Longtime readers of this blog should remember last summer's inaugural Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame. The second annual edition is a few weeks late, but I figure better late than never.
Last year, we successfully inducted some all-time Denver Stiffs: Nikoloz Tskitishvili (the leading vote getter) and Joe Wolf at forward, Scott Hastings at center, Mark Macon and Tariq Abdul-Wahad at guard, and Tony Battie as a sixth man inductee.
So who will enter this esteemed HOF this year?
Soon after inducting the inaugural class, I received a lengthy email from then-Rocky Mountain News columnist and current Denver Post columnist Dave Krieger pointing out that the true definition of a "Stiff" (as defined by legendary Nuggets coach Doug Moe) is meant to be a term of endearment, and not necessarily a criticism. Krieger explained to me that "busts" and "Stiffs" aren't one in the same, although some "Stiffs" can also be "busts."
Since Krieger is technically right - and given that we're coming off a nostalgia-filled, feelgood Nuggets season - this year's Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee list will be expanded to include some of our favorite Denver Stiffs who fit more traditionally into Moe's definition of a Stiff. Therefore, while similar to last year, I have updated the 2009 GROUND RULES FOR INDUCTION...
1) Any inductee must be a former Nugget. He can be a current NBA player, but cannot be on the current Nuggets roster.
2) Any inductee must have played – check that, appeared – in at least 40 games (lowered from last year's mandate of 60, and I still can't get Priest Lauderdale into the Denver Stiffs HOF!) in a Nuggets uniform or was on the roster for two consecutive seasons.
3) No player can be nominated two years in a row, so last year's nominees will have to wait until 2010 for their induction.
4) Special consideration should be given to players who had ridiculously large contracts (like Tariq Abdul-Wahad), were white (like Michael Doleac) or better yet, were both white and had a large contract (like Blair Rasmussen, who is ineligible this year due to induction Rule #3).
5) Special consideration should also be given to players drafted by the Nuggets who were not only total busts, but went ahead of future All-Stars (like Raef LaFrentz and Nikoloz Tskitishvili did), or were on the wrong side of a lopsided trade that totally screwed the Nuggets (like Abdul-Wahad).
6) And - to Krieger's point - extra special consideration should be given to players who exhibited no athletic ability whatsoever, but gave an earnest effort on the floor nightly and as a result, were fan favorites (like Bill Hanzlik and Ryan Bowen).
Before we get started, allow me to explain how this works. From the list below, please select two forwards, one center and two guards and write them in your comments below and/or in an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there's someone you'd like to see inducted that I didn't include, don't hesitate to write their name in. After we collect the lists, we'll randomly select a few winners who will receive Denver Stiffs T-shirts (I swear they're coming!).
With that said, I present the eligible players to be inducted into the second annual Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame (in alphabetical order by position)...
FORWARDS (PICK TWO)
Ryan Bowen (1999-2004)
One of the few Nuggets who survived the tumultuous Dan Issel Era and lasted into the more stable Jeff Bzdelik Era, Bowen has been able to parlay no talent whatsoever into a very credible nine-season NBA career. As a Nugget, Bowen never averaged more than 4.9 points per game and didn't do any one thing particularly well except hustle more than anyone else on the floor. That unrelenting hustle (or "motor" as ESPN's Jay Bilas calls it), endeared Bowen to Nuggets fans who, frankly, had virtually no one to root for as the Nuggets had won 35, 40, 27 and 17 games, respectively, until Carmelo Anthony showed up in 2003.
Where Are They Now? As an unrestricted free agent who played for the Hornets last season, Bowen's NBA career is in limbo. But given the economy and with NBA teams filling out their 13-man rosters (versus 15 from seasons past) with guys that have, you know, actual talent, Bowen's NBA career might be over.
Bill Hanzlik (1982-90)
One of Denver's most beloved professional athletes ever, William Henry, or "Bill," Hanzlik had all the intangibles of a true Denver Stiff: little athleticism, a poor shooting percentage, undersized for a forward, shaggy hair and a huge mustache. But Hanzlik had heart and if he played today, he'd make Bowen look lazy. Hanzlik would routinely be called upon to defend opposing teams' best big men, be it 7'4" Ralph Sampson (whom Hanzlik pestered relentlessly during the seldom discussed, epic 1986 Nuggets vs. Rockets second round playoff battle), 7'2" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and even Karl Malone, who weighed 75 pounds more than Hanz. And it was none other than Hanzlik who made one of the bigger postseason shots in Nuggets history when his layup with :03 seconds left gave the Nuggets a 2-1 lead over the Mavericks in the second round of the 1988 NBA Playoffs...of course, the Nuggets would go on to lose three straight to the Mavericks and blow the series.
