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We earned this...

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(Photo courtesy of Denver Stiffs reader Mordecai)

You know who you are.

You witnessed the abrupt dismantling of the Doug Moe/Alex English/Fat Lever era in one summer.

You accepted the rebuilding of 1990...and again in 1996...and again in 2002.

You watched two shysters attempt to buy your beloved franchise, only to sell out to a satellite conglomerate that couldn't point to McNichols Arena on a map.

You endured your team missing the postseason 11 times in 13 years on the heels of being playoff participants for nine consecutive seasons.

You screamed with anger at the television when they foolishly drafted a stiff named Raef in 1998, another stiff nicknamed Skita in 2002 and traded the 10th pick in the draft for some other stiff named Efthimios in 1996.

You were fed up with the attitude and lack of respect from an incredibly talented yet incredibly rudderless coach/team that teased us with 55-win potential but delivered only postseason ineptitude.

You've been a fourth class sports citizen within your own city, and an afterthought among the other professional sports teams in this country.

And yet for all these years, even in the leanest of lean seasons, you've spent whatever you could afford on tickets, parking, overpriced food and beer, TV packages, apparel and merchandise.

And you still have that LaPhonso Ellis jersey collecting dust in the back of your closet somewhere.

And you remember learning every curse word in the book (plus other fancy words like "Stiff" and "no hoper") by sitting within an earshot of Doug Moe when you went to games at McNichols Arena growing up.

And you still have your Maxie Miner or your rainbow T-shirt ready to be worn to the next home game.

And you were reduced to tears when your team pulled off the greatest upset in NBA playoff history in 1994.

And you were thrilled to hear that a basketball-loving billionaire out bid his own brother-in-law to buy your team and keep them in your hometown for good.

And you screamed with joy when a college phenom named Carmelo Anthony landed in our lap in the draft in 2003.

And if you're really old school, you still have your "Lunch Bucket Brigade" poster* buried in a box in your basement somewhere.

And you knew that with every new season your favorite team might - might - reward you with that once-in-a-decade-special season for all that you've given them.

And you had a feeling that when they brought Chauncey Billups back to his/our hometown, this might be that special season.

And you were in the Pepsi Center stands on Wednesday night or were glued to your television set because you wouldn't in a million years miss seeing your team advance to their third Western Conference Finals in NBA franchise history.

You know who you are.

You're a loyal denizen of Nuggets Nation.

And you've earned this Western Conference Finals appearance alongside the team that's done just about everything right to bring us to within four games of our first ever NBA Finals.

ESPN.com's Bill Simmons said it best after his Celtics won the NBA Finals last year when he said that as sports fans, we basically root for laundry (i.e. what's on the front of the jersey and the logo on the front of the building, rather than those who wear those jerseys or work in that building). And he's right.

But nothing feels better than being able to genuinely root for the players wearing those jerseys, and for the organization and coach that has put those players in a position to succeed. And for the first time in years, I can sincerely say that this team, this coach and this organization deserves our unequivocal, devoted support, beyond just the fact that they represent our city.

Before and during the series to come we'll (rightfully) discuss how we shouldn't settle for just a Western Conference Finals appearance, squabble and debate over individual performances and coaching maneuvers, and talk a lot of trash to Lakers/Rockets fans. But for now let's enjoy the Nuggets first trip to the Western Conference Finals appearance in 24 long years.

Every member of Nuggets Nation - from the owner to management to the coach to the players to all of us fans - have earned this together. They deserve our thanks for rewarding our loyalty with a great effort, and we deserve their thanks for sticking with this team for so long.

Way to go, Nuggets!!


*For the uninitiated, throughout the 1980s the Nuggets would produce an annual theme poster featuring the players dressed up in costumes. I don't remember exactly what year it started or what year it ended, but from about 1982 to 1989 season ticket holders could count on receiving a theme poster before each season. The most famous was the "Lunch Bucket Brigade" poster for the 1985-86 season, which featured Alex English, Fat Lever, Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper, T.R. Dunn, Mike Evans, Bill Hanzlik, Blair Rasmussen, Danny Schayes, Elston Turner, Willie White and head coach Doug Moe in construction gear. In case you're curious, that team took the eventual Western Conference Champion Houston Rockets to six games in the semifinals, losing Game 6 in double overtime at McNichols Arena. This might have been one of the most underrated and least talked about Nuggets teams ever.