The world is a completely different place than it was six years ago.
Six years ago was two presidential terms ago, before a raging pandemic, before Jamal Murray was drafted, before Nikola Jokić was Nikola Jokić, and before the Nuggets had a clear direction as a franchise.
Six years ago, I was wrapping up my freshman year of college at University of South Carolina. 19 years old and without a clear direction of my own. I ultimately studied sport management for four years at USC and figured out what I wanted to do with my life during that time, but before I locked in on my personal career goals, I was fairly rudderless. I knew I wanted to work in sports. I was an excellent football player in high school, and prior to tearing the labrum in my throwing shoulder, I was an excellent baseball player too. Injuries took away my ability to seriously consider playing college sports, but it was all I knew. So, I majored in sport management at one of the best college programs I could find, hoping the connections I made there could set me up for a professional career in the future. I wanted to be the general manager of a professional sports team, just like every other sport management major at the time.
As it turns out, the most important connections I made during my freshman year weren’t with students or teachers or industry professionals. See, I had always had an interest in basketball, and though I stopped playing in high school to focus on my other two sports. I was also a Nuggets fan, and I spent a lot of time on a website called Denver Stiffs between the years 2013 and 2015, reading everything that Andrew Feinstein, Nate Timmons, Jeffrey Morton, and Mike Olson wrote. I eventually made a Stiffs account and began commenting on the articles under the screen name It’s The LAW SON thinking I was super clever and right about everything. During that time, I learned I most certainly wasn’t while improving my writing and critical thinking skills, and I made some friends along the way with Zach Mikash and Gordon Gross, two frequent commenters who ultimately became writers for the site.
Even though I went to college for sport management, I still maintained my fandom and connections to the Nuggets, commenting and ultimately writing about them for cheap at a FanSided website called Hoops Habit. I had never considered writing being anything more than a hobby until Zach approached me about applying to write for Denver Stiffs. I accepted because I knew I would enjoy being around the fan base more, despite going to school in a different state entirely.
For the next three years, I learned the ropes under Adam Mares and the Stiffs crew. He became one of my best friends, as did Brendan Vogt and several other writers on staff. We were a great team, enjoying the growth and trajectory of Jokić, Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, and the entire Nuggets team. They nearly made it the the Western Conference Finals in May 2019, and I remember watching the triple overtime Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers until roughly 3:00am Eastern Time. During that time, I grew as a writer, started my own podcast called Nuggets Numbers, and learned that I really wanted to cover the Denver Nuggets as my career, not just as a hobby.
Then, Adam approached me in the summer of 2019 about how he was stepping down from Denver Stiffs. He recommended me to take over as site manager in his stead, and I was floored. This was exactly what I wanted — being paid to cover the Nuggets locally — but I was only 22 years old at the time and often the youngest person in the room in every single professional setting. I accepted the job but had many reservations. Zach, Gordon, and Daniel Lewis stuck around to help ease the transition, but I was still over my head for awhile trying to keep everything together.
Things went reasonably well for awhile, and then, something happened that no other site manager before me had to navigate, a damn pandemic that halted all basketball discussion for close to four months. I was completely out of my depth on this one, but with an excellent writing team and a group of friends as interested in maintaining the site as I was, we made it through. Nuggets fans everywhere were rewarded with an incredible run in the Orlando bubble when play resumed in August of 2020, and though things looked extremely bad at the beginning of each playoff series, the Nuggets (and especially Jokić and Murray) simply found a way to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals. It was incredible, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Expectations were sky high the following season, and a condensed season gave our writing staff a heavy burden to shoulder immediately after the bubble. They weathered it well, and Denver Stiffs was rewarded with some excellent basketball and an MVP for Joker, though it came at a cost with a major injury to Jamal Murray. This past season, Jokić continued his unbelievable performances, but it was Michael Porter Jr. who went down with a season-ending injury this time, and the constant tug-of-war between whether Murray and Porter would come back was difficult to manage as a fan site. Still, the team pushed through, continuing to tell the stories of the Denver Nuggets franchise and give fans an amazing outlet for celebrating their fandom in the same way I had for so many years.
