Just like there was nothing 70s about "70s Night" when the Magic came to town last month, there was nothing 80s about "80s Night" when the Thunder played our Nuggets on Wednesday night...except, of course, the final score.
For a true basketball fan, attending a Nuggets game at Pepsi Center can be a very frustrating experience. The Nuggets Wednesday night matchup against the division rival Oklahoma City Thunder was promoted as "80s Night," but simply naming a night "80s Night" does not an 80s Night make.
Sure, the cheerleaders and "Big Mark" Randall wore 80s costumes, but other than that there was nothing "80s" about the experience. First off, you can't have an 80s Night when your opponent had nothing to do with the 80s. Yes, the Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics back then, but I doubt Thunder owner Clay Bennett will allow his team to be wearing those retro jerseys anytime soon. Second, you can't have an 80s Night without the Nuggets wearing their old rainbow uniforms. That point isn't up for debate. Third, all the music played in the stadium should be from the 80s and yet the Pepsi Center speakers were blaring more contemporary hits than 80s hits. Fourth, throughout the game the scoreboard should have shown highlights from the Nuggets Golden Era of the 1980s - you know, Doug Moe, Alex English, Fat Lever, Bill Hanzlik, and so forth. Guess how many 80s highlights were played on Wednesday night? I'll give you a hint...zero. And finally, you can't have an 80s Night without rolling back the cost of tickets, beer and food to 80s prices.
So once again, the Nuggets have proved that they're short-sighted when it comes to in-game presentation and treating their ticket-paying fans to something special during an otherwise tortuous season. (Conversely, the Nuggets did a great job treating their fans to something special during Tuesday night's "Big Night at Big Game".)
Now I know what many of you are thinking: so, what? Why make a such a fuss over the Nuggets in-game presentation??
I'm making a fuss because pretty soon the Nuggets will trade Carmelo Anthony and they'll have their memorable history and only their memorable history to hang their hat on. Once Melo is out of Denver, the fair-weather fans will go with him, leaving only the true basketball fans in their wake. And if the Nuggets don't present their games properly with respect for the game's history and artistry, they risk losing the fans who don't care who's wearing the jerseys knowing that the game and the team will forever be bigger than any one high maintenance player.
Despite the Nuggets botching "80s Night", I couldn't help but reminisce about those good 'ol days that turned me into a Nuggets and an NBA fan for life. You know, the days when a star player actually stayed with one team for most of his career. The days when the on-court drama was much more intriguing that the off-the-court drama. The days when the game was about the game.
In many ways, the Thunder represent what can still be great about the NBA, while the Nuggets represent what's so wrong about the current state of my favorite professional sport. The Thunder have astutely (and with some great luck, admittedly) built a young, deep team of high character guys who are on the verge of dominating the Western Conference for years to come. The Nuggets, conversely, are being torn asunder by a selfish, modern day sports superstar.
Carmelo Anthony probably isn't a bad guy per se, but his unwillingness to sign an extension with our franchise combined with his (alleged) refusal to be traded anywhere except to the New York Knicks makes him a bad guy at this moment. At least LeBron James got his "decision" over with in eight days. Melo has been dragging the entire NBA, the Nuggets organization and the fan base on an emotionally distracting roller coaster ride for months.
To the credit of Melo himself and the Nuggets' coaches and players, they've been able to navigate a reasonably decent season in spite of all this nonsense surrounding the team. They still have their distracted nights, like we saw recently against the Clippers, Kings, Hornets and Spurs. And yet they're still capable of beating any of the NBA's best teams, as we saw Wednesday night against the Thunder and I suspect we'll see again Friday against the Lakers.
Against the Thunder, the Nuggets won in a very un-Nugget-like way: they did it with stingy defense in the fourth quarter, holding the Thunder to just 21 fourth quarter points. And while they were at it on the defensive end of the floor, Carmelo Anthony reminded the basketball world why he's worth some (but certainly not all) of the attention being bestowed upon. I still maintain that you won't win a championship if Melo is your best player, but that doesn't mean he can't win a lot of games for you by simply out-scoring the opposition by himself. On Wednesday night, Melo erupted through three quarters en route to 32 points before the fourth quarter began. And like a great closer brought in to finish a baseball game after a masterful performance by the starting pitcher, the Nuggets diminutive but crafty Ty Lawson finished off the Thunder in the fourth.
If this were the 1980s, Nuggets fans would be debating about how far this team can go in the postseason and whether or not they can take down their division rivals and then the Lakers in the playoffs. But this being the 2010s, Nuggets fans are spending all their time wondering aloud about where Carmelo Anthony will end up and the what the team will look like in the trade's aftermath.
And I have to believe that even if the Nuggets had put on a proper "80s Night," the Melodrama would have dampened the mood anyway.
The View From the Not-So-Cheap-Seats...
...when his name was announced, Carmelo Anthony received mostly cheers from the crowd. Of course, there was hardly anybody in the building thanks to the crappy weather and dicey roads.
...I spent the entire game talking to my seat-mate about the Melo trade getting nixed Wednesday and then spent every quarter and halftime break talking to other fans about the Melo trade. Point being, no one cares about the games anymore and only wants to talk about the trade. Thanks, Melo.
...early in the game, you just knew Melo was going to have a big night. Whenever his effort is questioned, he seems to respond with big nights.
...Kenyon Martin may have had his best game of the season. And dare I say it, but the Nuggets should consider re-signing K-Mart to mentor the youngsters coming in after Melo gets traded.
...with the game all but over, Rocky tried to shoot his behind-the-back half-court shot but the Thunder's Russell Westbrook whacked the ball out of his hands. The fans booed Westbrook immediately as Rocky stood there exasperated. Then J.R. Smith went up to Rocky and yelled "I've got you, dog!" inferring that we would exact revenge on Westbrook for messing with Rocky. You had to love J.R. there.
...named the player of the game, Melo was interviewed by Altitude's Maya Starks after the game was over. Each time Melo tried to speak, the remaining Pepsi Center fans tried to out-do each other with cheers and boos. If the boos got louder, so would the cheers and vice versa. Eventually, the boos drowned out the cheers. Melo wasn't noticeably booed throughout the game, and yet the fans unleashed their boos on him at game's end. Very interesting.
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Carmelo Anthony: 32 points through three quarters and 14 free throw attempts. Meanwhile, Melo's opposing small forward Kevin Durant had an off night with 6-18 shooting.
Stiff of the Night
-Scott Brooks: The reigning Coach of the Year and former Nuggets assistant coach allowed a substantial second-half lead to become a second-half deficit too quickly by not calling a timeout to stop the Nuggets run and attempts to cool down Melo. Brooks should have known better than anyone what a mess the Nuggets are in and capitalized on it...but he couldn't.
The Nuggets won't play the Thunder again until April, which begs the obvious question: did we just see the final game between Durant and Melo as a Nugget?