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For as long as I can remember, the Denver Nuggets have been an afterthought. In the NBA, teams like the Los Angeles Lakers hoarded all the attention—just because they were, you know, successful. Here in Denver, the Broncos reigned supreme. Heck, even in the Nuggets’ own arena, the Colorado Avalanche have hung more banners in the rafters.
So, ever since the team won its first championship in June, I’ve found myself in a bizarro world: The Nuggets are the center of the NBA universe and Denver’s sports culture. As a fan since the ’90s—when Antonio McDyess’ turnaround jump shot was the only thing worth rooting for—I am thrilled by the eversal, but this (hopefully) new normal has also led me into an existential crisis—how will the success we’ve craved for so long reshape what it means to be a Nuggets fan?
Jamal Murray threes, Nikola Jokić dimes, and Aaron Gordon dunks have already become formative sports experiences for transplants and kids in the Mile High City. Now that the Nuggets have finally done the damn thing, new fans won’t see their team as a long-suffering also-ran, at least for a while. But simply hanging a banner at Ball Arena isn’t enough to erase the scars borne by longtime supporters like me who suffered through humiliation (11 wins in the 1997-’98 season) after humiliation (a collapse to the Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals) after humiliation (Nikoloz Tskitishvili). The gulf between the two fandoms—Before Jokić and After Jokić—might become so great that fans will need to identify ourselves based on which subgroup we belong to. It’s not just that number 15 is the most Christlike Denver athlete I’ve ever witnessed; it’s that the delineation will help the fanbase understand itself. New supporters can dismiss the pessimism of their elders as a form of PTSD, but longtime fans will know optimism only means you haven’t been let down yet.
Some say we should stop acting like a jealous middle child when pundits continue to ignore Jokić’s greatness to spend five hours dissecting LeBron James’ latest attention grab or when other teams’ fans inevitably take over Ball Arena. Forget that. We’ve endured too much heartbreak and too many slights to be deferential when we finally can’t be dismissed. When Lakers fans invade Ball Arena on October 24 for the season opener, I am not going to miss my chance to flaunt my championship gear and engage in some good-natured heckling.
The long-term changes are less clear, but they could be even more drastic. With the Nuggets’ core under contract until at least 2025, there’s a chance even lifelong supporters will become what we hate—namely, Golden State Warriors fans whose team was a laughingstock for decades until Steph Curry came along. Now they’re no better than LA Lakers bandwagoners: smug, entitled, and celebrity-hungry. But I hope not. That #NuggLife—a hashtag created to sum up what it means to take pride in a team that always comes up short—is central to the fan base’s identity. Plus, embracing our role as lovable losers will make every championship that follows taste (nearly) as sweet as the first.