With the Denver Nuggets about to embark on an 8 game home stand (started off nicely with a 95-92 win over the Charlotte Hornets) the Nuggets severe issues (dead last in the NBA in average attendance) have come to the forefront again after head coach Michael Malone scolded the fans.
The reality is it's much more complicated than just people not attending games. As I've recently found out.
There are few long-time Nuggets fans remaining in Denver
As a child, and as a teenager, there were a ton of Nuggets fans. Denver only had two professional sports teams, the Broncos and the Nuggets. The Broncos began as a franchise in 1960 in the AFL and the Nuggets began life in the ABA as the Denver Rockets in 1967 (there was a charter NBA team in Denver called the Nuggets in 1949, they played only one season).
From David Thompson and Dan Issel, to Alex English and Lafayette Lever to, Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis the Nuggets had a series of great players to rally around. Up to about 1996 the Nuggets ... even though the attendance at McNichols Sports Arena (Big Mac from here on out) could be low the FANS were always into the games. There was an intimate family feel to all the games and there could be 9,000 fans in the arena and it would sound like it was sold out.
Denver had a massive influx of transient population throughout the 1990's. This brought with it a change in fan base as well as a need to "show me". IE: These new people weren't just going to give you their money anymore. They wanted to see how good you are. With that came a very, very new reality for Denver. Along with the appearance on the scene of the immediately good Colorado Avalanche in 1995 (two Stanley cups from 1995-2001) and the immediately "fun" Colorado Rockies in 1993 it wasn't just a Broncos and Nuggets town anymore. Even the Broncos were affected by this in the mid-90's and struggled (for the Broncos ... which isn't much) until they won back to back Super Bowls in 1997-98.
The Nuggets, unfortunately due to Bernie Bickerstaffs incompetence and a horrible string of GM's and Ownership in the mid to late 1990's were left behind. Until Carmelo Anthony came along in 2003 the franchise was a rudderless mess. However the pattern was set. Rather than being given the benefit of the doubt, the Nuggets were put on the "Show me" run. This has doomed the family atmosphere the Nuggets once had and it's been replaced with an obligation to prove it.
What do people who came from California care for the Denver Nuggets? If they aren't good that hill is doubly hard to climb
Pepsi Center is pretty ... and cavernous and impersonal
Big Mac was a fun place to watch an NBA game. You felt like you were right on top of the action and it was LOUD. As I said above even when it was half empty the fans were into the game and made noise. Even with the horrible Paul Westhead teams of the early 90's.
Pepsi Center is certainly an upgrade (ascetically) over Big Mac. In fact there's no disputing that. Big Mac was as bare bones as you can get. Pepsi Center, even built in 1999, as much more amenities than Big Mac ever did. It's better on almost every level from the old arena that used to sit next to Mile High Stadium.
It's also cold, impersonal and has the ambiance of a Phil Collins solo album. Static, sterile, and up until very recently lacked much character. When FULL and engaged Pepsi Center can be a vibrant atmosphere. When half full it becomes a depressing morgue with a dead sound that doesn't make it down to the court. It's a remarkable difference. You NEED a full arena at Pepsi Center in order for it to be loud. Add to that the fans "show me" attitude and you can hear a pin drop when the teams are introduced.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone had some thoughts on the dead atmosphere at Pepsi Center:
It's never good when your home arena can turn so quiet and dead. Michael Malone brought the same issue up yesterday in an answer to Paul Klee about the 2012-13 57 win Nuggets team
"A couple of things jump out. I remember we were all surprised at the lack of a home-court advantage that Denver had," said Malone, an assistant coach for the Warriors when they turned the course of NBA history by upsetting the Nuggets 4-2 in that fateful series. "The games (in Denver), it was a very visitor-friendly environment. We didn't feel like we were up against it at all."
Arena staff is not supportive of enthusiastic fans
The Denver Sidekicks had an idea to bring several fans and enthusiasm back to Pepsi Center. It was organized, and publicized in several places, including here by our own Zach Mikash. To boot it was organized by Holy Family High School attendee Aniello Piro. A High School student busted his ass to get people out and rallied around the Nuggets and negotiated (by himself) a better deal for a group of tickets to at a discounted price. While turnout wasn't what everyone wanted, it was still good and Piro even brought along some signs.
However, overzealous Arena management staff (not affiliated with the Nuggets or Avalanche) made their lives miserable and from what I was told ... were threatened to be kicked out if they waved their signs. I later found out that they deemed their signs to be too big. Which is fine ... but to be threatened to be KICKED OUT is extreme for someone who is trying to rally support for more people attending games. Also, as an aside, notice all those people who were sitting behind the Sidekicks in their seats...
I mean .... an exception could have been made (seating was like that the entire game. No one was behind him) This isn't good, and sends the wrong signal. Rules are rules but you also need to understand that ANYONE who is trying to whip up enthusiasm for your team should be at the very least given respect. There was no cause for what happened that night.
The Nuggets aren't very good right now and have no identifiable stars
This is self explanatory. The Nuggets have no "stars" and therefore marketing the team has be extra difficult. While Danilo Gallinari is having a borderline All-Star season, he isn't a "star" and never has been up to this point in his career. Emmanuel Mudiay is the highest Nuggets draft selection since Carmelo Anthony, and yet not marketable as a star yet.
Within this frame of context, the Nuggets (through bad play and injury) just haven't been impressing. The team is just kind of blah right now and its quite difficult to demand people pay for an expensive ticket (the Nuggets have one of the highest median prices of ticket in the NBA) to a watch a team that has a better-than-even chance to lose. It's a sad reality but it IS reality. People will do other things with their disposable income when your team is bad.
Hard to pay for a team that you don't connect with and doesn't play very well.
The Nuggets have done a poor job connecting with their history
The Atlanta Hawks retired Dikembe Mutombo's jersey earlier this season after he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this offseason. The shame is the NUGGETS should have retired his jersey first, because this is where Deke had his most memorable moments in Denver. Mutombo holding the ball over his head while laying on the floor? That didn't happen with the Houston Rockets, the Nets, the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers or the Hawks. That happened in Denver. T
The Nuggets blew it.
In reality, since the Kroenke's took over ownership of the Nuggets in 2000 there has been little effort to connect with the Nuggets past until General Manager Tim Connelly came to town (and the 1994 team's 20th anniversary was celebrated, and Fat Lever was honored in 2015) The KSE organization has avoided "celebrating" the Nuggets history until very recently and that needs to continue to change in the coming years. How about bringing back Alex English, David Thompson, Bobby Jones, Dan Issel, and other greats. Let the people in Denver know you understand and remember.
This needs to happen.
When something good happens, fans NEED to cheer
Simply put, Nuggets fans need to remember that when you go do a game the players do respond to YOUR enthusiasm. If you're going to pay such a high price for a ticket, why not be enthusiastic. Get your money's worth. Yes the team needs to play better, but what happened to spurring your team on to make a great comeback? There's some great young talent on this roster that needs to be nurtured and loved. If they feel it, I think they will play better in kind.
It's a cyclical relationship. The team needs to play better and the fans need to be more enthusiastic when they do go. Lift each other. I think that's the moral to today's story. We want the arena full of loud and proud Nuggets fans ... not people shouting for Kobe Bryant.