Where Are They Now? Even after enduring a brief but unsuccessful stint as a Nuggets head coach, Hanzlik remains active with the Nuggets and the Denver community. In 1986, he co-founded the Gold Crown Foundation which provides after school sports and recreation activities to thousands upon thousands of kids throughout Colorado. In addition to his work at Gold Crown, Hanzlik works as an analyst for Altitude TV and is known for having a "glass is half full" point of view for all things Nuggets. In fact, I believe Hanzlik still thinks that the Nuggets will defeat the Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
Joe Kopicki (1984-85)
It's a little known fact, but prior to this decade, it was mandatory for all NBA teams to have a big, white Stiff as their 12th man (Sports Illustrated even wrote a feature on the best known of these 12th man Stiffs: Chuck Nevitt). And for 42 games during their magical 54-win season in 1984-85, the Nuggets had their designated Stiff in Kopicki. "Come on, Moe, put in Joe!" could be heard at the old McNichols Arena during any game that had potential for being a blowout. Unfortunately for Kopicki, at only 6'9" he didn't meet the height standard required to stick around on an NBA roster for more than the three seasons he played.
Where Are They Now? I heard somewhere that Kopicki played some overseas basketball but wasn't able to confirm anything from the limited research available online. If/when I get to meet the Nuggets new media relations contact, I'll be sure to inquire about Kopicki's whereabouts!
Mark Randall (1993-95)
Continuing the Nuggets long held tradition of acquiring players who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while they were in college, Randall sneaks onto the list of eligible Denver Stiffs HOF inductees by having been on a Nuggets roster for at least two seasons. In those two seasons, the 6'8", 235 pound Randall appeared in only 36 games before calling it a career in the NBA. Randall's timing was good, though, as he got to gravy train with the 1993-94 Nuggets, one of the great teams in Nuggets history.
Where Are They Now? Being a Denver native (Randall and I actually went to the same high school, Cherry Creek) and finishing his career as a Nugget, Randall has served in an odd assortment of roles for the Nuggets ranging from "player development" to broadcaster to the guy who supervises Rocky and T-shirt giveaways at Pepsi Center.
James Earl Ray (1980-83)
Not to be confused with the man who assassinated Martin Luther King, JR., Ray kicked off a rich Nuggets tradition of blowing lottery picks when he was drafted fifth overall in the 1980 NBA Draft, ahead of Andrew Toney, Mike Gminski and Kiki Vandeweghe (to be fair, the 1980 NBA Draft wasn't exactly a deep draft). Three years and 334 total NBA points later, Ray was out of the NBA altogether. As a Nugget, Ray never averaged more than 9.6 minutes per game and appeared in only 103 total games.
Where Are They Now? Ray's post-playing career has been marred by personal tragedy. In 2001, Ray was diagnosed with a fatal lung condition and, according to Wikipedia, was within months of dying had he not received a lung transplant in 2008. While doing research on Ray's whereabouts, I stumbled upon an NBA.com article that chronicles Ray's sad situation, noting that in spite of his condition, Ray continues to work with juvenille offenders in the Jacksonville area.
Rodney White (2002-05)
One of the bigget disappointments in recent Nuggets history, White was drafted ninth overall in 2001 by Pistons GM - and the Nuggets exclusive trading partner - Joe Dumars. That means Dumars passed on Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson and Troy Murphy in favor of White, whose NBA career ended after 218 games played (186 with the Nuggets). As a Nugget, White contributed virtually nothing and was one of the laziest players I've seen wear a Nuggets uniform since Kevin Brooks' (brief) heyday. In 2002-03, when the 17-win Nuggets gave all its players ample opportunities to succeed, White made the least of said opportunities by shooting 40.8% from the field and 24% from three-point range. Making matters worse, White was taking two three-pointers per game back then.
Where Are They Now? According to White's Wikipedia page, he has played overseas in Spain, Italy, China and most recently, Israel, where he was cut by Maccabi (Israel's premier team) last winter. In other words, his career went down the tubes around the same time that Ehud Olmert's did.
