Kyle Speller took my job.
Well, not exactly. The guy who preceded Mr. Speller as the Denver Nuggets P.A. announcer took my job. Before him, a friend had the job. A great old friend and terrific P.A. announcer, Sean Moth, became the Nuggets P.A. guy the same year he stepped in for a brand new hockey team in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche. In 1999, after two seasons, he moved on to even better things as the P.A. guy and Assistant Sports Information Director for the University of Louisville. Sean has done himself so proud as to now be the Cards Senior Director of Advertising and Promotions, while still carrying the P.A. load of seven or eights sports a year, plus events, radio, and television duties. He and his amazing wife and son are part of the bedrock of Louisville. (apologies to those of you I semi-told this story to recently)
Sean was so kind as to get me an audition for the Nuggets gig, after we'd both spent several years on-air in radio. I was so nervous as to almost be late for the chance. I showed up well ahead of time, but drove to McNichols Sports Arena for my interview/audition. When I got to the door, the guard was surprised to see me. 5 minutes and a few phone calls later, we both found I was supposed to be at the Pepsi Center. The brand-new-I-didn't-know-it-was-ready-yet Pepsi Center. I raced over, and arrived two minutes ahead of time. The audition went beautifully, my three interviewers were excited, and I thought I had the gig. Until one of the astute gents auditioning me looked over my resume and said, "Wait... you've never done this before."
Well... no. A few high school football games, and 8 years on-air, but... no. Damnit. So close. At least I was the first guy on the Pepsi Center P.A. system to give a killer, "Nick VAN EXXXXELLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!"
In a week, the Denver Nuggets begin their sixteenth campaign at the Pepsi Center, seeking a return to the playoffs and NBA relevance. Here's a quick look at some highlights (and a lowlight or two) from the previous 15 Nuggets seasons at the Pepsi Center.
In game 57, the Nuggets beat the Golden State Warriors 122-88, their largest margin of the season. It was also the year they drafted James Posey, who made 2nd team All-Rookie that year. With Antonio McDyess, Van Exel, and Chauncey Billups on the squad, you'd have thought they'd fare better than a 35-47 campaign. Billups only played 13 games that season due to injury.
Denver came within a hair of .500 this season at 40-42, finishing sixth in the Midwest for the second year in a row. January 17th, they had their best win of the year against Vancouver, taking them by 24 and improving their record to 23-16. In the 70 games he played and started that season, McDyess scored 1,458 points.
Sixth place seemed the Nuggets slot for many years, though there was a huge slide in their record, wrapping the season at 27-55. They didn't fare much better in the draft, selecting Ousmane Cisse with their only selection in the second round. However, ‘01-‘02 was our first sighting of the Birdman, Chris Andersen, and in Game 81, the Nuggets whupped on the Houston Rockets, beating them by 31 points. The second highest win that season? Game 6, a 27 point victory. The opponent? Those same Rockets, who finished the season a whopping game better than our Nuggets. This was about as close as I could get to 2001 Bird:
Jeff Bzdelik joined the Nuggets as their head coach in '02-'03, and the Nuggets had made their cupboard relatively bare. Gone was McDyess, Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, and more. Marcus Camby joined the team, and a rail-thin Nene Hilario was drafted. Juwan Howard was Denver's high scorer, averaging 18.4 points in his 77 games. Stan Kroenke (probably) rarely left his giant penthouse high atop Pepsi Center for the better part of the year. Denver finished 17-65, tied for the worst record in the league. A tough season to be a Nuggets fan.
I love the publisher's note on this one... if you have 70 minutes to kill...
But that record netted the third pick in the draft, and...
No doubt about the highlight of the '03-'04 season, as Carmelo Anthony joined the fold with that third draft pick. Melo started all 82 games that season, racking up 1,725 points and leading the Nuggets to their greatest single-season improvement, finishing the year at 43-39. By the way, our second round pick? Sani Bečirović of Slovenia. Would the Detroit Pistons have still won the title with Melo instead of Darko? Chauncey and Carmelo proved a potent pairing. Collective Nuggets fans shudder.
After a rough start to the year for Jeff Bzdelik (13-15), the Nuggets determined it was time for a change, promoting Michael Cooper for 14 games. After Coop went 4-10, Denver brought in George Karl for the final 40 games of the campaign. Furious George led the Nuggets to a 32-8 record over that stretch, with Denver finishing the year at 49-33. Melo's 20.8 points per game didn't hurt a bit, either.
Though the Nuggets slipped a bit in their record for '05-'06, they took their first Northwest Division title in years, and had a solid core with Anthony, Nene, Camby, Andre Miller, and Kenyon Martin. The season took an unfortunate turn in the playoffs, with the Nuggets dropping four of five to the Los Angeles Clippers.
'06-'07 brought a trade 32 games into the season, and with it Allen Iverson. Iverson brought a new energy to Denver, and when he and Anthony found their rhythm, Denver was a lot of fun to watch. Yet again the Nuggets made the playoffs, their fourth in a row since Melo joined the team. Yet again (but unfortunately), Denver could not make their way out of the first round, losing another series to the San Antonio Spurs.
Denver went on a scoring tear in '07-'08, with Anthony having 49 and 47 point games during the season, and Iverson taking it to the Lakers in December for 51 points. The Nuggets also had a winning record in every month of the season before the Lakers exacting their revenge in the playoffs, sweeping the Nuggets in the first round.
