The Denver Nuggets collected the first win of the night when they dropped the hammer on the Los Angeles Lakers in a 117-85 win at the Pepsi Center. Head coach Michael Malone collected the second one as he dropped the proverbial mic at the conclusion of his postgame scrum.
Malone just gave one of my favorite quotes I’ve heard since covering this team. Regarding the Lakers fans in attendance: pic.twitter.com/gQYAQAXnki— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) November 28, 2018
“We don’t want any converts,” Malone told the media, after he was asked if he thinks they won over some of many Lakers fans in attendance. “You are either with us or against us.”
The question gently touched on a harsh truth about games here in Denver—when the league’s most popular teams come to the Mile High, their fans often outnumber the Nuggets faithful inside the Pepsi Center. The best example of this deflating dynamic might be when the Lakers come to town.
“LeBron James is arguably the best player ever,” Malone continued. “When he comes to town—and the Lakers, you know, their fans carry. But as long as those fans go home disappointed, that’s all I care about.”
Passionate Nuggets fans are well aware of the team’s tortured history and scanty attendance during the roughest of patches. They understand that the national media is reluctant to fix its gaze on a team that struggles to hold the attention of the locals. That’s why when the Lakers come to town, a distinct vibe permeates the arena. There’s a palpable excitement—if not tension—in the air as folks file in and find their seats.
The truth is, from team success, to their overwhelming popularity, the Lakers exist on the opposite end of the basketball spectrum. And their fan base represents the opposite end of a cultural one. There’s no need to sugar coat it. They’re loathed here in Denver.
Malone is aware of all this as well. He’s smart enough to know how to appeal to a fan base like Denver’s, and he picked up steam as he finished preaching to the mountain-dwelling choir:
He let it marinate, briefly, before walking off with a coolness that I frankly couldn’t maintain had I just unleashed such spice.
It’s a perfect quote.
Some of the brightest spots in Malone’s tenure have come at home against the very best teams in the league. Teams that have enjoyed the type of success that the Nuggets have only dreamt of. Teams that have excelled at the highest level and earned the “loyalty” of “converts.” Teams like Golden State, like Boston, and like the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets haven’t proved anything yet. But under Malone they’ve established one of the stronger home court advantages in the league, regardless of where fair-weather allegiances may lie. If you come to the Pepsi Center, you better be ready to play. And if you come to watch Steph Curry warm up, or see Kyrie Irving dazzle, or show off your new LeBron jersey, that’s fine. You are welcome here.
But be ready to take that L on the way out.