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Paying it forward with the Denver Nuggets Tim Gelt

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A candid and inspiring chat with the Director of the Denver Nuggets Media Relations team

It's too bad Tim Gelt doesn't enjoy his work...
It's too bad Tim Gelt doesn't enjoy his work...

Last week, I was lucky enough to steal a little time out of the hectic schedule of one of the busiest and friendliest guys on the Denver Nuggets Staff, Media Relations Director Tim Gelt. Tim was kind enough to shed a little light on the Nuggets, his career with the team, and bit about what makes him tick.

Denver Stiffs: You're a rarity in pro sports, a local guy who signed on with his favorite pro team and stuck. How did that come to be? You and LeBron James have something in common. The LBJ of P.R.!

Time Gelt: I'm of the belief that things usually work out as they're meant to be. I was going to McNichols Arena to watch the Nuggets as far back as I can remember with my parents. It's a great story, because when I was 16 years old, my dad was at a charity auction, and won a road trip with the Nuggets, right around my 16th birthday. I'm a huge fan, and my 16th birthday present ends up being a road trip with the Nuggets. Amazing.

I loved the team and went to all the games, but really didn't think that there was a career path with teams, aside from playing or coaching. So we went on this road trip with the Nuggets during a GREAT season - the same season that the Nuggets eventually beat the Sonics in the playoffs. On the trip, we met a man named Todd Goldstein, who was our main contact - basically in charge of making sure we got to the bus on time, that we were where we were supposed to be, and doing what we were supposed to be doing. Todd gave us our tickets and made sure the whole trip went really smoothly.

The minute I met Todd, I feel like my whole life changed, because I met this guy who was working with the team, but wasn't coaching and wasn't playing. It changed my whole outlook on the opportunities that were out there. After that trip, everything I did was to try and emulate Todd. His personality, his work ethic, every last thing he did, I emulated, as I wanted to do the same thing. He became an incredible mentor to me from that point on.

As I headed to college, everything fell into place. My cousin told me about a program  Metro State had started a year or two prior called "Sport Industry Operations". For me, I felt like it was the right place for me to go, as I didn't have to leave Denver, or my family. So I went to Metro State, enrolled in this program, and learned about management, marketing, public relations, and more. It was a little bit about a lot of different things - about professional sports and sports in general. My last year of college, I did an internship with the Sacramento Kings in the summer of 1999, right when the Kings were just starting to really become a force with Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and Jason Williams. I was there for a summer, helping on their media guide, which was my first taste of the NBA.

While I was in Sacramento, I was always keeping track of what the Nuggets were doing and what moves they were making. When I came back from Sacramento, I finished my senior year, and then worked my way into my first role with the Nuggets. Todd had assumed a different role at that point, and was working for the larger corporate organization in suite sales at the newly opened Pepsi Center. He brought me on as an intern under his department, where I worked the rest of my senior year. The following year, Tommy Sheppard and Eric Sebastian brought me on in the PR department, and I've been there ever since.

It all goes back to when I was 16, and that Nuggets road trip. I would not be here today without Todd Goldstein. I keep in touch with him several times a year and I'm incredibly grateful for his friendship, guidance, and mentorship, as he taught me a lot and really helped me on my path.

DS: Many people who work in sports in some capacity find they have to abstract themselves from being a fan of their team, or any team, depending on whether they're working locally or nationally. Your role, however, seems to play very nicely into you being a huge Nuggets fan. What are the upsides and downsides of that equation in your gig?

TG: It's unique for everyone. I think for me, it's really only been to the positive, as the Denver Nuggets are in my DNA. I take how that impacts my role very seriously, both in representing the Nuggets, and in having long-term roots with the team. I believe in the organization, players, and coaches that we've had very deeply. It's who I am, and it's hardwired into me.

DS: Does that make it tougher when the team struggles, being so close to the organization, and wearing your "heart on your sleeve" as that dual representative/fan?

TG: Absolutely. I want this team to do well all the time, and though we've had some great seasons, we've had some tough ones as well. Fortunately, I'm the eternal optimist and think that everything happens for a reason. So I take those tough seasons as learning opportunities, and feel we're heading in the right direction. I believe those tough times in the past are going to make the good times that are on the horizon that much sweeter.

