The 2011 NBA lockout affected Denver Nuggets fans in many ways: we missed out on a true training camp, the season was delayed until after Christmas, we were cheated out of 16 regular season games, our team had to play some back-to-back-to-backs ... and we missed out on a fourth consecutive year of the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame.
Well, back by popular demand I proudly present the nominees for the 2012 induction class of the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame. And this year there's a twist as we'll be inducting fan favorites, selected by our readers.
Historically, the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame has inducted notable draft busts (like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Mark Macon and Julius Hodge), overpaid acquisitions (Tariq Abdul-Wahad) and lovable white guys (Danny Schayes, Bill Hanzlik, Ryan Bowen and Joe Wolf). And while there are still plenty of those to go around to fill out another induction class (how exactly Tim Kempton, James Earl Ray, Rob Williams and Dale Ellis aren't in the Denver Stiffs HOF is beyond me), I've decided to turn our collective attention to more fond Nuggets memories: fan favorites.
Similar to the nomination rules of 2008 through 2010, a Denver Stiffs HOF'er must meet the following criteria (with some modifications for 2012):
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 20 games in a Nuggets uniform or was on the roster for two consecutive seasons.
3) Any inductee who appeared in an All-Star Game representing the Nuggets is NOT eligible. And this year, I held off on bad-ass players who could have been All-Stars like LaPhonso Ellis, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and J.R. Smith (but I'm already seeing a theme emerging for next year's Stiffs HOF).
4) Special consideration should be given to players who had ridiculously large contracts (like Abdul-Wahad), were white (like Michael Doleac) or better yet, were both white and had a large contract (like Blair Rasmussen).
5) Extra special consideration should be given to players who exhibited little athletic ability, but gave an earnest effort on the floor nightly and as a result, were fan favorites (like Hanzlik and Bowen).
For newcomers, here's how this works: from the players listed 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 over the next three weeks, we'll randomly select a few winners who will receive
FORWARDS (PICK TWO)
JOE KOPICKI (1984-1985)
As I wrote in 2009 when first nominating Kopicki for the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame, in the 1980s it was mandatory for all NBA teams to have a big, white Stiff as their 12th man. And for 42 games during their awesome 52-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? In 2010, Kopicki was inducted into the Detroit Mercy Hall of Fame. And in 2011, Kopicki received the Matt Dobek Special Recognition Award from the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. Could induction into the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame be next?
JEROME LANE (1988-1992)
Another former Denver Stiffs HOF nominee, I have to put Lane's popularity into context for new Nuggets fans. Lane was a fan favorite among youngsters (like me) for a singular reason: he was the only Nugget who could / would dunk. Lane's second NBA season coincided with David Robinson's first (1989-90), a season during which Robinson single-handedly had more dunks than the entire Nuggets team combined. Back then, the Nuggets would run a promotion that if it was your birthday you could meet one player before a game, and Lane was routinely requested more than great players like Alex English and Fat Lever ... simply because Lane could dunk. Unfortunately, Lane was lazy and often out-of-shape which didn't help his cause while playing for Doug "I don't play rookies" Moe.
Where Are They Now? There's not much out there on Lane's current whereabouts, but from what I could gather he's currently an assistant coach for the Buchtell Griffins in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
MARCUS LIBERTY (1990-1993)
Entering high school, Liberty was regarded as one of the great basketball prospects in the entire country and played for a stacked Fighting Illini team in college (alongside Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, former Nugget Kenny Battle and Steve Bardo). Unfortunately, as a pro Liberty turned out to be a big tease. Towards the end of each of his three seasons in Denver, Liberty would play so fantastically well that fans believed he'd be a star (or at least, a starter) the following season. But it never came to pass as Liberty didn't work hard enough in the off-season and routinely fell out of the rotation before each new season even began.
Where Are They Now? The No-Look Pass' Peter Kim caught up with Liberty in 2010. In the column, Liberty admits to not working hard enough as a pro but he's still involved in basketball, running basketball camps in Illinois.
