Digging for Gold

With a new coach, a new front office, and at least four promising new players, the Nuggets’ 2013–14 season is certain to be a roller coaster ride of transition. We mined the history books and picked the brains of local analysts—and of the Nuggets’ new coach himself—to give you an insider’s look at the franchise’s past, present, and future. 

October 2013

The Show Must Go On
The Nuggets’ director of game presentation takes us inside game night at the Pepsi Center.
Anyone who’s ever attended a Nuggets game is familiar with its frenetic and fun off-court entertainment: The dance team’s funky routines. The “Super Squad” firing T-shirts from cannons into the crowd. Rocky dropping from the ceiling or hitting no-look half-court shots. Halftime performances ranging from acrobats to rappers. And behind it all, one man: Shawn Martinez. Since 2002, the Nuggets’ director of game presentation has overseen the seemingly seamless package that unfolds every game night at the Pepsi Center. “I’m in control of just about everything the players don’t do,” the 45-year-old says. Here, he walks us through his typical game day for an inside perspective on what it takes to produce one of Denver’s most enjoyable nights on the town.
• 9 a.m. A 2.5-hour game usually means a 13-hour day for Shawn Martinez, who hones his production skills by spinning DJ gigs around town under the name Tribal Touch. So the Fort Lewis College alum arrives at the Pepsi Center early to make sure he’s prepared.
• 10 a.m. Martinez starts his workday by updating the game script, including which videos and ads will appear on the scoreboard (and when) and what the timeout plans are for the dancers, Rocky, and the Super Squad.
• Two hours before tipoff It’s time for the sound check with whoever is performing the national anthem. The singers are selected at auditions in September and slated throughout the season.
• One hour before tipoff As fans file in, Martinez watches to ensure the pregame programming—videos and presentations—go smoothly. This year fans will enjoy the addition of a new high-definition scoreboard that’s three times the size of the old screen, as well as a new sound system (read: sensitive listeners, bring your ear plugs).
• Pregame The Super Squad fires a round of T-shirts into the crowd—the first of many such stunts. The NBA checks in once per year and during the offseason to let Martinez and his league counterparts know what’s working and what’s not. Last year they noted the T-shirts were a big hit. Among the league’s latest (and long overdue) suggestions is to turn off the music while the ball’s in play.
• Just before tipoff Martinez checks in with the marketing department to confirm the attendance of game ball recipients, an occasional happening, and where they will be seated. (Recent honorees include Missy Franklin, Governor John Hickenlooper, and Mayor Michael Hancock.)
TIPOFF Once the game starts, Martinez sits next to PA announcer Kyle Speller so he can listen, watch for changes, and react accordingly—such as a 20-second timeout switching to a full or an injury causing his performers to lose one of their scheduled slots.
• Halftime Martinez also oversees the booking of halftime acts, which the organization tries to change yearly—with the exception of rapper Vanilla Ice, who’s killed it twice on the Pepsi Center hardwood. This year Debbie Gibson might make an appearance for ’80s night. Since halftimes are too short to move an entire band on and off the court, these acts can bring their own headaches, such as when Martinez had to switch to a backup CD when one act’s music didn’t cue.
• Third quarter Now things get interesting, depending on whether the Nuggets are down 10, up 10, or if the crowd is hyped. The latter part of the game is when you might see a “hot” timeout, when all the performers hit the floor to keep the arena’s energy bubbling. But if the Nuggets are trailing by 20, Martinez won’t prolong the agony with extra entertainment.
• After the buzzer Martinez concludes the night with a meeting with his crew to discuss what worked and what didn’t and how to improve for the next game.