Some of you know this, but Denver Stiffs wasn’t always Denver Stiffs. When the site started, it was under a much more infamous name. It was in fact called FireGeorgeKarl.com. A dubious title that no one on the current staff, nor our founder Andy Feinstein who originally launched the site with the eye opening moniker, would either admit was an acceptable title for the website…or that it wasn’t instrumental in the site’s success. When I first came onto Stiffs I had a chance to talk with Andy about it. While he admitted FGK was certainly a springboard for him and the site, he also bemoaned that he should have been better than that, that there was a disconnect between his understanding of the interpersonal relationships that go on between NBA organizations and “media” and his motivations at the time. To put it plainly, Andy was pissed off. Pissed off that the Denver Nuggets had squandered a stacked roster and looked like anything but a playoff team when they were unceremoniously discarded from the postseason in four short games against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008.
Of course, the rest is history. Andy and Karl got past the site’s original intentions and became friends, Denver Stiffs became part of the SBNation network, and though Mr. Feinstein has moved on to bigger and better things, he preserved a legacy that will be carried forward for many years to come. It’s one of the finest examples this site has of the fact that while things can seem dire and unacceptable at any point in this roller coaster, at the end of the day the best things came from when we saw the forest for the trees. It’s an example that perhaps we have lost sight of too much recently.
For the first time since really the beginning of the 2013-2014 season (which quickly devolved into a dumpster fire) there are real playoff expectations for this Nuggets team. With the rise of Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray and the acquisition of Paul Millsap, fans don’t just believe the Nuggets can make the playoffs, they expect them too, and rightfully so. Now with just a little over a dozen games to go, the Nuggets find themselves in the thick of a playoff race and every Nuggets fan from die-hard to casual is on edge. Memories of Jusuf Nurkic wishing the team a happy summer and Russell Westbrook ending the Nuggets playoffs hope to raucous applause (in the Pepsi Center no less) are fresh in Nuggets fans minds.
A perpetual bridesmaid, the Nuggets lack of victorious moments wears thin on the Denver faithful. For many, the past four seasons have been the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Nuggets fandom. In my own eyes that statement seems ridiculous, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that when discussing Nuggets fandom…I’m pretty damn old. A large portion of the Nuggets fan base is made up of people who didn’t start following the team until at least 2003, and why shouldn’t it be? Denver went eight painful years without a playoff berth between 1995 and 2004 with very little competitive play to speak of. On top of that the young promising core that delivered arguably the franchises’ most iconic moment in 1994 was dismantled because of freak injuries, money and anthem controversies. The number of fans Denver added from 1995 to draft night on 2003 is likely far outpaced by the number of fans who lost interest. For many, this really is the darkest of times for the Nuggets in their recollection.
Yet, there are still those of us that remember that dark period in Nuggets history. We remember trading Jalen Rose for the corpse of Mark Jackson, we remember drafting Efthimios Rentzias and we remember Berni Bickerstaff, despite all of his ineptitude, deciding having him coach the team would be a swell idea. We remember starting Junior Harrington and Vincent Yarborough, we remember a shell of himself Tim Hardaway chucking replay monitors onto the court, and we remember our once hero coach hurling racist insults. To us, these past four years are nothing. In fact I was very surprised to find out the Nuggets are currently in their second-longest NBA playoff drought in franchise history. Maybe its perspective, maybe its indifference, but for me whether or not the Nuggets make the playoffs just isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be.
Recently I spent some time in Mexico, I had little internet to speak of and no access to network television. It was like being in this alternate dimension where the NBA, something I pour hours into everyday, didn’t exist…and it was wonderful. The advent of social media makes everyone connected, the general anonymity of being behind a computer screen gives people confidence where they otherwise may be more reserved. Combine those two facts with the often irrational behavior of a fanatic and its easy to see why a reprieve was so welcomed. It also helped bring perspective, and the conclusion I came to was this: none of it really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Now let me be clear, I’m a sports fan, I have been all my life, I’m NOT saying people shouldn’t be sports fans. Watching sports and being invested in sports is perfectly fine for entertainment. Playing sports is a great activity that can build skills like teamwork, leadership, perseverance and physical fitness (among many other things). As we saw just this week, sports can be a platform for great things like our HopeKids charity event. However, how many would approach conversations about a movie, or a video game, or a salsa dancing lesson with the same ferver, and sometimes acrimony, as they do sports? Probably not too many.
It’s understandable why sports can be taken so much more seriously, in many ways that’s been built into the acceptable norm. We approach this entertainment unlike any other forms. Trash talking someone’s souffle and saying it doesn’t even belong in culinary class would not be acceptable and would likely leave the trash talker ostracized.If you were to lay down $20 betting that you can hold a pose in yoga class 10 seconds longer than anyone else and then losing your mind when you don’t will likely raise concerns that you have a gambling addiction. In sports though, these types of things are considered normal.
With the Nuggets teetering on the edge of making the playoffs, fans are as passionate, and fanatical, as ever. Again though, there’s a forest among these trees. Without playoff droughts there would be no glory in making the postseason, only normalcy. Without the crushing defeats the victories would feel commonplace. Without the pain we have suffered, Nuggets fans would be as insufferable as every band wagon fan claiming he liked the Golden State Warriors when Monta Ellis was their “star” (even though they’ll spell it Monte). Through it all, the highs and the lows mostly will balance out and complement one another, and through it all there will still be far more important things that happen in our lives than the outcome of any game.
So soak it in Nuggets fans. Denver is in a heated playoff race and could possibly end up as high as the 3 seed in the West. We’re a far cry from the dark ages of the late 90s and the team is headed in the right direction. They’re fun to watch and they’ll be even more fun to watch if they make the playoffs. If they don’t though, that sun is still going to rise and we’re all still going to have to go to work in the morning. We’re still going to have all the family, friends and experiences that make our lives truly have value. Just remember, this is entertainment…and being pissed off on the internet about a game that you have zero control over is anything but entertaining.