Melbourne meets the Mountains.

Adrian Gonnella

At age fourteen I sat in front of my family computer with ESPN Gamecast open as well as ESPN Radio listening and visualizing the Nuggets game unfold. To a young kid learning and falling in love with the sport, the Nuggets were the perfect match for me. The team had attitude and big names such as Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Carter ;). It didn't take long for the Nuggets to become the biggest part of my life. Sitting down, i made a promise to myself that as soon as i turned 21 i would be on my way to the Rocky Mountains to see my Nuggets play.

From then on i became obsessed, i had dreams of being at the Can or moving to Denver, these have been common for me for years now. As i grew older i was able to start working and purchased League Pass (a pretty hefty price tag attached to that for international users). Watching all 82 games have been the norm for me since 2009 and boy wasn't that an amazing season. I've never had that much fun following any sport team and I'm sure most fans would probably agree.

Fast forward to April 2015, this was the time when i took the first step to making my dream become a reality. I arrived at my travel agent and booked my trip around the United States, highlighted by an arrival on November 11 to Denver, Colorado. Booking international trips take a lot of planning and time so i had to take a huge risk in booking my trip to Denver before any NBA schedule had been released, i faced a nervous wait for months hoping, praying that the Nuggets would even have one home game during my three nights at Mile High.

On the morning of August 13, two days after my 21st birthday the NBA Schedule was too be released. I was driving in to University for the day when i got a notification, ESPN: "NBA Schedule released". I quickly pulled over to the side of the road with my heart racing i opened it up and there it was.. November 11th Milwaukee Bucks @ Denver Nuggets, November 13th Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets. A rush of emotion poured over me, pure relief and excitement! I would be making my dream come true. I called my Dad immediately and hearing his excitement for me made me quite emotional and i shed a few man tears. I was making a life dream become a reality.

So here I was, arriving in a very cold but sunny Denver on the 11th at about 3pm from San Fransisco. I walked through the airport and i felt at home. I looked out every window i could and saw every possible angle. Here i was, 10 years after becoming a Nuggets fan. Let me tell you, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time is a beautiful sight and not to mention seeing snow on the streets for the first time in my life.

Catching an Uber to Pepsi Center felt like the longest 20 minutes of my life. I was nervous, excited and to be honest quite surreal. Upon arrival i basically jumped out of the car and stood on the footpath. I was here, I walked a lap of the arena and took a bunch of photos.

It hit 6pm, the gates opened and i rushed inside and straight to the team store, it was such an awesome feeling seeing all this nuggets merchandise in one spot, we don't get much if any Nuggets merch down in Melbourne, so i was in Nuggets heaven. What a perfect time to buy a Emmanuel Mudiay jersey. I walked down to the court and smiled as i took my first glimpse of the Nuggets floor. Shooting on it was our man Jusuf Nurkic, he was looking pretty good may i add. I stood around and soaked it all in, little did i know things were about to get crazy.

I have been in regular contact with a couple of our favorite writers Jeff Morton and Nate Timmons for a few years now and they knew i was going to be in Denver. I got a tweet from Nate asking where I was and I was super excited to finally meet a couple guys i had spoken too for many years. Moments later i see them as well as fellow writers Adam Mares (who is surprisingly super tall) and Harrison Wind (not surprisingly is normal human size). It was really cool moment to meet these guys and then Nate (i belive, things get fuzzy from here) said "Adrian, this is Tim", i looked over and standing there was Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly. In utter disbelief i shook his hand and then bent over in shock not really able to grasp what had just happened. I could imagine the smile on my face was huge and 100% creepy, after speaking with him briefly, i kind of ended the conversation because naturally i thought he would of had to leave and i'd just go on about my night. Turns out Tim had other things in mind.

Tim then invited myself and the writers for a tour of Nuggets offices which included his personal office as well as the draft room (Spoilers: i wasn't getting drafted, something about a 5"9 Italian guy with a streaky at best jump shot didn't appeal to the Front Office). I was walking around in complete disbelief over what i was going through, all that was running through my mind was "This is madness, i was happy to just keep to myself, sit and watch the game and go home, that's enough for me". While walking through the offices we bumped into Jared Jeffries. Tim introduced me, "Adrian this is Jared.." ummm YES TIM THAT IS A FORMER NBA PLAYER I KNOW WHO HE IS, IS THIS ALL REALLY HAPPENING. He shook my hand and gave me a Jordan beanie. Thanks Jared, let me faint now. While in Tim's office he then gave me a troops NBA jacket that was given to him, "It's cold in Denver, you'll need this". I mean, what was happening. The jacket had a sticker with his name on it, these things aren't supposed to happen to me. We then checked out the Nuggets practice court, a really cool moment and yes i took some more photos. From there, we walked through the tunnel and warming up was Darrell Arthur, Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris. I squealed a few little words to them, i think something around the lines of; " heheheeh Hey guys heh good luck out there tonight". I felt my face go bright red as they thanked me and smiled. Tim walked me back to my seat and said if we won, i was going to the locker room post game.

