More than any other sport, being a fan of a basketball team is a lot like being in a relationship. Relevance in the NBA is predicated upon individual star power, so if your team has a star you tend to grow a lot more attached to him than you would for a football or baseball player. Don’t believe me? Just look at how Lebron James turned the entire city of Cleveland into a legion of jealous ex-wives when he bolted for South Beach. They burned his jersey, cursed his name and only granted him visitation rights a couple of times a season (and only because that was out of their control). Ultimately, the pain wasn’t alleviated until Lebron wanted to come back, and Cleveland was more than ready to get back together with him. Oklahoma City may say they’ll never forgive Kevin Durant, but I bet they would too if given the chance.
It sounds weird, I know, but let’s look at Denver’s last basketball marriage. Carmelo Anthony broke all of our hearts very much in the same manner, except instead of chasing a title like Lebron did, Melo just wanted to be another rich guy in New York. I was texting Kevin yesterday and we found ourselves talking about this very subject (no, there’s nothing strange about that!), then he summed up our seven-year relationship with Melo in two sentences: “It was just a marriage with one sided love. We are still recovering from that.”
If you used to follow the Nuggets but have largely ignored them for the past few years, that’s probably why in a nutshell. When Melo packed up all his shit and left in the dead of night, we carried on as best we could afterward. Even had a couple of pretty entertaining seasons while we tried to forget about him. But things bottomed out. The Nuggets faded back into irrelevance and we looked on in envy at all the other happy cities with their own superstars. There hasn’t been much hope that we would ever truly recover.
At first glance, Nikola Jokic doesn’t strike you as a potential NBA Superstar. He’s completely unselfish, not all that graceful (even when he does something amazing, it’s always goofy) and looks like he could’ve been an extra in one of the Die Hard movies. But then before you know it, it’s the fourth quarter and he easily pulled off another double double, with only a few more assists needed for the triple. And just like when you feel you may be on the verge of a new relationship, you try not to get too excited. You temper your expectations and pretend like it’s not that big of a deal. In the case of Jokic, “It’s probably just another Linsanity situation,” Nuggets fans say, “this guy will cool off eventually.” And you wait and wait for someone to pull the rug out from under you. But when you do find yourself in a good relationship, that moment never comes and it hasn’t come yet with Jokic either. I’ve been waiting a month and instead of falling back down to Earth, he only seems to be getting better.
Case in point? Jokic is the first Nugget since Melo to record three straight games of 25 points and 10 rebounds. On Thursday night, he dropped 35 points on the Spurs and kept the game close, even though the Nuggets were shorthanded. When these things happen in spurts and then go away, you can write it off as an aberration. When it starts to become routine, you take notice and wonder if a player is for real. If so, you dream about just how great he can become. If Melo was the established star who left us because we weren’t good enough for him, then Jokic could be the up-and-coming star who likes us for who we are and can mend our broken hearts.
And that’s where we currently find ourselves. It’s too early to know whether this dude is for real, but Jokic’s play of late has been far too stellar to ignore. And you just can’t continue not giving a crap, Denver. You need to give the Nuggets another chance.
Sure, they are currently 18-24. Not that impressive. But thanks to the Western Conference’s overall mediocrity, that is good enough for the eighth seed and playoff spot, and I don’t expect that all the other teams below us are suddenly going to get a whole lot better. And sure, the eighth seed may be a one-way ticket to getting swept in the first round by the Warriors, but the ironic thing is that while that may have been one of the reasons that George Karl was fired, a playoff berth alone could prove to be a crucial experience to help this young team (and Jokic) grow. Please Denver, give the Nuggets another chance.
Kevin and I have described the current NBA as the age of the super team, where the top players in the league often join forces to try and create an easier path to a title. While Denver will never be the most attractive destination for prospective free agents, if Jokic continues to break out onto the scene and a couple of the other youngsters help establish a solid core, then the Nuggets will continue to be one of the more promising teams in the league. The promise of that alone was enough to earn a sitdown with Dwyane Wade last summer (even if he used us and then rushed off to Chicago). What could happen when it becomes fully realized? Please Denver, show the Nuggets that you care.
Melo never returned the love for us that we showered on to him, but I don’t think Jokic will be the same way. If you support him now and let him know that you appreciate his efforts, I have a feeling that he’ll remember it when it comes time for him to resign here. Show the guy a little love and I don’t believe he’ll stab us in the back like Melo did. Last night’s home win against the Clippers was a good start, but we need more of that.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that these hopes will be fulfilled. Jokic’s play could fall off a cliff tomorrow and I’ll be left holding the bag. It’s all a huge leap of faith. I’m asking you to put your hearts on the line again, Denver, and that may scare you to death. If this doesn’t work out, it’s going to hurt like hell.
But if it does? Oh man. Please Denver, don’t be afraid to let the Nuggets back into your heart.