DS: If you weren't in your dream gig, what would you be doing today? What's a habit or hobby of yours that would surprise our readers?

TG: You're right, this is my dream gig, as basketball has been the greatest passion of my life. This is the life I've chosen, and it's a very rewarding choice, even with the long hours and heavy travel schedule. To be able to watch basketball every night and be a part of this organization is a dream come true. The other way in which the game of basketball has been so good to me is in the relationships I've been able to establish along the way, many of which have extended beyond the game.

If I weren't doing this, I'm a huge music fan, and this role has also allowed me to establish relationships and friendships with some of my favorite musical artists, which has been mind-blowing. I'm a huge fan of film as well, a very big movie buff, and a student of film, so... it's hard to say. Some of the relationships I have made in those regards (music/film) are built upon my success in my current role. But I think if I'd not landed in sports, I'd still have been involved in one of those other areas.

Also, being able to meet some of the musicians I listen to, such as Denver's own The Fray, or my favorite singer Jhené Aiko, has been a real gift. Jhené has become an amazing friend. Watching her success blossom has been amazing. Another band I love called the Internet has become close friends, and watching their success has been a joy as well. Those are gifts the game of basketball has given me.

DS: You started as an intern, and now lead the Nuggets Media Relations team. How big is your team, and who does what?

TG: My head assistant, Nick O'Hayre, is a former intern of ours, and a Denver native, so that's pretty special and is someone that we hand-picked to come back in 2011 after doing an internship with New Orleans, and also working for a few years with Golden State. Our other full-time assistant, Cody Wise, was also an intern, and also a Colorado native, growing up outside of Colorado Springs. We also have an intern this year, Steven Blevins, who served in the Air Force prior to joining our team, and we think he'll be the next guy who really excels in the space. They all work so hard, do so much, and impress me every day.

In addition to those members of the team, we've been really fortunate over the years. Just as Todd did for me, one of the things we're able to do that I'm most proud of is the ability to pay it forward. It's been amazingly rewarding to help other aspiring PR professionals. Since I became PR director, we've had a number of interns I really believed in. In return, they've worked very hard, learned so much, and really thrived under us. With that effort and other relationships, we were able to help them get placed with other teams, so I'm truly proud of that.

Off the top of my head, we have a former intern who is now full-time with the Mavericks PR department, another who is now full-time with the Sacramento Kings PR department. We also have former interns who are full-time in the PR departments for the Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Hornets. All of those in addition to the former interns now serving large roles within this team. So, that's probably something I'm most proud of, that we've had exceptional success with trying to help kids really pursue their passion for basketball and PR.

DS: That's incredible. I don't know if statistics exist that show this sort of thing, but even anecdotally, do you know of other programs in the league that have that sort of success in paying it forward? It speaks really highly of you, Tim. You're becoming the Gregg Popovich of NBA PR departments!

TG: I don't know specifically, as I don't know if anyone tracks that sort of thing. I can tell you I don't know of any other programs that have placed as many people across the league, and can I also tell you anecdotally that our kids are really coveted by the other teams out there. Word has spread that the other teams who have hired our guys really like what they are getting from the people who've come through our department. There are two sides to that achievement, as it's not simply due to the training we give them. We've also gone out of our way to find incredible people. Vetting them in advance to see that they are a good fit has also been a huge part of the success these kids have had. So many good ones... ideally, we'd like to hire all of them, but that's obviously not how it works in this league. In the end, I'm just really happy and grateful that we've been able to help them find other homes in the league, and that they've been so well-received.

DS: We see the fan-facing aspect of your job a lot via your relationships with all of the media covering the team, but what's a "week in the life" like for Tim Gelt, knowing those timeframes are very different during different parts of the season and through the offseason?

TG: Every week is different, based on the schedule and travel. For example, in a recent week we had a game on Sunday, practice Monday, a team event Monday evening, a game Tuesday, charity and promotional events most evenings that week (as we didn't have games), and then heading out on the road for a back-to-back over the weekend, with each of those days filled with planning, arrangements, and communications with player, staff, and media. It's a never-ending, ever-changing landscape.

