For those of you sipping your early bird coffee, jittery at the potential of this squad after this team extirpated the Phoenix Suns in their preseason opener, things can not be more exciting in Denver at the moment.
The Denver Nuggets are a team seeping with talent. Young and exuberant in their youth. Yet the one thing that strikes me about this team is not just the potential talent.
Some would call the people who would take character over talent to be nothing short of a buffoon, perhaps that is correct and maybe they have watched too many "Days of our Lives" episodes, or have given into the cute girl who's only subjective analysis of a basketball game is pointing out who is the most attractive player on the court.
Now, while talent might be the single most important aspect for a team to win a championship, for fans of small-market teams, it is the character of the players that matters the most. Consider the teams that have made it to the finals in the past twenty years and then count on your left finger, how many of them have been small market teams?
Most of those teams in the modern-era have been large market teams, and the exception would be the San Antonio Spurs. Their teams were defined by character, The fact that they were strong character squads is no coincidence in correlation to their small market status.
For Denver, nothing could be sweeter than the taste of just one championship banner, yet with each flailing year and impending draft, our fans and team have been subjected to being the Chicago Cubs of the NBA and its short existence in relevance to the MLB. We don't have one banner to hold onto with pride, the way the Warriors or Trail Blazers might. Simply put, Denver has never had the nectar of sweet tears that comes from winning in their cup, but merely the tears of defeat and the cold realization of what tears really taste like; salty and bitter.
We can't recall the glory days of a team that went to the top and won it all, bringing a shroud of legend at the mere mention of the year of that team. Like the mystique given off by the 1976 Trailblazers and figures such as Bill Walton, the only legends we can conjure are the Denver team's of the 80's and hold on to the myths of Alex English, David Thompson and Fat Lever, and the nostalgic feeling we hold when we stare in amazement at the high scoring in those years with that team.
So Carmelo Anthony came along, after the Nuggets very own dark age came the knight in shining armor to come and save the Nuggets franchise had come at last!! Surely talent had just lapsed itself onto the Nuggets laps finally! Things were looking like the beginning of a new age where finally Nugget fans could finally relish in an NBA trophy, yet after every first round exit, every single questionable contract signing, Nugget fans began to scratch their heads in dismay. We had a team of talent, but despite Carmelo and his obvious gifts, his character was poor and manuscripted, it was as if he had been sculpted together by corporate franchise owners and Jay-Z.
Nugget fans put up with his seemingly disinterested take on the Nugget fan faithful, and why you ask? Because he was talented! He had all the talent in the world, he could put up 25 every single given night and Nugget fans ate it up, surely nothing could be better than top talent? After seven seasons of disappointing playoff efforts, and having his eyes set on bigger markets, he gave up on us. The biggest talent to ever set foot in Pepsi Center had left us because the talent wanted more money to promote his name and never looked back on the small pond he had to endure.
Which brings me to my first point; Of all the major sports, basketball is the most intimate, and thus we associate more with the players. It is inherently subject to the influence of single players. The goal or at least the function at least is that the players are interchangeable. Any one of the five players can go anywhere on the court, shoot, pass, pick, or defend at any time. This puts a greater responsibility on each player belonging seamlessly to the whole every second they're on the court, more so than any other sport.
The NBA thus creates the perfect "storm" to throw at ones character, this is the price of fame. Money, food, house, car, girlfriends, travel, acclaim, fame, it's all there and the next question is one would guess, "What is next"? This is the trial most players will have to face when it is thrown at them. What if Mr. "insert incredibly talented player" says "Nothing left!"? After he discovers the luxuries that come with being a player and the money involved? What if he is content to live this life of leisure and worry not the grueling task of winning an NBA championship for a team? A city? A state?
This is the ultimate fork in the road for the talented players to ask. You can be bigger than the cog of a factory, you can rise above and face the challenge, and persevere through adversity. Someone with devoted attention to being the best might ponder, such Arron Afflalo might, That being motivated to be bigger than yourself, to be the best, and contributing to the team, winning championships, or just fulfilling what they promised--will respond to this challenge of character.
Finally, our society as a whole has spotlighted the character issue through relentless media scrutiny. Anthony appeared in a video entitled, Stop Snitchin', which warned that residents of Baltimore who collaborated with the police would face violence. Lest we also forget the Knicks-Nuggets brawl, and sipping one too many when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, after being pulled over on southbound Interstate I-25 at 20th Street in Denver for weaving through lanes and not dimming his lights, and who could forget his absolutely embarrassing mug shot. Nowadays, if you are famous and wear different colored socks, you'll make the front page.
People are beyond eager to share their brush experiences with celebs. Your barber, carpenter, landscape artist, or the 3 or 4 odd weridos from your local newspaper, hell even your uncle Bo will want to spill all the beans of your life to the press and wait in line to be interviewed for the next "Behind/Between/Underneath the Whatever". Oh and don't get me wrong, we Love it! Forget baseball, there is no better national past time than building up a hero, then tearing them down and rip them apart. Character, or better lack thereof, is always on display with unprecedented constancy and accessibility.
Then we look at our team, and we see a team full of CHARACTER, this is a bunch of guys whom life stories have been in the face of adversity before making it to the NBA, and then overcoming it. This is still the underdog Nuggets we all still love, but this team has a better character, when the rags became riches, they didn't stop to flutter, they are still continuing their flight at full speed. Faried? Strong character. Kenyon Martin? strong character, but let it get over his head. Nene? Strong character. Carmelo Anthony? Let the fame get to his head. The list goes on and on for this team and comparisons to former Nuggets, but you get the jist. This team is the ideal foundation to build a team on, even if their talent might not be as high as some other teams, they have heart, lost amongst some of the more talented teams on the league. I can't thank our general manager Masai Ujiri and our owner Kroenke enough.
I would argue that character matters very much if you have designs on being anything more than mediocre. Talent might possibly overcome lack of character if you could assemble enough of it, but that's getting harder and harder in today's NBA and is all but impossible for a small-market team.. So if I were to say to our general manager right now, if you are building a team in the right direction, look at their character, just as much as their FG%, their vertical leap, or their crossover. It might not at all be the top priority, but it has to be on the list, because it is now, more than ever that character really matters.