CENTERS (PICK ONE)
Anthony Cook (1990-92)
As a kid, I could've sworn that I saw flashes of potential from Cook, an undersized center who played for two of the worst Nuggets teams ever: Paul Westhead's 1990-91 and 1991-92 poor excuse for NBA teams. Looking back at Cook's game-by-game stats, I see where I would of thought highly of Cook. During his rookie year he had two separate stretches during which he went four consecutive games with at least 10 rebounds. The problem? He only grabbed at least 10 rebounds one other time during his entire (albeit brief) Nuggets career.
Where Are They Now? I'm not sure where Cook is these days, but his Nuggets and NBA career was cut short thanks to a ruptured patella tendon injury in his right knee sustained in 1992.
Dave Robisch (1971-75, 1980-84)
During his first stint in Denver with the ABA's Denver Rockets, Robisch put up decent numbers. But upon his return to the Nuggets during the 1980-81 season and into the 1983-84 campaign - playing as Dan Issel's backup - the 6'10" forward/center not only didn't shoot 50% from the field, but he shot less than 40% from the field in 165 games with the NBA's Nuggets. The irony of Robisch being Issel's backup was that Robisch had been traded to Denver for Issel in 1975.
Where Are They Now? According to Robisch's Wikipedia page, he's currently an "elected official" in Springfield, Illinois as a trustee for Capital Township.
Danny Schayes (1982-90)
Like his Nuggets teammate Bill Hanzlik, Schayes made the most of the little athleticism bestowed upon him, even though he was the son of NBA Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. A relatively productive player for most of his Nuggets career, Schayes was the predominant starting center for the 54-win 1987-88 Nuggets, often starting alongside fellow Stiff Blair Rasmussen (it's no wonder Doug Moe won Coach of the Year that season). It wasn't that Schayes was a bad player per se, far from it, it's just that he couldn't jump to save his life. With Schayes and Rasmussen leading the way, the Nuggets consistently ranked last in slam dunks throughout the mid-to-late 1980s.
My favorite Schayes story took place in the summer of 1990. Schayes, who worked out at our health club in Denver, had just been traded to the Bucks for Terry Mills. Seeing him at the club one day, my mother gave him my grandmother's phone number in case he wanted to meet any nice Jewish people when he got to Milwaukee. Schayes graciously accepted the number, but never called. Oy.
Where Are They Now? I actually sat right behind Schayes during the Rookie Game at the 2005 All-Star Weekend and forgot to ask what he's been up to. But Schayes' name came up in a recent Rick Reilly article on the topic of how NBA players piss away so much money so fast. It was interesting seeing Schayes quoted in such an article, considering the outfit he runs out of Phoenix is called No Limits Investing. No joke.
GUARDS (PICK TWO)
Howard Carter (1983-84)
"The Denver Nuggets: Where First Round Draft Picks Go to Die" should have been the franchise's mantra throughout the 1980s. Neither James Ray (5th overall in 1980, out of the NBA in 1983), Carl Nicks (23rd overall in 1980, out of the NBA in1983), Rob Williams (19th overall in 1982, out of the NBA in 1984), Mo Martin (16th overall in 1986, out of the NBA in 1988), Mark Alarie (18th overall in 1988, out of the NBA in 1991), Jerome Lane (23rd overall in 1988, out of the NBA in 1993) nor Todd Lichti (15th overall in 1989, out of the NBA in 1994) lasted more than five seasons. And Howard "Hi-C" Carter, drafted 15th overall in 1983, was no exception. Carter only appeared in 55 games as a Nugget, was traded to the Mavericks after his rookie year and was out of the NBA altogether by 1985. And who said Moe didn't like playing rookies?
Where Are They Now? According to the NBA's Hoopedia, Carter played in France long enough to become a French citizen and also played in Greece and the Philippines. In other words, I have no idea where he is now.
Junior Harrington (2002-03)
It's hard to believe that you could start in 51 NBA games at the age of 22 and not be able to make a roster the following season, but such was life for Lorinza "Junior" Harrington and the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets, unarguably the least talented team in modern NBA history (although coach Bill Hanzlik's 1997-98 squad could give them a run for their money). Harrington played hard nightly but he couldn't shoot (36.2% from the field) and had a dreadful assist-to-turnover ratio (about 1.8 to one). But Harrington did exactly what the Nuggets asked him to do: lose. By winning just 17 games, the Nuggets were able to land the third pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and select a kid named Carmelo Anthony.
