I was born on October 5th, 1975 – exactly 20 days before the 1975-76 Denver Nuggets made their home debut in Denver’s brand new McNichols Sports Arena. That season was also the franchise’s second as the “Nuggets” (having been named the Denver Rockets from 1967-68 until 1974-75) and what would end up being their final season as a member of the long-since-defunct American Basketball Association, or ABA. In fact, my mother loves to tell the story about me as a newborn being home for just a few weeks when, rather than stay home to watch over me, she elected to join my father at a Nuggets game and left me with my grandmother for several hours. I can’t say I blame her and it’s not like I remember anything from those days anyway. Not even my briss (thankfully).

But that’s where it all started. This bizarre love of a basketball team that hasn’t exactly returned a lot of love back. As a seventh month old, my beloved Nuggets would march to the ABA Finals only to lose to Julius “Dr. J.” Erving’s New York Nets in six games. Along with three other ABA franchises (the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and re-located New Jersey Nets), the Nuggets would join the NBA to begin the 1976-77 season during which they’d win a Western Conference second-best 50 games but be upset by the eventual NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers in just the playoffs’ second round.

I was just over a year-and-a-half old and was already experiencing that lack of love back – if only subconsciously.

As a two-and-a-half year old in 1978 and growing up in a Nuggets household, I'm assuming I either witnessed, watched or listened via radio to our Nuggets get to their first of three (yes, just three) Western Conference Finals when they took on the Seattle Supersonics and lost in six games. But I can't honestly say that I remember any of those games, which is a damn shame because I missed (arguably) the greatest Nugget ever – David Thompson – in his prime.

In fact, I don't remember much about the Nuggets – or anything else for that matter – until about 1982 when I was seven years old and the team donned new "rainbow" uniforms, that to this day are the most popular among Nuggets fans anywhere (as evident by our 2013 poll ranking the best uniforms in Nuggets history … the 80s rainbows won in a landslide).

From 1981 through 1990, it was really really really fun to be a Denver Nuggets fan. That was the era of head coach Doug Moe (the original Big Stiff as the man who coined the phrase in the first place!) and his awful suits, ugly ties, disheveled hair, litany of curse words, blunt talk and fast-paced, 100-plus point basketball games. But for all of Moe's antics, his teams on the floor were quite successful: nine consecutive playoff appearances, two 50-plus win seasons (when 50-win seasons actually meant something in the NBA) and the franchise's second of three Western Conference Finals appearances.

At Moe's direction, the Nuggets blurred their way up and down the basketball court wearing those rainbow uniforms and routinely exhausting incoming opponents on the McNichols Arena floor. In their first season wearing those rainbow uniforms, Moe's Nuggets averaged an NBA-best 123.2 ppg, won 45 games and lost in the second round of the playoffs. Again, living in a Nuggets household I got a taste of what was to come for the rest of my life: fun basketball, playoff appearances, no championships.

But it wasn't just the wins and points scored that made the Nuggets so fun to root for … it was what Moe was able to do with the players themselves.

For example, Moe turned the solid small forward Alex English into a Hall of Famer seemingly overnight. Arriving in Denver in 1980 as a 26 year old after bouncing around from Milwaukee to Indiana and never averaging more than 16 ppg, English thrived under Moe, averaging nearly 26 ppg as a Nugget (while shooting over 50%), appearing in eight consecutive All-Star Games, winning the NBA’s scoring title in 1982-83 and finishing as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and inarguably greatest player.

And playing alongside English was another small forward, Kiki Vandeweghe, who went from averaging 11.5 ppg and shooting 42.6% as a rookie in 1980-81 to nearly leading the NBA in scoring in both 1982-83 and 1983-84 while appearing in two consecutive All-Star Games. From 1981 through 1984, English, Vandeweghe and center/power forward Dan Issel each averaged nearly 20 ppg.