EDUARDO NAJERA (2004-2008)
Playing for talented Nuggets teams that were devoid of the necessary heart and hustle to advance in the playoffs, Najera provided the little heart and hustle that the Nuggets had during the "Thuggets" Era of the mid-to-late aughts. Routinely seen taking tough charges, committing hard fouls and diving for loose balls, one has to wonder what the Mexican-born Najera must have been thinking playing alongside supremely talented but supremely troublesome divas like Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Allen Iverson.
Where Are They Now? Najera is doing just fine. After playing in the NBA for 12 years and grossing almost $37 million in salary, Najera will now coach the D-League's Texas Legends.
MARK RANDALL (1993-1995)
How can Scott Hastings and Bill Hanzlik be inducted into the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame while "Big Mark" must await his call? It makes no sense. This Cherry Creek High School graduate followed up on an impressive college career at Kansas with a brief four-year NBA career that included stops with the champion Bulls (although Randall didn't stay on long enough to get a ring), the Timberwolves, the Pistons and, of course, his hometown Denver Nuggets. Playing the "Jack Haley" role on the miracle 1993-94 squad, Randall appeared in just 36 total regular season games as a Nugget. But it was enough to stay with the franchise for which he still works.
Where Are They Now? Anyone who has been to a Nuggets game in the last few years knows exactly where Randall is. Now known as "Big Mark", Randall is officially a "community ambassador" for the Nuggets and does everything from fundraising to charitable visits to catching Rocky's missed behind-the-back-halfcourt-shots.
RODNEY ROGERS (1993-1995)
Rogers' Nuggets career was brief, but it featured two unforgettable moments. First, he made three three-pointers in just 9 seconds against the Utah Jazz on February 8th, 1994 ... something that we may never see happen again in NBA history.
Secondly, in 1995 Rogers threw down a thunderous put back dunk on then-MVP David Robinson and defensive specialist Dennis Rodman that is regarded as one of the best dunks in Nuggets history (see #3 in the video below ... and former Nuggets Tom Hammonds and Robert Pack make the Top 10, too!).
Where Are They Now? After retiring from the NBA having made almost $27 million, Rogers was tragically injured in a dirt bike accident in 2008 which has left him paralyzed from the neck down. Rogers now runs The Rodney Rogers Foundation whose purpose is to help others who suffer from paralysis.
REGGIE WILLIAMS (1990-1996)
After being selected fourth overall by the Clippers in 1987, Williams was regarded as a bust and bounced around to Cleveland and San Antonio before the Nuggets picked the small forward up off waivers mid-season in 1991. Not surprisingly, under Paul Westhead's run-and-gun system Williams thrived, averaging 18.2 ppg in 1991-92. And when Williams was surrounded by more talent, he was a critical part of the Nuggets' stunning 1994 playoff upset over the Seattle Supersonics, including a 31 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks outburst in Game 3 of that series, followed by the game-tying shot that sent Game 4 into overtime.
Where Are They Now? Sadly, Williams was out of the NBA just one year after the Nuggets traded him to the Pacers (along with Jalen Rose and the 10th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft for Mark Jackson, Ricky Pierce and the 18th pick that became ... Efthimious Rentzias ... ugh). Since then, Williams has been coaching high school basketball in the Washington, DC area near his alma matter Georgetown.
GUARDS (PICK TWO)
MICHAEL ADAMS (1987-1991)
Generously listed at 5'10", Adams was a fearless shooter with an awkward "shot put" stroke who joined the Nuggets prior to the 1987-88 campaign and helped lead the team to a franchise record 54 wins. Adams never appeared in an All-Star Game as a Nugget, but he scored a shitload of points - including an average of 26.5 ppg under head coach Paul Westhead during the 1980-81 season. Adams was known for his three-point shot, and at one point held the NBA record for most consecutive games with a three-pointer made at 79 and had 7 three-pointers in one half against the Bucks in 1989. To this day, Adams ranks second all time in Nuggets franchise history with 630 made three-pointers (behind J.R. Smith's 768).
Where Are They Now? Since leaving the NBA, Adams has remained engaged with the game as an assistant coach at Maryland and in the WNBA, and is now the head coach for Bishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC.