I sat down and messaged a bunch of people, i couldn't really believe what had just occurred, i just met and spoke (loosely using that term) to our Nuggets heroes. It was now time for the real fun, the game. As you all know, the Bucks came out shooting 70% in the first half. They sure did pick a great time to be unconscious from the field. Despite the score line, i couldn't shake the smile off my face. I was here, at the can watching the Nuggets play. You just can't beat that. Until they did, the Nugs came out of the half all guns blazing and turned a 13 point deficit into a 13 point lead. We were going to win & thanks to Kenneth Faried's late game heroics... we did!

Sure enough, after the game i got another message from Nate, "Tim is waiting for you by the Tunnel at section 130". I rushed over, I couldn't believe I was actually going to the locker room. Tim laid a few ground rules, you know the standard, no jumping on players, don't faint or cry and the obvious don't ask Kenneth for a lock of his hair. While walking to the locker room Tim introduced me to everyone and anyone who walked past it was so fun. Name a nuggets staff member, i met them. Everyone was so kind, maybe they were charmed by the accent. While we waited for the post game meeting to end, i hung out in the kitchen with some staff including Steve Hess, man that guys passion is infectious. Really energetic and i see why the players love him. The first guy to enter the kitchen was Wilson Chandler, i looked up and probably just stared open jawed for a while. I think i repeated "how has your night been?" about 10 to 15 times. Considering the news of his season ending injury that day, his willingness to talk to me was really awesome and something i definitely appreciated.

It then become time to enter the locker room, some players were already in the shower so i didn't meet them all but just being inside that room was crazy. Tim introduced me to a bunch of people who all looked really excited to have me there, which was an awesome feeling. Sure enough, Tim walks over to Mudiay, "Hey E, I want you to meet somebody", i stopped Tim, "It's ok Tim, let him at least put his pants on first, no rush".. Yes, our rook was in his underwear, i didn't want to intrude. We then spoke, got a photo and the such. I ended up meeting E, Gallo, Foye, Nikola Jokic and J.J. Hickson. It was a lot of fun getting photos and talking to these guys, the vibe in the locker room was fun and upbeat. Gallo remembered me from my 12 year old squeal in the tunnel pre game which may have been super embarrassing but i didn't care. I then posted a short little video to Nuggets Snapchat for all you who have them, that was me with the terrible hair. That concluded my night, the greatest one of my life. I thought that would be it, it wasn't.

The next day came and what do you know, the Nuggets had their charity social event a cool chance for me to see another side of the franchise. But that afternoon i got a message from the Nuggets inviting me to attend the event, ticket paid for. I just kind of stared at my phone, what did i do to deserve this treatment? I didn't know and i still don't. So that night, i braved this crazy Denver cold and headed out. Inside i saw a bunch of people that I had met the night earlier. The people i met ranged from Nuggets marketing, advertising, security, PR plus more. Couple this with being able to meet some pretty big nuggets fans the night was off to a great start. Then all the players turned up and hung out with all the fans in attendance, The Punch Bowl was an awesome venue and everyone had a great time. It was unbelievable to meet all the players i didn't get the chance too the night earlier and the ones i did, remembered me and we had more of a chat, that was a lot of fun.

I finally got the chance to meet Coach Malone, he is a real cool guy. We spoke for quite a while and he seemed to have genuine interest in what i was saying as well as my story and he even taught me how to play that sand bag game where you throw it onto the board for one point and into the hole for 3 points, sorry guys i don't know the name. The aura around this franchise is so positive and people friendly, it's a fantastic direction we are headed in with these guys in charge. During the night, I was approached by Alexis Perry, from , she asked to interview me and i obliged, it was a really fun experience, i still am sitting by my laptop wondering why anyone would care about what i had to say in an interview but sure enough, it happened. Alexis was really kind and funny and hopefully the interview turned out ok, i was sweating like a tap. Having people in the organization approach me during the night introducing themselves was a really surreal feeling and one i won't forget. It was my job to approach, not to be approached.

I ended up winning the silent auction for Wilson Chandlers signed game shoes with a bit of tampering, Ill Will approached the lady and told her that i had to win the auction, so we bullied people out of bidding haha! When i paid for the shoes the lady told me that the Nuggets wanted to give me a gift and i was given Mudiay's warm up top from the game earlier against the Bucks, to give with Gallinari's one also, that i managed to get signed. These acts of kindness were amazing and i am so excited to have them and bring them back home. Night two couldn't possibly have topped night one could it? Anyway, lets head to my final full day in Denver.

