Midway through the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets looked overmatched.
They were down by 20 points in front of a sell out crowd at the Pepsi Center—a crowd that included a whole bunch of folks wearing Celtics green. Boston guard Kyrie Irving made mince meat of the Nuggets defense, and the team, along with the subsection of fans wearing blue and gold, looked flummoxed.
But the Nuggets came roaring back in the third quarter. The young squad looked energized. They flew around the floor, played aggressive defense, and showed grit, determination and a bunch of other cliché things that signify success in sports. The Nuggets ultimately lost by one point, but the team dug in, which made the second half of the game an absolute joy to watch. They took on one of the best teams in the NBA and looked ready to play at their level.
The truth is, the Nuggets have been a whole lot of fun to watch for the past year. During the second half of last season the team had one of the best offenses in the league and missed the playoffs by just one game. They even became every NBA hipster’s favorite team. (Yes, NBA hipsters are real. They are creatures of the Internet and communicate in memes and advanced statistics. They also care a great deal about determining which team is cool before everyone else does. The general rules of hipsterdom still apply.)
The team’s young core, which began to gel towards the end of last year, is one of the best in the league. Slick-passing big man Nikola Jokić is already a star. The Serbian is as goofy as he is talented and his incredible court vision means he is good for at least one of these a game:
HOW DID HE KNOW???? pic.twitter.com/DSlNVArYaw
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 31, 2018
Gary Harris has the potential to be one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league. He also regularly does neat stuff like this:
— Dig In Denver (@DigInDenver) December 3, 2017
And Jamal Murray is a sharpshooter who is ferociously competitive and plays harder than just about any young guard in the league. He also clowns opponents every once in awhile:
But even though the Nuggets have become every basketball nerd’s favorite team, the city of Denver still doesn’t seem to care much. For the season, the team ranks 22 out of 30 teams in attendance. Only three of the teams ranked below the Nuggets have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
Also, according to the recent data compiled by Sports Business Journal, Altitude TV, which broadcasts Nuggets games locally, had the second lowest ratings among local NBA team broadcasts last year. Altitude TV has also seen the fifth most dramatic year-over-year decline in ratings. (Cord-cutting is obviously an issue here, but people in Denver still aren’t tuning into the Nuggets—even when they’re worth watching.)
As a Denver native, I am acutely aware of how sports fandom in this town works. I know the Broncos are this city’s true religion. Like so many other Denverites, I was baptized in orange and worship at the altar of John Elway. I also plan to have two sons named Von and Peyton. (Not really, but we all know there will be an article in five years with the headline “Denver Elementary School Class Has Eight Kids Named Peyton.”)
Even the Nuggets organization understands that football is the sport truly ingrained in the psyche of this town. At games, they put pictures of Tom Brady on the jumbotron just to get fans to boo as opposing teams are shooting free throws.
I am also aware that this city has an, um, let’s just say interesting relationship with the NBA. Denverites not so lovingly referred to the late 2000s Nuggets—a team that consistently made the playoffs and even the 2009 Western Conference finals—as “The Thuggets.” While an early version of that team did get into a brawl with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the nickname was still offensive.
And yes, transplants are flooding Denver in droves, which means watching games with a large smattering of fans in Celtics green or Lakers purple is inevitable. But the most important thing right now is that this Nuggets team is interesting, engaging, and absolutely worth your time. While it appears the Broncos may be mired in mediocrity for some time, and as you ease into a 162-game Colorado Rockies season, it is time to start paying attention.
Sure, the team is young and there will be growing pains. But they play hard, they are likely going to make the playoffs this year (even though Paul Millsap—the team’s big free agent signing from last summer—has missed most of the season), and they are on their way to being one of the best teams in the league.
So hop on the bandwagon now, Denverites, because in two years every transplant/new Amazon employee you see at the artisan doughnut shop won’t be wearing a Kyrie Irving or Von Miller jersey. It’ll be a Nikola Jokić jersey.