A few seasons later, English would be joined by Lafayette “Fat” Lever (traded to Denver along with several other players for Vandeweghe in a very controversial deal at the time) and remarkably, the 6’3″, 170 pound Lever would become a triple-double machine under Moe’s direction, finishing his career with 43 … good for sixth all-time even today! Together, English and Lever led two of the greatest runs in the Nuggets’ NBA history: the 1984-85 52-win team that competed for the Western Conference championship and the 1987-88 54-win team that won Moe a Coach of the Year Award but were upset in the second round of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.

Remember, despite all the exciting basketball the Nuggets rarely returned a lot of love back to us fans, and it was about to get worse.

Entering high school in 1990, I had to endure two seasons of the "Paul Westhead Era", a laughable chapter not just in the history of the Nuggets but in NBA history. Westhead's strategy was to channel Moe's up-tempo culture and supercharge it, running so absurdly and so often that they gave up an astounding 130.8 ppg to their opposition en route to a franchise worse (at the time) 20 wins. You know something is amiss when the 5'10" Michael Adams averages 10 more points per game than he had in the previous season, the 31-year-old Orlando Woolridge averages a career-high 25.1 ppg and the 36-year-old Walter Davis averages nearly 20 ppg, several years removed from being a 20-point scorer in the NBA.

And thus began an era where June … and not NBA Finals June but rather NBA Draft June … became the most exciting time of the year if you were a Nuggets fan.

1991 meant no Larry Johnson but we did get Dikembe Mutombo. 1992 meant no Shaquille O’Neal or Alonzo Mourning, but we did get LaPhonso Ellis. 1997 meant no Tim Duncan or Chauncey Billups, and we ended up with Tony Battie. 1998 meant no Vince Carter, Paul Pierce or Dirk Nowitzki, and we ended up with Raef LaFrentz (that one was our fault however). But I’m skipping a little too far ahead.

As the 1991-92 Nuggets season began the Nuggets were poised to lose a lot of games again (despite drafting promising rookies Mutombo and Mark Macon). But I just obtained my driver's license which meant one thing: I'd be going to a LOT of Nuggets games. From the 1991-92 season through the end of high school in 1993-94, I attended at least half of all the games played at McNichols Arena. And while the 1991-92 season was painfully forgettable, things turned around in 1992-93. Issel left the broadcast booth to replace Westhead as head coach. Mutombo was a season maturer. 1990 rookie Chris Jackson became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, lost a ton of weight and had renewed dedication to his game. And the Nuggets had two exciting new rookies in Ellis and Bryant Stith who brought promise from the start.

And for once, the Nuggets returned the love that we fans had shown for so long as that 1993-94 squad pulled off the greatest (at the time) upset in NBA history by defeating the one-seeded Supersonics as an eighth-seed in the first round of the playoffs. After not appearing in the second round of the playoffs for six years, the Nuggets looked to be on the verge of a decade of successful and meaningful basketball. As new and old Nuggets fans alike know, that team was honored two seasons ago with a 20th Anniversary celebration at the Pepsi Center … during a game that saw a struggling 2013-14 Nuggets squad handily defeat a superior Los Angeles Clippers squad.

Sadly, as I took off for college in another city the Nuggets post-1994 would ultimately disappoint. A severe knee injury to Ellis (aka the Phonz) during the 1994 off-season led to what I call the Nuggets “Dark Ages” from 1994 through 2003 – nearly a decade worth of futility mired by four 21 or less win seasons (including a franchise low 11 wins in 1997-98 … the Denver Broncos actually won more games than the Nuggets that year!), eight coaching changes, Mutombo’s inexcusable departure thanks to incompetent management, a national anthem protest by Abdul-Rauf, a player revolt, a rash of horrible trades and draft picks (see: Battie, Tony and LaFrentz, Raef) and a controversial ending to Issel’s NBA coaching / executive career. And yet even during these “Dark Ages” I made it a point to watch Nuggets games at the local sports bar (in those days, there was no NBA League Pass, satellite TV at home, internet streaming of games and so forth) and keep tabs on them in the USA Today. The ONLY highlight from 1994 through 2003 for Nuggets fans was when the 35-win 1995-96 Nuggets ended the 72-win Chicago Bulls 17-game winning streak on the McNichols Arena floor in a 105-99 thriller.

