It's tough being a fan of the Denver Nuggets.
Lets face it. Denver is in one of those NBA "blind spots". With no real basketball culture to speak of in the city, Chauncey Billups notwithstanding, the city isn't regarded as a "hotbed". Despite the city being one of the founding members of the NBA when it began (the original Nuggets in 1948) Denver has always been the very definition of flyover in the NBA.
When David Stern began the NBA Draft Lottery in 1985, the Nuggets managed to avoid even being a participant until the 1990-91 season. This netted them Defensive stalwart Dikembe Mutombo (despite the Nuggets having the worst record in the NBA they fell to the worst possible selection with #4). My bitterness wasn't cemented, despite the disappointment of losing out of the top pick until the following year. The 1992 NBA Draft Lottery.
The one for Shaquille O'Neal.
The Nuggets managed to have the 4th worst record in the league, by winning a measly four more games in the 1991-92 campaign ... largely due to former head coach Paul Westhead's pledge to slow down his offense and feature Mutombo (resulting in the highest point average of Deke's 19 year career). However it was this four game improvement that essentially took the Nuggets out of any serious contention for Shaq, the freakishly strong center from LSU. Not that 14 year old Jeff knew that, or even really thought about it.
You see, as I watched the 1992 NBA Draft Lottery (which back then was done at HALFTIME of an NBA Playoff game) I geeked out in nervous anticipation for David Stern to flip over a card that says the Nuggets were the first pick in the Lottery. Not thinking, of course, that the Nuggets already had Mutombo and how that could be a potential conflict in the center-centric 1990's ... remember, hindsight is 20/20. All that mattered tho, in the grand scheme of things was the Nuggets needed a shot at O'Neal. Failing that, I would have accepted Deke's Georgetown front court mate Alonzo Mourning.
As it turned out I found out very quickly that the Nuggets weren't to get the game changing big man. In fact, in what was confirmation of a trend, the Nuggets actually dropped a spot and ended up with the fifth pick in the Draft. Sending 14 year old, mullet haired Jeff into a fit. Kicking the furniture in my Dad's house that he shared with his second wife. I nearly broke my foot.
Of course, everything turned out well as the Nuggets drafted someone who was to become my favorite Nuggets player of that era, LaPhonso Ellis. I liked the Phonz so much that I had a jersey and a shirt that I wore the entire Seattle upset and Utah Jazz series in 1994. In the end I was grateful that Bernie Bickerstaff continued his run of good draft picks by getting my favorite player. However, that Lottery cemented my view that the Nuggets were going to be cursed in the Lottery.
What if the Nuggets won the Lottery that year? What if those Nuggets hadn't won those 4 games and improved their lottery chances to second best? It's these little bits of history that make the Draft Lottery so fascinating, frustrating and why ... we watch every, single year.
One silver lining though ... at least the Nuggets didn't get the 6th pick and take Tom Gugliotta ...
***** Stiffs Night Out *****
Jakes Food and Spirits | 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO | Tuesday, May 17th 5:30 PM
Come join fellow Nuggets fans for our annual Stiffs Night Out NBA draft lottery party. We'll be watching live as we find out if the Nuggets won a top pick in June's NBA draft. The lottery begins at 6pm so we'll be meeting a half hour before. Stay for the Eastern conference finals and to bask in the glory of winning the lottery (or sulk in the misery of another year without moving up). Jake's Food and Spirits will have food and drink deals and the Stiffs will have prizes and more. If you are a Nuggets fan, come on out and meet fellow Stiffs and Nuggets fans.