When we're on the road, I try to travel with the team most of the time, but also want to make sure Nick and Cody have the opportunity to go on some trips, as we want to try and share the wealth that way. The schedule is a long-term cycle of practices, shootarounds, events, games, and travel. You have to establish a constant rhythm and routine for that, as that also helps the media we're serving as a part of our role. We like to run our department as a very service-oriented organization, and help the media get the access they need to the players and organization.

In the off-season, it's still a busy time, but things are much more sporadic, with big things going on in the summers around workouts, the NBA Draft lottery (in the last two seasons), the draft itself, Summer League in Las Vegas, free agency, camps, promotional events, and so many others. We're involved in all of those things, and it's a fun part of the year too. It's all a part of it, and the cycle makes it exciting again leading into the next season.

DS: When do you get time away?

TG: I'll usually take off right after the season ends, at the end of April, early May, and also just before the season, around the end of August, early September. You learn to pack your relaxation into times when you have down time, even during the season. You have to maximize those opportunities, and I've been fortunate to learn how to do that and fill up my time off with things I enjoy.

DS: Seems like there might be less need for down time when you're doing what you love to do.

TG: Exactly. When you're doing what you really love to do, there's less of a need to "get away" from things. You enjoy what you're doing, and who you're working with, which helps to mitigate that need for escape. It's a joy just to do what you're doing.

DS: What's been the toughest day on the job in your tenure, and why? How about the best?

TG: Interesting. The toughest days... there are many. You have relationships with people in this role, and PR to me stands for "Personal Relationships", so you'll have days where people you have strong relationships with, and are close to, get traded or fired. Those are always the toughest days. If there's a silver lining in the NBA, odds are good you're going to see people again in some way, shape, or form.

Conversely, that ties into the best days as well, in that you work with people you care deeply about, and bond with on an everyday basis. Seeing players and staff do well - and the team as a whole do well - those make for the best moments in this job. I love seeing friends succeed and grow due to the efforts they've put forward, and see good things happen to them.

DS: Born and raised in Colorado, an alumni of Mullen High School and Metro State. You're a Colorado kid. I saw a very cool post recently regarding your having been invited back to Metro State to be the keynote speaker for their National Society of Leadership and Success. First off, congratulations, and second, what did you say to your Alma Mater in your keynote?

TG: With the exception of that short summer stint in Sacramento, I've been in Denver my whole life. Just like the interns I mentioned on our team, it's very important to me where I came from and where I started, and who's been in my corner. I've been very fortunate to re-establish relationships with several of my alma maters. At Mullen High School, I am close with several of the people there, the current principal at is my former Geography teacher. It's a small world. The same is true with Metro State, and even St. Anne's Episcopal, where I went to grade school. All of those places are very important to me, and I try to give back to them as much as I can.

As to speaking to the students at Metro, what I told them - from a high-level view - was that I was so proud to be a Metro State Roadrunner, and that they're lucky to be in a great place where you can do great things. I emphasized the need to stay focused and on course with what their passions are, as it's easy to get distracted by so many things at that moment. Then I answered some of their questions.

It's funny, the Metro State campus is right across the street from the arena, and I still don't make it over there as often as I'd like to. It was fun to be back there as I love the relationships I have, both with them and the other schools I mentioned. It's cool to continue to foster those bonds.

DS: This may get you in hot water, but who is your favorite Nugget on the current squad?

TG: This group is such an amazing group of guys, I really don't have just one. One of Tommy Sheppard's mantras when I first started - it's important to have relationships with every guy on the team. I really bought into that, as it really made sense to me.

It's been great to bond with each of these guys around different things. Wilson Chandler and I are both huge movie guys, so we'll go to movies every once in a while. It's even true  with the newer guys. Will Barton and I have become close this year. Jameer (Nelson), Mike Miller...  Gallo, Emmanuel... all of them! I have a connection with each of them, but each is unique. Built around different things we've bonded over during their time with the Nuggets. It's about building relationships with all of the players we have, and I value each one of them, even guys who aren't here any more. It's a great group of guys, and it's fun to connect over any number of topics.

DS: Well said, and you kept yourself out of hot water nicely. How about an all-time favorite from your younger/early fan days?