From college I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in animation, cartooning and marketing and several years into my LA sabbatical I finally had access to NBA League Pass on my local cable system. So in addition to watching the entire Kobe Bryant / Shaquille O’Neal Era of the Los Angeles Lakers I was able to watch the post-Issel Nuggets Era during which Vandeweghe became GM, shook up the roster and went with The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh strategy to form the 2002-03 Nuggets, coached by a no-name Jeff Bzdelik. 17 unbelievable (and I mean unbelievable, have you looked at the 2002-03 Nuggets roster lately?) wins later, the Nuggets drafted third overall and landed Carmelo Anthony … the best player to wear a Nuggets uniform since English’s departure in 1990.

Say what you want about Anthony – and I’ve said it all – but he made the Nuggets relevant overnight and the “Dark Ages” of Nuggets basketball officially came to an end when Anthony helped lead the Nuggets back to the post-season in 2004 after an eight-year playoff hiatus. In 2005 the fiery George Karl was brought in to coach Anthony and the team and the Anthony / Karl duo combined for six straight playoff appearances and post-Anthony, Karl would guide the Nuggets to three more consecutive post-seasons. Channeling Moe, but not in the way Westhead comically did, Karl imposed an up-tempo style on his Nuggets that resulted in a lot of regular season wins but routine playoff disappointments with one glaring exception: the 2008-09 season.

Bringing Denver and University of Colorado legend Chauncey Billups back to Denver in 2008, the Nuggets gave Karl a true extension of himself on the floor and the Billups / Anthony / Karl combination led the Nuggets to their third of three NBA Western Conference Finals in 2009 … going down to those hated Lakers in six games, the furthest any Nuggets team has ever been to tasting an NBA Finals appearance. It was great timing for me personally, as well, as I had begun my move back to Denver in 2009 and was able to catch all of those 2009 playoff games at the Pepsi Center.

Rather than build on that magical 2008-09 playoff run, the Nuggets wilted in 2010 as Karl (sadly) succumbed to cancer for the second time in his life and was unable to coach the post-season. Soon thereafter the Melodrama ensued and Anthony forced his way to the New York Knicks, leaving Karl and the Nuggets with a roster of talented guys, but no “stars”. But rather than give up, Karl was able to guide his new team back to the playoffs and then some, culminating with a Nuggets NBA franchise record 57 wins in 2012-13 and a three-seed in the stacked Western Conference Playoffs.

But … again … the Nuggets didn’t show a lot of love back to their fans as Karl’s three-seeded Nuggets were upset by the inexperienced Mark Jackson’s sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round, which led to Karl’s dismissal and the dreadful Brian Shaw Era, which I suspect will be forgotten about soon enough just as Westhead’s Era has been.

The only good thing that came from Shaw’s brief tenure as head coach was that June (again, not NBA Finals June but NBA Draft June) was exciting again for Nuggets fans. And while we didn’t get Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in last year’s draft we did get Jusuf Nurkic. And while we didn’t get Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell or Jahlil Okafor this year we did get Emmanuel Mudiay, who by all accounts and early returns could very well be the next Nuggets star in a line that began with Issel and Thompson in the 1970s through English and Lever in the 1980s through Mutombo and Ellis in the 1990s through Anthony and Billups in the 2000s.

So as I embark on my 41st season as a Nuggets fan, I come into it with renewed optimism that some day, one day, the Nuggets will return the love that I've shown them all these years and give me a championship parade on Speer Boulevard. It just might take another 40 years of fandom to get there.


Reminder: Stiffs Night Out Season Kickoff 10/28

Please join us for the next Stiffs Night Out on Wednesday, October 28th at 6pm as the Nuggets take on the Rockets in Houston to kickoff the 2015-16 NBA season. The event will take place at Jake’s Sports & Spirits at 3800 Walnut Street and Jake’s will be serving happy hour drinks until 7pm and 50-cent wings all night long! We will also play Nuggets trivia for prizes, including Nuggets game tickets. See you on the 28th!