May 25, 2023
The three greatest players in Nuggets history: David Thompson,
Nikola Jokic, Alex English.
on the Nuggets making the NBA Finals for the first time since joining the league for the 1976-77 season ...
This is obvious ...
or should be. They've got the best player in the world, Nikola Jokic, who is revolutionizing his position. Jamal Murray
has blossomed into a star after recovering from major knee surgery. General manager Calvin Boooth made augmenting moves
that nudged the Nuggets to the next level.
The major annoyance during the Nuggets' trip through the playoff bracket has been the
"no-respect" narrative from the area media and fan constituency. Coach Michael Malone jumping in with "nobody"
and "everybody" absolutes about media treatment of his team that largely have gone unchallenged. Everybody?
Nobody? Really? He clearly was pouncing on a motivational gambit, and admitted it.
I'll agree on this: Some of ESPN's
coverage and "hot take" punditry -- both at the four-letter and elsewhere -- has been lazy, eyebrow-raising and
worthy of derision. But it's not an international conspiracy. Commissioner Adam Silver will not put 15 points on the other
side of the scoreboards to start each Finals game because of the alleged lack of .... lack of ... well, lack of what Aretha
Franklin sang about. I'm so sick of hearing it, I can't even say the word again. The ultimate way for the Nuggets, at least,
to respond to the alleged slights is simple. Win the series and the title.
Now in Denver, we seem to be tracking what every
semi-obscure talk-show and podcast host/writer in the country thinks of Jokic and the Nuggets.
Again, who cares? What does it
matter? For one thing, Jokic twice in the past three seasons was voted the league's MVP. That's ... well,
you know what it is. It starts with an "r."
Denver, when you react to obviously contrived and reaching views that border on caricature
and give them attention, they win. Their bosses are high-fiving them. It's going to get worse because the hacks now know the
Nuggets constituency -- including media members -- will take the bait.
Sports media -- running the gamut
from writing to television/radio to digital and social media -- are becoming more about fan-a-lism every year. Many sites
and outlets have read the marketplace and make no apology for stepping away from theoretically objective journalism in coverage.
But mainstream media
-- "print"/online and digital -- are straying into the realm of pom-pom punditry, too.
I still believe that
if you wear a credential around your neck and get in free, and I mean anywhere, you should at least PRETEND to be objective
and professional. That said, I need to draw a distinction. Not long ago, newspaper editors could both demand impartiality
from their writers while going along with the paper placing newspaper-sponsored cheerleading cards at every arena seat,
or -- as was the case of a Denver paper in 1977 -- actually printing orange front pages to salute the Broncos.
And the national game broadcasts themselves? The truth is that in most -- close to
all -- NBA and NHL playoff series, the media and fan constituencies in BOTH markets are complaining that the national broadcasts
and coverage are blatatantly biased in favor of the other team/market. That's just the way it works.
The other night, after the Nuggets closed out the Lakers,
Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke was wandering around in the background and as near as I could tell, wasn't even pointed out by
the ESPN folks. I will admit that was a bit curious. (Perhaps he declined to talk at this point.) And while Denver fandom
has its issues with Kroenke over the ridiculously ongoing Comcast-Altitude spat, consider the run he's having as an owner.
Since early 2022, the Rams have won a Super Bowl, the Avalanche has won the Stanley Cup and the Colorado Mammoth has won the
National (indoor) Lacrosse League championship. Now the Nuggets are within four wins of an NBA championship and the Mammoth
are on the verge of earning a repeat NLL title.
So Stan and Josh Kroenke deserve considerable credit and even attention during the
NBA Finals, though their style has been more low-key than most owners. Perhaps they'll never be as beloved as was Pat Bowlen,
but they can be as respected.
I've suggested the Nuggets bring in David Thompson and Alex English for at least one of the Finals
game in Denver, and others responded with longer lists.
Saluting the franchise's past -- without going too far and becoming distracting --
is appropriate as the Nuggets seek to win a first championship. Thompson, once the most electrifying player in the game, would
be remindful of the Carl Scheer aggressive maneuvering that was instrumental in the NBA deciding the two-league war was too
costly and to admit four ABA teams -- including the Nuggets -- for the 1976-77 season. Denver outbid the Atlanta Hawks, who
also drafted Thompson in 1975. His rookie season was the ABA's last. The ABA had other victories, too, including in Denver,
but his signing was the most important. The ABA also benefited from the NBA refusing to lower its draft age. Denver likely
would have made it to the NBA minus the ABA groundwork, but that's not a certainty.