By 5:30 Friday night i had arrived at the Can again and it was just as exciting and surreal as the first time. I headed to the Shock Top Lodge for a quick beer, man that place is pretty cool, it should be open later on game nights though. Oh well, anyway i arrived and once again went down court side to watch the players shoot around, today it featured Gallo and JJ working on their stroke. I ran into a few people i had met previously and had brief chats and that was really fun, really allowed me to experience the Nuggets atmosphere with other fans rather than just sitting alone the whole time. (Yes, i've gone solo on this trip). With about six minutes remaining in the second quarter, Alexis came up to my seat and told me they wanted to interview me on the court at half time as well as doing the half time hype up. Half paralyzed with fear I agreed, i spent the remaining six minutes of the qtr shaking and wondering what i'd say. Just on half time, i made my way down to the tunnel where i'd meet up with Alexis, there i was approached by Jeffries who remembered me, how cool is that?!.

While waiting to go on, Tim arrived with a special guest. Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke. It was just beyond belief that he would go out of his way to meet me, "You met everyone else, so here is Josh" Tim said to me. I was standing in the Nuggets tunnel having a chat and photo with the two biggest dogs in this franchise , about to go on court for an interview. Never in my wildest dreams would i have believed that would happen to me. Just craziness. So i went on court and while i waited to have the interview start, the Rockets players came to the ring to start shooting right where I was, i wasn't doing anything so they just assumed i was a ball boy and are you going to say no to Dwight Howard? Nup, so i passed a few balls to Howard, Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza before it was my time to shine. I was a little bit calmer than i expected, which still...wasn't calm at all because i expected to faint. In saying that, as soon as Alexis introduced me and the crowd erupted, people standing up clapping all my nerves disappeared.. for like 3 seconds. It was so amazing, seeing people care so much about some guy from Melbourne. I really couldn't believe the noise. I answered a couple questions about why i chose the Nuggets and how my time in Denver had been. I was then tasked with hyping up the crowd before the second half, and boy did the fans deliver. I just yelled a bunch of words, channeled my inner Jackie Moon and went for it. I really think the crowd loved it and they kept that energy going the whole second half on our way to a great win.

On my way back up to the stars a few of the players gave me little head nods and my walk back up the stairs had people welcoming me, asking for hi5's and clapping. I truly felt like a celebrity and i LOVED IT! The remainder of the night had people approaching me, young kids wanted to hear my voice and so much cool stuff. After the game i went down to the court and just took the arena in. Will be my last time there for a while. Scott Hastings approached me and congratulated me on a great job and we spoke about the feelings i had which was very cool.

I then caught up with Shawn Drotar, the radio show host for Nuggets post game on The Fan who after meeting his lovely family asked that i do an interview with him once i get back and settled into Melbourne, so listen out for me on your air waves soon Denver fans! That wrapped up my night and i took a long look at the Pepsi Center before leaving, "See you soon" i calmly said to myself as I walked off.

Ultimately, this experience far exceeded anything that i even imagined possible. When i spoke to my father on the phone last night I mentioned that just walking in to the Pepsi Center and watching a game was enough for me to fulfill a life dream, what i got instead was something that i'll tell my children and their children and will stick with my forever. The Nuggets organization, led by Tim has provided just some ordinary kid from Melbourne with an experience that very few will ever have and something that i truly cannot quantify to how much it means to me. I know this article probably reads like a fan girl with all my "woo-ing" and "omg this was so cool" but less than 24 hours after all this concluded, i still haven't found the proper words to describe what really happened to me. There is no doubting I'm lucky but hey, I'm not complaining. To all the Denver based Nuggets fans, thanks for welcoming me and having me in your city, the pleasure was truly all mine. I wish i had the chance to go to 41 home games a year, so don't take advantage of this great team. We're going to have our ups and downs, all franchises in any sport does but its loyal and passionate fans are what get's them out the other side. So be loyal and show your support whenever possible, we have an awesome fun young team that can grow into something pretty damn good. Hopefully it pans out that way.

Finally, to the Nuggets organisation, thank you again. You truly went above and beyond for me and i'm truly honored to do all that i did and meet so many great people. Thank you for giving the fans great dedication, i've had many messages from people in Melbourne who are so amazed by whats happened, that despite them not following the NBA have said they are now Nuggets fans after what you have done. That speaks volumes to the type of people you have working there and you have shown just how great an organization you are. Keep working hard, i'll keep cheering hard. I'll keep us locked down in Melbourne, every game day you'll know i'm cheering.

Tim Connelly deserves a final special shout out as it was he who put all this effort in to me and made all this happen. A truly down to earth and fun guy and I'm privileged to have spent so much time in your presence. Hopefully, we'll see each other again.

It's a new day Nuggets fans. Let's get it!

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