T.R. DUNN (1980-1988, 1989-1991)
Theodore Roosevelt Dunn couldn't jump, couldn't shoot and couldn't run ... but he was a tenacious defender who started at shooting guard for the Nuggets for much of their second "Golden Era" - 1981 through 1988. Listed at 6'4", Dunn had the thankless task of guarding the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Alvin Robertson, Sleepy Floyd, Darrell Griffith and other dangerous tall guards in their 80s heyday. On Dunn's watch, the Nuggets won two Midwest Division titles, boasted two 50-win seasons and appeared in the 1985 Western Conference Finals. Dunn currently ranks second all time in steals for the Nuggets.
Where Are They Now? Since retiring as a player, Dunn has been able to find an assistant coaching job on several benches, including the Hornets, Kings and Rockets. Dunn is currently working again for head coach Rick Adelman on the Timberwolves' coaching staff.
GLEN GONDREZICK (1979-1983)
Whenever your nickname is "Gondo", you deserve a shot at the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame. Gondrezick - a Colorado native from Boulder - was known for his tireless hustle, easy going personality and was both a fan and coach favorite during his four seasons in Denver. Most memorable was the 1982-83 campaign when Gondo teamed up with other famous Stiffs Danny Schayes, Bill Hanzlik, Dave Robisch, T.R. Dunn, Mike Evans and Rich Kelley, busts James Earl Ray and Rob Williams, and stars Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe and Dan Issel to lead the Doug Moe-coached Nuggets to 45 wins and a second round appearance in the playoffs.
Where Are They Now? Tragically, Gondo passed away in 2009 at the young age of 53 due to complications from heart transplant surgery. Prior to his passing, Gondo was the broadcaster for UNLV, his alma matter. To learn about about Gondo, I encourage Denver Stiffs readers to check out the Las Vegas Sun's Ron Kantowski's terrific article written soon after Gondo passed.
BOBBY JACKSON (1997-1998)
It's hard to be a fan favorite when your team wins just 11 games. But on the pathetic 1997-98 Nuggets squad, the 6'1" Jackson endeared himself to Nuggets fans by at least trying to play hard and he ended up having a decent rookie season. Jackson's tenure in Denver was short lived, however, as he was traded the following off-season in a complicated, three-team trade with Toronto and Minnesota that brought Chauncey Billups to Denver the first time.
Where Are They Now? Jackson would go on to have a solid NBA career during which he grossed nearly $37 million in salary. Jackson is currently an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings where he had his best seasons.
TODD LICHTI (1989-1993)
Let's be frank: we all rooted for Lichti because a) he was white (I guess he's technically still white) and, b) at just 6'4" and 205 pounds, he looked like one of us. The problem, of course, is that Lichti played like one of us, too. To be fair to Lichti, he never realized his full potential after being involved in a car accident that killed his fiancee and broke his foot after his rookie season. But he did play pretty well as an NBA sophomore and then it was all downhill from there. Unfortunately, Lichti was one of those tweener guards with no real specialty, no reliable jumper and wasn't quick enough to defend the new generation of shooting guards in the NBA.
ROBERT PACK (1992-1995, 2000-2001)
An undersized point guard / shooting guard combo, Pack was a burst of energy that was so fast that he often out-ran his own dribble. A decent back-up to starter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf during the 1993-94 season, Pack came alive in the 1994 playoffs, ended up playing more key minutes than Abdul-Rauf and was a key contributor in turning the Nuggets' series around against the one-seeded Supersonics with a thunderous fourth quarter dunk on Shawn Kemp that cemented a Game 3 victory for the Nuggets in Denver. Most famously, it was Pack who had two steals and all three assists when Rogers canned three three-pointers in 9 seconds against the Utah Jazz in February 1994.
MONTE TOWE (1975-1977)
One has to wonder if the diminutive (and white!) Towe would ever have made an NBA roster had he not been superstar guard David Thompson's backcourt teammate at North Carolina State University. But regardless, the 5'7" point guard was reunited with Thompson in Denver for two seasons, including the Nuggets' final ABA season in which they competed for the ABA Championship and their first NBA season in which they won 50 games and finished first in the Midwest Division. And as Denver Stiffs reader margabelle points out in his awesome "A History Lesson: Your Denver Nuggets/Rockets and the ABA Years" column, Towe and Thompson get credited by some with inventing the alley-oop.