No, the Nuggets never have been in an
NBA Finals before, but to me, that comes with an asterisk. In that last season of the ABA, the league started with nine teams
and finished with seven after the Utah Stars and San Diego Sails folded early. The New York Nets, with Julius Erving; plus
the San Antonio Spurs, with James Silas and George Gervin; and the Kentucky Colonels, with Artis Gilmore and Maurice Lucas,
seemed to come to Denver every other week. I was attending CU and working part-time at the Rocky Mountain News,
but I remember buying $6 tickets at the student union box office.
That season, the Nuggets were 64-20 and finished
first. (There were no divisions.) The Nuggets beat the Colonels in seven games to advance to the Finals, with the home court
advantage, against the second-seeded Nets. Erving and the Nets knocked off the Nuggets in six games, and I'm convinced they
were the two best teams in pro basketball. The Celtics, with Dave Cowens, won the NBA title, beating the Suns, who had won
only 42 games in the regular season, in the NBA Finals.
But, again, that ABA Finals were a better show that season. That's 47 years ago, but
I'm counting it as a Finals appearance.
So if the ABA teams were that good, why didn't one of them win the NBA title the next
season ... after the merger? Well, Erving had moved on to the 76ers, who bought out his Nets contract in fallout from merger
maneuvering. The Nuggets won 50 games and the Midwest Division, but ran into the ascending Portland Trail Blazers in the Western
Conference semifinals and fell in six games in an entertaining series. Then the Blazers and Bill Walton beat Erving
and the 76ers in the Finals.
I've covered four NBA Finals -- Lakers vs. 76ers in 1983 and Lakers vs. Celtics in
1984 for the Denver Post; plus Blazers vs. Pistons in 1990 and and Blazers vs. Bulls in 1992 for the Portland
Oregonian. The first two, I was an NBA beat writer covering the Nuggets in a time when most beat writers were dispatched
to the Finals. In 1990 and '92, I was the Oregonian's sports columnist.
Those were Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers,
but they lost both years -- in a sweep to Moses Malone's 76ers and in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics, with the
deciding game played in sauna-like conditions at the Boston Garden. It was a different time: I'm pretty sure it was during
the '84 series, but with no charter travel, the Lakers and many of us in the media on the same flights had a layover in Denver
... and Pat Riley conducted a press conference at the Stapleton gate. Yes, that was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walking down the concourse.
Portland had terrific teams in their Finals seasons, but the Bad-Boy Pistons and Michael Jordan's Bulls
were just better and I was writing from the perspective of the Blazers trying to break through and win a second -- or third
-- NBA title. The Blazers, with Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams, lost in five games to the Pistons
and in six to the Bulls.
Most memorably, I was at the Chicago Stadium courtside when Jordan shrugged after making a 3-pointer during
his 35-point first half in 1992's Game 1.
Another Finals-related memory is taking a call from Nike executive and player agent
Howard Slusher, a friend of my father's. I believe it was in 1990, but there's a chance it was in 1992. He asked if I
thought that if the Blazers made the Finals, might the league and media personnel have time on an off-night to attend an open
house/party at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton? (They opened in 1990.)
I said yes ... and. after it was all arranged,
a fun time was had by all. It also won friends when Finals credentials were deemed good for admittance to Nike's employee
stores, where the prices were impossible to beat. I'm guessing some media members bought second suitcases or shipped boxes
to get their hauls home. Portland was popular again among the NBA and hoops community in 1992, when the Bulls beat the Blazers
in the Finals and just a few weeks later, the city played host to the Tournament of the Americas. That was the Barcelona Olympics
qualifying tournament and the competitive debut of the Dream Team.
Hey, maybe the soon-to-reopen Casa Bonita, owned
by hoops fans Matt Stone and Trey Parker, could host a memorable Finals party here.
My recollection is that governors and/or
mayors with teams in the NBA Finals traditionally make light-hearted Finals bets with each other involving products from their
states or cities. If it's Heat-Nuggets, somehow I think Colorado's Jared Polis and Florida's Ron DeSantis might pass on that.
Terry Frei's web site