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Why Antonio McDyess Did Not Want to Play for the Nuggets

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We have all scratched our heads a little bit wondering why Antonio McDyess was so dead set against rejoining the Nuggets.  Obviously there was some bad blood there, but why?  What happened that soured McDyess on the Nuggets organization?

The cat is out of the bag and the reason actually has to do with one of the most entertaining nights and well known stories in Nuggets lore.  

Most Nugget fans over 30 will remember the tale of how as a free agent Antonio signed with the Nuggets just one season after they had traded him to the Phoenix Suns.  Antonio was in McNichols Arena signing his contract during a Colorado Avalanche game while McDyess' Phoenix teammates Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman and George McCloud, who made an emergency trip to Denver with the hopes of convincing him to return to Phoenix, were stuck outside in a blizzard after Dan Issel made sure they could not gain entrance to the arena.  (Before we move on Chapman is now part of the Nuggets front office and McCloud would go on to join the Nuggets a year later and improbably become the Nuggets record holder for most assists in a single game.)

We all believed it was a shrewd move by Issel that prevented the Suns from making an emotional plea to sway McDyess from doing what he really wanted to do, return to Denver.

For the first time I am aware of McDyess has told his side of the story to Chris McCosky with the Detroit News (thanks to TrueHoop for the link) and it includes a few facts that are missing from the record as Nuggets fans know it.

It was January of 1999, and the lockout-shortened season was about to start. McDyess, who had played in Phoenix the previous season, was a free agent about to sign with Denver, his first NBA team.

"I didn't want to sign there," said McDyess, a forward. "I sort of had an in-between mind at that point."

Problem was, he had given a verbal commitment to the Nuggets, and they had flown him in on the eve of training camp to sign the contract.

"When I got to Denver, I just felt like that wasn't the place for me," he said. "So I called Jason Kidd (his teammate in Phoenix the previous season) and told him, 'I don't know if I want to sign here, man.' He said, 'Just stay right there and don't do nothing you don't want to do. I will be there soon.' "

Kidd, along with Suns teammates George McCloud and Rex Chapman, chartered a plane and flew through a blizzard into Denver that night.

"I was at a (Colorado Avalanche) hockey game (in the owner's suite) and I wasn't going to sign until they got there," McDyess said.

But McDyess said Dan Issel, Denver's coach and general manager at the time, knew Kidd's rescue party was on the way, and instructed security and ticket sellers at McNichols Arena to keep Kidd and company out of the building.

"I mean, it was a blizzard outside, and they wouldn't let those guys inside the arena. They kept them out in the snow," McDyess said. "It was crazy times."

McDyess, true to his character, honored his verbal commitment to the Nuggets and played four more seasons with them. But he's always regretted the decision he made on that snowy night.

There you have it. Antonio McDyess never wanted to be back in Denver a second time and as a result he turned down a shot at a third.  

The signing of McDyess in 1999 was a big boost to the Nuggets.  He blossomed into an All-Star and Olympian.  He scored the game winning buzzer beating basket in the semifinals of the 2000 Sydney Olympics against Lithuania to prevent the US from losing their first international game with professionals.  I was proud of that.  He gave the Nuggets a sense of legitimacy.  

Of course, the Nuggets never managed to make the playoffs during McDyess' tenure and he was shipped to New York on draft night in 2002 to bring Marcus Camby and Nene to town.  

Who knows how things play out if McDyess does what he truly wanted to do and signed with Phoenix instead of Denver in 1999.  A million different things could have happened between then and now, but it is possible that Issel's strong arm tactics that seemed so great at the time have cost the Nuggets a player who could have legitimately lifted them to the status of contender.  

As much as I love(d) McDyess would I trade those feelings of legitimacy he gave a perennial lottery team almost a decade ago for a chance to compete with the Lakers this year?

You better believe it.

The NBA is clearly a meat market and the business is as cut throat as a girls high school bathroom.  However, treating people the right way is never a bad thing.  Whether it is Dan Issel locking McDyess in a luxury suite until he signs a contract or Marcus Camby being traded without so much as a call and thank you from the front office you have to wonder if the Nuggets organization treats players with the proper respect.  

I honestly do not know the answer.  Perhaps they do treat players as well as any other team in the league.  They certainly do their best to provide the highest quality of facilities.  However, I have heard enough little anecdotes that make me wonder if Antonio McDyess will not be the last player to decline a chance to play in Denver.