Now, it’s time to say goodbye.
Effective today, I will be stepping down as site manager of Denver Stiffs. It’s been three excellent years through difficult circumstances as the leader of this team and six total years of writing for the site. These were some of the best years of my life, and I’m certainly not taking it lightly just how much Denver Stiffs and the people who’ve been a part of it have meant in my growth as a basketball writer and as a person. It’s because of Stiffs that I am able to pursue another opportunity, something I will be revealing in the next couple of days.
It is true though that I wouldn’t have this opportunity without the help of an incredible group of people, especially those with which I am leaving my site in their capable hands. Stepping up in my place will be deputy site manager and my friend Brandon Ewing. He was the first external hire I ever made, and as a knowledgeable and passionate Nuggets fan, I believe in his abilities to lead this team and make decisions in my stead. Brandon has grown so much a writer and leader in the last three years, and I have no doubt that he will do an excellent job leading Denver Stiffs to new frontiers. He’s a coach, a teacher, and an excellent leader already.
Without my friends Gordon Gross, Jeff Morton, Zach Mikash, Daniel Lewis, and Kayla Osby, I never would have survived my first year. All five represented “the old guard” at Stiffs, helping to preserve the ideals for what the site stood and continues to stand for, especially as the world and sports landscape have changed so much in recent years. Without their guidance and connection to what was, I would have been lost.
Without the guidance from Adam Mares, both before and after he left Stiffs, there’s no way I would be writing this article today. He prepared me through hours of editing my subpar writing, helping me navigate new frontiers as an analyst, and teaching me what it meant to love the game of basketball. I would often ask myself “what would Adam do” when managing an issue, and that seemed to work pretty well!
Jena Garcia helped change my perspective on basketball for the better. I never went as far as some in trying to “solve” basketball like a math equation, but I was close at times. Jena helped teach me that basketball was something to love and enjoy through her own personal experiences playing and watching. She helped me see the game in an aesthetic way. It’s important never to lose that perspective.
Gage Bridgford is a lot like me. He started out at FanSided and was brought on to Denver Stiffs despite being out of state, and he found ways to connect with the team and the website despite being separate. He’s grown so much as a writer and basketball mind over the years, and his Film Friday column continues to be one of the best pieces of content produced at Stiffs. I have zero doubt that will continue to be awesome long after I leave.
Tommy Knowlton, Asher Levy, and Peter Leensvaart represent the newest additions to the Stiffs team, and the combination of energy and passion that they brought to the team helped our group through what was a difficult Nuggets season to cover. All three bring their own unique perspectives and skill sets to the table, and their own futures will be as bright as they want them to be. The sky is the limit.
All things come to an end eventually, which means that in order to fully appreciate the past, we must learn our lessons and apply that knowledge toward a brighter future. One thing I’ve learned in my six years of covering the Nuggets for Stiffs, there is nothing more important than surrounding yourself with people that love and care. There will be trials and tribulations as there often are in life, but people make those moments bearable. People that care will celebrate your successes, stick around through your failures, and build a culture worth believing in. I’d like to think that I cultivated that culture as a leader here, and I know that the success of the site will be determined by that same culture long after I’m gone.
The through line in everything I’ve written and podcasted about surrounds the Denver Nuggets and this culture. The Nuggets have long been a team that operates more like a family than a cutthroat organization. The goal is to win a championship, sure, but not if you lose yourself along the way. Nuggets fans know that a championship, as incredible as it would be, isn’t what defines success and failure. The how matters, as does the why. The Nuggets are a competitive basketball team, but more importantly, they’re a group of people united in pursuit of a goal, and those hopes and aspirations shape them, yes. They make the Nuggets who they are though, and I hope that the writers and readers of Denver Stiffs remember that. It’s about people, not policy.
Now, it’s time for me to board a train and go on.
Thank you for changing my life, Denver Stiffs.