TG: As to a favorite of all time, and one that pre-dated my joining the organization... for me, that's an easy answer. Undeniably, LaPhonso Ellis. He was at his peak when I was in high school. The way he played... his passion, his energy, his talent, the kind of person he was, and is... LaPhonso was my favorite, and part of what's been so amazing about this role is I've been able to develop a friendship with him and his family over the last few years. It's something I truly value, and he and I are pretty close. That's something that developed from our common association with the game of basketball. When I think, that as a high school kid I used to watch him all the time, and now to have that friendship with he and his family... that is very special and something I never would have imagined.

He's just a genuinely caring person, and his family is exactly the same. If you were to go looking, you cannot find anything bad about LaPhonso Ellis because it doesn't exist. Just a kindhearted guy. That means a lot to me.

DS: Fan to fan... A young Denver Nuggets squad off to an exciting and bumpy start. What do you see coming the rest of the season for this team?

TG: Coach Malone talks about getting better every day, and I think we've seen some of that. We've definitely been up and down, but I think we've seen some things that show we're headed in the right direction, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

DS: Having been with the team for 16 seasons now, how does this season's squad compare with others, both in camaraderie and cohesiveness?

TG: Every season is different, and this one has been a lot of fun. This group is a tremendous group of guys, they enjoy each other, and it's been wonderful to spend time with them and see them grow. We've been lucky, as we've had so many great Nuggets teams that were a lot of fun with wonderful personalities. This year's group is in that mold, and it's been really enjoyable.

DS: You've been a basketball fan since a young age. What initially inspired that, and what is it about the game that appeals to you more than other sports?

TG: My mom was a huge basketball fan, and I think it carried over from her. The first time I saw it, my first live game, I was hooked. I loved the game. I do enjoy other sports as well. I love football and baseball, and it's fun going to hockey games... but basketball has always been the sport that spoke to me the most.

DS: A family affair. Your mom inspires and fosters your love for the game, your dad takes you on that trip when you were 16... how nice that they were so involved in where your life took you. How do they feel now about your career and successes?

TG: They are huge supporters of mine and everything I've ever done. My mom comes to 30 to 35 home games a year. She's a huge Nuggets fan and she loves the team. My dad is extremely proud. He isn't as big a sports fan as my mom, but keeps up on the team, how things are going, and supports me in so many other ways.  Their support has been huge, and the gifts that each of them has given me have all helped get me to this point. I'm really grateful to them.

DS: Who is your role model, in the gig, and in life?

TG: The two folks we just talked about... My parents, both huge role models, each in their own way - in how they go about their business and treat people, and how their relationships with people have helped them along the way. Todd Goldstein and Tommy Sheppard, Eric Sebastian... Allison Levy, who was on the sales team with Todd, and who put the bug in Tommy's ear that I wanted to be in PR, she was very important to me... the list could go on and on. I'm very cognizant of the long list of people who believed in me and helped me along the way, and I'm very grateful. None of it is ever taken for granted.

DS: There's a real theme of relationships and "paying it forward" throughout your life, even intertwined throughout the game, it seems.

TG: It really has permeated so much of my life. A former romantic relationship that unfortunately didn't work out still gave me a lifelong bond with that woman's daughter, in that we both loved the game. We met when the daughter was a sixth grader who loved basketball. Her name is Kaleigh Paplow. Now, as a basketball player, she's been a High School State Championship standout and is playing Division I Women's basketball at Northern Arizona. I'm really proud of her.

DS: What's next for you? Do you hope to spend the next several years in this role, or are you hoping to further broaden your horizons down the road?

TG: I'm very appreciative and grateful for the 16 years with the Nuggets and could easily do this for the rest of my life. I'm incredibly loyal to this organization, from the Kroenkes, to Tim Connelly and our front office, Coach Malone and our coaches, to players and staff. I'm just so honored to be a part of it, I love being here.

I'm also very open to what life brings. As I'd mentioned, I believe things happen for a reason, and maybe there are other opportunities down the road. Right now, I'm incredibly happy here, and enjoy representing this organization, the city of Denver, and the Nuggets.

Many thanks to Tim Gelt of the Denver Nuggets for taking a little time out of his busy travel schedule, paying it forward to a fellow Nuggets geek, and for giving a little insight behind the Nuggets Nation curtain to the Denver Stiffs. Truly a great guy to have chatted with, and his passion for the team and his role in it are even more palpable than you see above.