'08-'09 was one of the most exciting seasons in Nuggets history, with a blockbuster trade during the first week of the season sending Iverson to Detroit for Denver's own Chauncey Billups. Billups was not the same player the Nuggets had seen in his first stint, with a Finals MVP trophy now to his credit. Melo, Chauncey, and a hungry Denver squad carried the Nuggets to another Midwest Divison title, a 54-28 record, and a rare visit to the Western Conference Finals, where they fell to the Lakers two games to four. Most Nuggets fans remember this series by the word "inbound". As in, inbound the ball correctly, win two close games, tip the series the other way and beat the team you watched the other guy snuff out. That close.
Expectations were high for the '09-'10 season, with a few pundits picking the Nuggets to sneak past the Lakers for their first Finals appearance. Two-thirds of the way through the season, Denver looked like world beaters... until George Karl had an unexpected second bout with cancer, and the Nuggets folded without his leadership, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz. A tough season to watch slip away given the team's potential.
'10-'11 brought the dreaded "Melo-drama", with Carmelo Anthony hedging his bets for the better part of the season until Denver engineered a trade with the New York Knicks. Gone were Anthony, Billups, and more, and Denver fans held their breath waiting to see how their new crew might fit together. Somewhat surprisingly, Karl was able to blend the new unit quickly, and the Nuggets finished the year at 50-32, good for second place in the Northwest. Though Denver fell yet again in the first round of the playoffs (this time to the Oklahoma City Thunder), the trade brought current Nuggets mainstays Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, and Wilson Chandler. Here they are beating the Nuggets right before the trade:
Time was short in '11-'12, as the players and owners couldn't start the season eye to eye in their new collective bargaining agreement. There was a work stoppage, and by the time the season started, teams had 66 games in their season. Denver still did themselves proud, winning 38 of those 66 on the way to another 2nd place finish in their division. Because there's such deep love for Golden State amongst the Stiffs faithful, I feel as if mentioning April's Game 57 against the Warriors as a high point. One which can only bring joy and peace - a 39 point avenging on the second leg of a home-and-home at the Pepsi Center. Once in the playoffs, they suffered another first-round exit, though the Nuggets stretched the Lakers to seven games in the series.
'12-'13 is mentioned too often amongst the Stiffs and the national media to the tune of the phrase, "the Nuggets are only a season removed from".
Here's a few of the facts that follow that phrase:
- A new team record for consecutive wins (15, besting the previous high of 12)
- A new team record for consecutive home wins (23, besting the previous high of 20)
- A new team record for home wins in a season (38, besting the previous 36)
- A new team record for total wins in a season (57, besting the previous 54)
- Their tenth consecutive playoff appearance (besting their previous NBA record of 9. Though if you count the streak of three before that, and add in the nine consecutive ABA playoffs prior, that run was a dozen years long.)
Just prior to the season-ending knee injury of Danilo Gallinari (season-ending for the player and the team, seemingly) the two national articles I found on the Nuggets late season streak also contained predictions for the following season. Remember this preceded injuries/defections/trades/firings, but both picked the '13-14 Nuggets to stay in the top 4 slots in the Western Conference the following season. Unfortunately, things changed in...
It's fresh in most of our memories, but on the off chance you're not a recent Nuggets fan and are still reading this article out of curiosity, boredom, or some warped sense of self-loathing...
The season was filled with carnage, a deep and long-term list of walking wounded amongst Denver's best players. To that, add the growing pains of new coaches, personnel, and methods. The result was a 36-46 record and many trying moments, ending with their first lottery appearance in years. Still, there were some high points to last season. To name a few:
- Ty Lawson's finest campaign (averaging 17.6 points and 8.8 assists in his injury-shortened 62 game season)
- The late-season emergence of Kenneth Faried
- The late season emergence of Timofey Mozgov
- The late season cohesion and success of the squad when a season was statistically lost
Denver's recent season didn't meet hopes or expectations, but there were some glimmers amongst the difficult times.
It's been a fun 15 trips through the Can, Denver Stiffs. A few more fun facts about the Pepsi Center:
- Aforementioned and linked, Stan Kroenke's loft atop Pepsi Center is a 12,000 square foot palace/penthouse with views of the city and mountains. And a frigging hot tub. Cannot find pictures anywhere. So damned jealous.
- The sculpture of basketball and hockey players in the Main Atrium weighs exactly one ton. Which is still far less than...
- Each basketball stanchion weighs 3,300 pounds. And still, they are anchored to the concrete below the basketball floor to prevent them from tipping due to the sheer force occasionally exerted on a rim.
- Speaking of weight and the court floor, the wooden floor weighs over 20 tons in total (41,625 pounds). Maybe Steve Hess should just have the guys move the court around. There are 233 pieces to move, everyone would have plenty to do. Why are there an odd number of pieces?
- Including Nuggets games, the venue houses more than 200 events annually.
- Official attendance shows that 10,334,767 fans have attended a Denver Nuggets regular season game since the Pepsi Center doors opened. 10 million plus, and growing by over a half million a year at this point. Not including pre and post season, and still that number makes me happy.
Finally, one of my finest trips to Pepsi Center was last season, when I was so fortunate as to sit in great seats with two of my dearest friends the day after meeting several of you at Stiffs Night Out. By the way, the Nuggets beat the Wizards in a fun game. The game ticket still hangs at my desk.
What about you? Ever been to the Pepsi Center, Nuggets Nation? Got a favorite trip or two to share?