I ran into a friend on a trip to Portland who used to be a sports blogger. He was one of my inspirations for trying to do this crazy Nuggets thing, and one day his writing crossed a line. He was in a bad personal way, and let that bubble into his writing. He said some pretty harsh, cruel, and unnecessary things about his hometown team, and the backlash from the readers was swift, severe, and seemingly permanent. Not long after, he stepped down from writing, as people couldn't let it go. On the way back to the airport yesterday, I thought about how sad I'd be if I made a similar slip.
When I got through security at the airport, I stopped by a bank of TV screens which were showing news reports of yesterday's baseball game at Camden Yards, in which the Orioles and White Sox played without any fans in the park to witness. It was an eerie and disheartening sight, brought on by concerns of the wide community unrest which currently surround the Baltimore area, citing fears of those same activities spilling into the game.
In the course of a half hour, I'd thought about two methods in which powerful conditions and passions can spill over into our love for a simple game and ruin it. A game of any sort, that can turn ugly in a matter of moments. Be it the Malice at the Palace in basketball, fan violence between long-time rivals in baseball, the tragic end of Steve Moore's career in hockey, the ugly ending of the most recent Super Bowl, or innumerable occasions of soccer violence worldwide, no sport is safe from the spirit of competition and battle spilling onto fields, stands, or pages and turning into something ugly and mean. Something that makes us look more like animals than humans, sure that our lack of control is somehow justified by our love of the sport or team we adore.
But we love sports, because they can also serve a healing role in communities, relationships and locker rooms. A balm in times of heartache, an inspiration in times of triumph. Wishing to rid myself of the flood of ugly sports notions, I set about to remember a few happier moments which touched me. This list will be biased as I am, in favor of the Denver Nuggets. A few thoughts on why sports matter:
Sports matter because Dikembe Mutombo can ignite a city with a clutched ball and impossibly wide smile at the end of a first-of-its-kind series. A true underdog story, much like the city Denver can often be.
Sports matter because they can show the strength and resolve of a community that will not be broken by a tragedy - even one that happened at a sporting event.
Sports matter because Rodney Rogers can score nine points in nine seconds.
Sports matter because the suddenly shattered dream of a lifetime can quickly become a beacon of morals, family, and courage.
Sports matter because an entire nation can rally around the zero-to-hero story of an underdog. Winning at home.
Sports matter because for a moment we believe a man can walk on the sky.
Sports matter because they may be the only true form of reality TV.
Sports matter because a kid can make good in his hometown.
Sports matter because they can bring joy to children who cannot afford anything else to dream about.
Sports matter because they can serve as a lightning rod to breaking barriers of race (Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, Eduardo Najera, and more), gender (Billie Jean King, Bruce Jenner), and sexuality (Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Brittney Griner), opening public conversation and debate, and giving future generations something to aspire to, no matter who or how they are.
Sports matter because they allow us to express some unpopular opinions, as is our right.
Sports matter because we will sit up until all hours of the night to catch a glimpse of something our hearts deem more important than sleep.
Sports matter because they show us the upper bounds of what our species can achieve physically - as Bo, Odell, or Michael can tell you - or emotionally, be it a helicopter, a Cup, Rocktober, or our dear old friend Deke. (sorry, that picture of Mutombo laying on the floor never gets old, and the Bourque thing still makes me cry. Shut up.)
Sports matter because they bond generations, giving them something to commonly relate to, and building memories for families to cherish and mourn.
Sports matter because a no-star collection of hyperkinetic pieces can win more regular-season games than any Denver squad that passed before it.
Sports matter because the Nuggets were one of nine teams to ensure that no NBA team has ever had less than 10 losses in a season.
Sports matter because they are great places to take first dates.
Sports matter because they compel us to dream and hope, sometimes even against our best judgment.
Sports matter because they can engender the passionate and sometimes controversial conversation and friendships which makes each of us here Denver Stiffs.
Sports matter for a thousand more reasons, each one intensely personal to its holder, and if they didn't, you wouldn't be here.
I'm immensely proud to be a part of the SB Nation and Denver Stiffs writing communities. The trust you place in us is one we do not take lightly, nor hope to dissuade. That you honor us with your readership and valuable time is worth every last word, frustration, and late-night hour spent over a keyboard. Every laugh, scream, tear, and exultation I spend as a Denver Nuggets fan, and fan of so many other games... show that sports matter to me. As much as they show each of our best and worst sides, sports matter deeply to so many of us.
What Denver Nuggets moments (or sports moments of any kind) stirred this passion in you, Nuggets Nation? As always, we're here to let it all out.