodala left for the Warriors.
The 2014 NBA Draft completely changed the franchise.
After the team was blown up, Denver was seen as the laughingstock of the league. Members of the national media were questioning whether Tim Connelly, the newly hired general manager was up for the job and management decided that Brian Shaw wasn’t the right coach for the franchise.
And yet, I stayed true to my team.
So, Michael Malone, recently fired by the Sacramento Kings, became the new head coach. When he came in, he built a culture of family, hard work, and togetherness. Management embarked in a new direction by being patient, rebuilding the franchise through the draft, and adding solid role players to the roster.
If you’re a Denver Nuggets fan, you know that the 2014 NBA Draft completely changed the franchise. During that draft, the Nuggets traded their 14th overall selection, Doug McDermott, for the 16th and 19th picks, turning into Jusuf Nurkić and Gary Harris. With the 41st pick in the 2014 Draft, the Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokić, now a two-time All-Star and arguably the best center in the NBA.
In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets selected Jamal Murray of Kentucky with the 7th overall pick. Murray broke out in a huge way in the past year’s playoffs.
The purpose of acquiring and using draft picks is to acquire star players. The Nuggets have successfully done that, as Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray have developed into superstar-level players now. The threat they pose as a young duo became abundantly clear during the 2020 NBA Playoffs, in which the Nuggets came back from two 3-1 series deficits and took out the title favourites in the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets Have Chips on Their Shoulders
If you look closely at the makeup of the current Denver Nuggets rotation, there is a common theme among every single player on the roster; at some point in each player’s career, they have been counted out.
Nikola Jokić, before coming over to the NBA was pegged as too slow and unathletic to play meaningful minutes on an NBA floor. He slipped into the second round as a result.
Although a lottery pick, Murray wasn’t seen as a viable franchise point guard through his first few years in the league.
Jerami Grant was labeled as a strong positionless player coming out of Syracuse., but wasn’t selected until the second round due to questions about his offensive game.
Gary Harris, once seen as a top-10 draft selection, slipped to the 19th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Will Barton became an afterthought in Portland and was eventually traded.
Michael Porter Jr, who was once regarded as the top high school player in the nation, had two extremely serious back surgeries before playing a minute of NBA basketball. Porter Jr. slipped to the 14th pick in the draft, where teams questioned if he would ever be able to play rotation minutes due to his health.
After his college career at USC-Upstate, Torrey Craig paid his dues overseas before getting an opportunity to play for the Nuggets’ Summer League team.
The point is that this team’s history of being constantly doubted as individuals and as a unit, has played a key role in their resilience and fight.
Resilience, Grit, and Fight
The doubt in the players on the Nuggets roster by executives and the media has fueled the team’s success. These guys have something to prove to the league, and they play like their lives depend on it every night. They showed that against the Jazz and Clippers and now nobody should doubt them again. Michael Malone deserves a ton of credit for his belief, and trust in the players on the roster.
The future of the team looks extremely promising. A core of Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. might be a potent enough trio to win a championship. Jerami Grant, an impending free agent performed admirably defending the league’s best perimeter players. Harris displayed his ability defensively versus Paul George. Barton was arguably the second-best player on the Nuggets during the regular season. PJ Dozier, Torrey Craig, and Monte Morris played key minutes off the bench.
Being a Denver Nuggets fan in New York has its downsides, but this team has a bright, bright future.
The Nuggets have the heart, desire, and the will to win, as evidenced by being the first team in NBA history to come back and win a series after back to back 3-1 deficits. Despite this recent success, the Nuggets will likely still be considered “the underdog” moving forward, but It would be wise to not count them out.