Jeff Ruane

Denver and their Nuggets

I was born near Chicago in 1985. My parents, siblings and I would sit down and watch every single game during the Chicago Bulls's dynasty. After the games, my brother and I would go outside and shoot hoops until it got dark. We'd hit imaginary buzzer-beaters for hours. I still tell people about my going to my first Nuggets game to see the Bulls. Jordan rested that game, of course. It was common to rest stars against that Nuggets team. Despite him not playing, I'll never forget seeing him there, sitting on the bench at McNichols. We were in the presence of greatness either way.

Occasionally, a sports team has an outsized impact on culture and identity of a region. That Bulls team became an inextricable part of the identity of Chicago. They allowed Chicagoans to say "who's the second city now?" to New Yorkers and Los Angelenos. Those teams were, and continue to be, the pride of Chicago. The Bulls were pervasive, ubiquitous, inevitable.

This Nuggets team could be that team. The team that people will still be talking about in 25 years, and this town is here for it. I saw a Miller Lite billboard on I-25 today featuring Jamal Murray. Nikola Jokić and Peyton Watson are doing commercials. The Melo hype in 2003 pales in comparison.

Jamal Murray on a billboard, getting his bag courtesy of Miller-Coors

Nikola Jokić went to an Avalanche game last week, and the arena exploded into an "MVP" chant when he was featured on the Jumbotron (incidentally, I'm pretty sure I'm the one who started that chant, at least according to the folks sitting around me). Denver was firmly in "football town" territory until the past year. This is what Nuggets home games looked like in 2014.

A crowd of roughly 9,500 people at a 2014 Nuggets game

This was Jokić's 8th game, before we knew what Jokić was, before this team started to feel inevitable. This is an average Nuggets home game in 2024 (courtesy of the fantastic New Yorker article "How Nikola Jokić Became the World’s Best Basketball Player")

A sell out crowd at Ball arena with Nikola Jokić walking up the court

This team has transformed us into a basketball town, despite the vast majority of Denverites not being able to watch most games. I regularly see people wearing Nuggets gear, a rarity just a few years ago. I guarantee there are countless kids pretending to be Jokić and Murray into the dusk. We can feel it. This team feels be inevitable, a benchmark that teams will measure themselves against for decades to come. A team in that rarefied air of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. I'm not suggesting the Nuggets are already there. Just that sitting down every other night to watch them play, thinking I might just see history is a familiar feeling.

#basketball #personal #writing