While Denver Nuggets and NBA fans worldwide were caught up in the insane free agency frenzy that overtook this year's July 4th holiday weekend, we in Nuggets / Stiffs Nation were saddened by the tragic news that our friend and fellow Nuggets fan Russell Ray had passed away early Saturday morning. While we don't know the specifics (nor do we need to) of Russ's passing, we were made aware that something had gone terribly wrong when Russ's wife Vicki - known to Nuggets fans everywhere as "Vicki the Signlady" - had posted on her Facebook page last week that Russ was in critical condition and prayers were needed.
Sadly, despite the countless thoughts and prayers sent to the Ray family from Nuggets Nation and beyond, Russ didn't make it through the weekend. In his wake, he leaves a giant hole in the hearts of Nuggets fandom.
Anyone who has attended a Nuggets game for the past 20-plus years knows who Russ and Vicki are. They sit in the very first row corner of Section 130 where the Nuggets players exit and enter their locker room. And in addition to having a stack of creative, hand-made signs to support her favorite team, Vicki always has an assortment of candy on hand for the players and coaches based on their own personal preferences.
Ever the supportive spouse, at each and every Nuggets game Russ could be found sitting alongside his wife Vicki while sporting his #3 "Vicki's Husband" customized Nuggets uniform and carrying a DSLR camera that he used to shoot terrific in-game footage. Russ and Vicki always bought more season tickets than they themselves needed and routinely offered the tickets to friends, charitable groups and others who could otherwise never experience a Nuggets game in person in the first row. In fact, at all of our Stiffs Night Out events the Rays would donate tickets for us to give away to our loyal readers in attendance.
My longtime Denver Stiffs colleague Jeff Morton shared the following thoughts on Russ's tragic passing:
The first real memory I have of Russell Ray was an interaction I had in the newly formed Denver Stiffs comment section in 2009. I had readily espoused my ultra liberal way of thinking and Russ engaged me in a debate. That was seven years ago. Little did I know that nearly all of those seven years later he and I would regularly chat, talk and give our thoughts about the Denver Nuggets and Family at Pepsi Center.Every home game, like clock work, Russ and Vicki have been there. It's a remarkable amount of dedication that needs to be appreciated for it's loyalty and depth. Over time, through Stiffs events and covering games Andy Feinstein, Nate Timmons and myself developed a bond with the Denver Nuggets super fans that I grew to treasure. You never adequately appreciate someone until they are gone, and Russ passing away certainly hit me harder than I ever thought it would.
I'm coming up on my seventh season covering the Nuggets for Denver Stiffs. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Russ and super-fan Vicki Ray (the sign lady!) are the most dedicated, committed, die-hard Nuggets fans on the planet. It was a pleasure to talk to Russ, even though he and I didn't agree one bit on politics. The last four seasons as a credentialed Nuggets reporter I've taken the time, every home game, to say hi and hug Vicki and shake hands with Russ and shoot the breeze for five or 10 minutes.
I'll miss you Russ, and my thoughts, sympathies and love go to Vicki and your family for your loss. It's a huge loss for your family, and the Nuggets family as well. One can only hope that eventually the Nuggets bring home that championship that all of us dearly crave and in that championship we can all think of Russell Ray ... the man who showed us what dedication and fandom is all about.
(Nate Timmons and Jeff Morton with Vicki "the Signlady" - Photo by Russell Ray)