Where Are They Now? After a brief stint with the Grizzlies in 2007, we last heard from Harrington overseas where he played for Union Olimpija in the Premier A Sloveian League this past winter. Even though I've never seen Union Olimpija play, I guarantee they could easily topple Harrington's 2002-03 Nuggets.
Julius Hodge (2005-07)
One of the great draft busts of recent memory (20th overall in 2005), Hodge loitered on the Nuggets roster for two seasons but only played in 18 total games. A surprisingly stellar college player (I say surprisingly because while Hodge played great in the loaded ACC, he had no NBA game to speak of whatsoever), drafting Hodge never made any sense. The 2005-06 Nuggets already had Greg Buckner, (future Denver Stiffs HOF nominee) DerMarr Johnson and Voshon Lenard clogging up the two-guard spot and added Linas Kleiza that summer, as well. While the Nuggets may have redeemed themselves by picking up Kleiza late in that draft (via a trade with Portland), the Hodge pick could have been used to select Jason Maxiell or David Lee to shore up the Nuggets lack of depth at power forward which persists to this day.
Where Are They Now? Hodge did some blogging recently for my man Jorge Sierra's HoopsHype.com but seems to have ceased his blogging activities since April. And his Wikipedia page says he requested a release from the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian basketball league.
Eddie Hughes (1988-90)
Long before the diminutive Earl Boykins was dazzling some fans (like my mother) while annoying others with his selfish play (like me), the generously listed 5'10" Hughes was a fan favorite at McNichols Arena during his two year tenure in a rainbow jersey. Hughes wasn't a great shooter but he was scrappy, played hard, was good for about a steal per game and even better, he was shaped like a little frog with a small head and long, skinny legs for a guy of his height.
Where Are They Now? I wasn't able to dig up any news on Hughes current whereabouts, but his name came up briefly when Colorado State's Jason Smith was drafted by the 76ers in 2007. Since 1980, only six CSU Rams have been drafted into the NBA, including Hughes who was selected in the seventh round by the Clippers in 1982 and eventually worked his way into a $100,000 contract with the Nuggets in 1989. I can only imagine how Hughes feels when he sees players like Anthony Carter get $1 million minimum contracts.
Rob Williams (1982-84)
Like Howard Carter above, Williams - an alumnus of the Houston Cougars famous "Phi Slama Jama" - was one of many Nuggets first round draft picks from the 80s that would quickly be relegated to the dust bin of NBA history. Moe once famously described Williams as "a fat little hog" after Williams showed up to his rookie training camp out of shape. That nickname alone might earn Williams a Denver Stiffs HOF slot. Even though he was in Moe's doghouse as a rookie, Williams had a respectable second season, averaging 10.2 ppg and 5.9 apg. But for whatever reason (possibly drugs, which Williams later admitted to using during his playing days), Williams never stepped foot onto an NBA basketball court again after the 1983-84 season.
Where Are They Now? According to his Wikipedia page, Williams and his wife run a facility for mentally challenged adults in Texas. And in 1998, Williams suffered a stroke that left him blind in one eye and partially paralyzed.
Vincent Yarbrough (2002-03)
You can't nominate Junior Harrington for possible inclusion in the Denver Stiffs HOF without nominating his backcourt teammate, Vincent Yarbrough. Like Harrington, Yarbrough was basically asked to stand in at the two-guard spot to ensure that the Nuggets wouldn't win more than 20 games. And he did little more than just stand there, as he netted just 6.9 ppg on dreadful 39.3% shooting despite playing over 23 minutes per time. To Yarbrough's credit, though, he - like his teammates on that 17-win team - played hard game in and game out. A good effort wouldn't be enough to salvage Yarbrough's NBA career, however, as he hasn't played a minute of regular season NBA basketball since.
Where Are They Now? Yarbrough has spent his post-Nuggets career playing in Europe, most recently for Telekom Baskets Bonn in Germany. Since the club is sponsored by Deutsche Telekom, I'm assuming he gets free cell phone service as part of his compensation.
And there you have your 2009 Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee list. Don't forget to send in your choices!