Where Are They Now? According to his Wikipedia page, Towe remained in basketball as an assistant and head coach at the NCAA and CBA level after his brief ABA/NBA career was over. After assistant coaching stints at NC State, Florida, UNC Asheville and the CBA's Sioux Falls Skyforce, Towe was the head coach and the University of New Orleans and is now an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State University.
CENTERS (PICK ONE)
CHRIS ANDERSEN (2001-2004, 2008-2012)
Even though the Birdman's Nuggets career ended with a whimper (thanks to a still-being-sorted-out internet sex case hanging over Andersen's head and the Nuggets exercising their "Amnesty Clause" to buy the Birdman out), we mustn't forget that the Birdman was THE fan favorite among young and old Nuggets fans alike for both of his stints in a Nuggets uniform. Joining the Nuggets originally in 2001, the previously unheard of Andersen brought instant energy and excitement to the Nuggets bench. And when the Nuggets marched to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, it was Birdman - returning from a NBA drug suspension - who was the catalyst for that squad's bench success and almost single-handedly amped up the energy in Pepsi Center every time he took the floor.
Where Are They Now? It's to be determined if another NBA team will take a flyer on Birdman or not, but given Andersen's legal issues and the fact that he has lost his jumping ability, it's unlikely. Birdman's post-NBA career will be fascinating to watch. Having met Andersen a few times, he strikes me as a decent yet confused guy and I just hope he can put his personal demons behind him for good and become a spokesperson for drug abuse.
WAYNE COOPER (1984-1989)
"Coooooooooop!!" was a giant big man who anchored the Nuggets at center during two of their best seasons ever, 1984-85 and 1985-86. Part of the trade that saw Kiki Vandeweghe depart for Portland and Fat Lever, Calvin Natt and Cooper come to Denver, Cooper was an effective rebounder and shot blocker (averaged 2.5 bpg in 1984-85 and 2.9 bpg in 1985-86), although he didn't shoot well, never averaging over 50% shooting in his NBA career. Cooper eventually ceded minutes to Denver Stiffs Hall of Famer Danny Schayes and fellow nominee Blair Rasmussen, but Cooper will forever be remembered as a key member of the Nuggets second "Golden Era" and he ranks third all-time in blocks for the Nuggets franchise.
Where Are They Now? Cooper currently serves as vice president of basketball operations for the Sacramento Kings, which explains why Nuggets legends Alex English (assistant coach) and Fat Lever (director of player development) are both employed by the Kings right now.
BISON DELE / BRIAN WILLIAMS (1993-1995)
Almost a decade before the Birdman played the quirky, energy big man off the bench, Williams (who later became Bison Dele) filled that role for the Nuggets for two seasons. The perfect off-the-bench complement to starters Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis, Williams brought energy and muscle to the Nuggets' 1993-94 squad that upset the Sonics in the playoffs' first round. In fact, Williams had some of the key offensive plays in Game 5 at Seattle that sealed the series for Denver.
Where Are They Now? Williams' post-Nuggets career and post-NBA career can only be described as tragically bizarre. Not only did Williams change his name to Bison Dele in 1998, but he walked away from a $30 million contract with the Pistons in 1999 and abruptly retired at the age of 30. Last known to be traveling and sailing around the world on his catamaran, Dele - along with his girlfriend and the ship's captain - was allegedly killed by Dele's own brother in July 2002. Later that year, Dele's brother died from an intentional insulin overdose.
BLAIR RASMUSSEN (1985-1991)
Originally nominated in 2008, the 7'0" Rasmussen lost out to Nuggets broadcaster Scott Hastings at the center position that year by a mere two votes! Rasmussen had some pretty solid seasons in Denver, but remarkably averaged under 6 rebounds per game. No one captured Rasmussen's "Stiff-ness" better than Moe, who once famously told the Denver Post's Woody Paige: "
Where Are They Now? Returning to his home state of Washington, Rasmussen is now the executive director of the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club and was honored in 2010 as Mercer Island's Citizen of the Year.