With the votes for the 3rd Annual Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame coming in (get your votes in, dammit!), former Nuggets team president and head coach Bernie Bickerstaff appears to be a slam dunk for the Lifetime Achievement Award...an award likely to be renamed in his honor. Among Bickerstaff's litany of failures was his inability to keep Dikembe Mutombo in Denver when the 7'2" center's contract came up for renewal in 1996.
Even though Mutombo was a defensive-minded center and Carmelo Anthony is a scoring-minded small forward, the two have a number of parallels in regards to their careers as Denver Nuggets. Like Melo, Mutombo was drafted by the Nuggets out of a Big East school and soon became Denver's most recognizable basketball star for his era. Like Melo, Mutombo led the Nuggets to a playoff series victory after a multi-season playoff drought. Like Melo, Mutombo didn't embrace Denver a la John Elway or Joe Sakic, but by all accounts enjoyed his time in the Mile High City. Like Melo, Mutombo played in multiple All-Star games as a Nugget. Like Melo, Mutombo's supporting cast went from up-and-coming/championship-contending to injury-riddled/playoff no-factor quickly.
And like Melo, Mutombo's contract status led to a standoff between himself, his representation (the infamous, notoriously hard-headed David Falk) and the Nuggets organization.
But the comparisons don't go much further than that. Yes, Bickerstaff played "hardball" with Mutombo and Falk, but Mutombo's situation differed from Melo's in a number of ways.
First, Mutombo was a free agent in 1996. Melo isn't (yet).
Second, Mutombo's primary motive for leaving was simply monetary driven. Conversely, Melo's motives for leaving (all of which are speculation at this point) are some combination of wanting to play in a bigger market, wanting to play with his friends and/or wanting to appease his wife.
Third, the current Nuggets regime is willing to pay Melo the maximum amount to retain his services whereas Bickerstaff - clueless about where salaries were heading in the NBA circa the mid-1990s - decided in his infinite wisdom that a $10 million per season contract was too much for an All-Star center.
Fourth - and I'm leaping ahead here - this Nuggets organization won't be caught with their pants down like Bernie was in 1996. Melo might ultimately leave (as I believe will happen...sorry, fellow Stiffs) but the Nuggets will get something in return that's better than some meaningless late first round picks or, as Bernie got for Mutombo, nothing whatsoever.
Simply put, for the right price Mutombo was happy to stay in Denver but for Melo, money won't be enough.
What makes the Melo saga sad for longtime Nuggets fans like me is that it seems as though Denver historically loses their pro basketball stars to other locales prematurely.
In 1970, Spencer Haywood - who had just won the ABA MVP, All-Star Game MVP and Rookie of the Year Award - took his 30.0 ppg and 19.5 rpg (not typos) to the NBA's Seattle Supersonics after one lone season as a Denver Rocket.
During the 1982 off-season, the Nuggets traded perhaps the greatest player in franchise history - David "Skywalker" Thompson - after his seventh season (same number of years that Melo has played here) in Denver due to continuing drug abuse and other assorted issues with the high-flying superstar. In exchange for Thompson we got Bill Hanzlik and a number one pick that became Rob Williams, whom then head coach Doug Moe kindly referred to as a "fat little hog".
One year after Mutombo's departure - in 1997 - the Nuggets lost all-rookie first team member Antonio McDyess to Phoenix in exchange for a collection of meaningless draft picks because of a looming contract dispute.
And ironically, when McDyess was cajoled by then Nuggets president Dan Issel to return in 1998 it meant the end of LaPhonso Ellis' career in Denver, ending after six memorable but injury-riddled seasons.
Only Issel (as a player), Alex English and Fat Lever were able to play out the majority of their prime years in a Nuggets uniform, each of whom retired or left Denver with their best NBA days well behind them.
I hate to keep playing the "Debbie Downer" role around here in regards to the Carmelo Anthony situation. But being a lifelong Nuggets fan, I've seen this happen before. Unlike the great stars who came before him, however, I fear that Melo doesn't want to be here in the first place.
And if that's the case, there's no reason to get Mutombo'd before training camp begins.