Brendan Vogt didn’t move to Colorado a year ago for the mountains or the much-vaunted quality of life.
“I’m probably the only human being in the history of human beings to move to Denver because of the Nuggets,” Vogt said.
“I couldn’t find a Nuggets bar. I couldn’t find Nuggets jerseys. Honestly, the biggest crowds I saw were because of the opposing fan bases.”
The Nuggets faithful haven’t had a lot to cheer about since the last time Denver made the playoffs in 2012-2013. The Nuggets are the only team of Denver’s four major sports clubs (Broncos, Rockies and Avalanche) to have never at least played for a championship.
When asked what comes to mind when people think of Denver, Nuggets fan Robin Arnold offered marijuana as his first answer. “But from a sports perspective, definitely the Broncos and maybe the Avs because they won a couple Stanley Cups… But maybe this is our year.”
Hope springs eternal for fans like Arnold. Maybe this could be the year the city finally takes notice of the Nuggets?
Denver was off to their best start in 42 years, winning nine of their first 10, before they came back come down to Earth with a recent losing streak. Last night, the magic seemed to be returning, though. Juancho Hernangomez scored a season-high 25 points as the Nuggets notched in a runaway victory over the Atlanta Hawks 138-93.
"We just played with freedom," Hernangomez told The Associated Press. "Everybody played hard, everybody played really good defense and after our defense, it was easy to run. It's who we are. Last season we played like this. Everybody ran, everybody cut, everybody shot. I think we're in a great mode."
Yes, there is a new-found buzz inside the Pepsi Center these days. The players on the hardwood feel it. Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said there’s a big difference.
“I think the spirit of basketball in this town has really evolved and it’s up to us to continue to perform for them,” Milsap said.
It’s only five weeks into this season and the Nuggets have sold out more home games than they did the entire 2016 season. They’re on pace to shatter last season’s attendance numbers at Pepsi Center. Not bad for a team ranked at or near the bottom in NBA attendance the last four years.
The Nuggets also unveiled new nostalgia-inspired uniforms and logos, and fans are eating them up. Derek Friedman, owner of Sportsfan, a metro Denver sports merchandise retailer, “wouldn’t say things are flying off the shelves, but certainly there are a lot more people coming in looking for everything Nuggets.”
There have been good teams through the 51-year history of the Nuggets (they started out as the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association in 1967). Denver found success in the 1980’s under coach Doug Moe, who, along with Nuggets icon Alex English, led the team to its first Western Conference Finals appearance in 1985.
Dikembe Mutombo and the The 1993-94 Nuggets became the Cinderella darlings of the NBA when they ousted top-seeded Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. In 2009, the Nuggets made their second trip to the Western Conference finals, led by Carmelo Anthony and hometown hero Chauncey Billups.
The Nuggets, however, have not matched the success of other Denver sports teams.
The Broncos have won three Super Bowls. The Avalanche have won two Stanley Cups. And the Rockies have made it to a World Series and are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons. The Nuggets have never been to the NBA Finals and it’s been almost six years since they made the postseason.
“They’ve had moments,” said Scott Hastings, the color analyst for Nuggets games on Altitude Sports. “But the key in sports is to be able to sustain those moments, which the Broncos have been able to do, and probably why this town is Bronco-heavy for the most part.”
There hasn’t been an All-Star on the roster since Anthony was traded in 2011. In recent years, the Nuggets have put together a core of young players who could develop into future All-Stars.
“This year, the Nuggets have an awesome mix of personality and skill to back it up,” said Nuggets fan Quinn Marchman of Denver. “Like, Nikola Jokic is just a big, goofy dude who just happens to be one of the most talented basketball players of his generation. And Jamal Murray is like a spicy Canadian who just put up 48 points against Boston.”
With the Broncos struggles, Hastings believes there’s “a great opportunity for the Nuggets to continue to play well” and pick up fans. Wins are a big part of that. Denver is a town that expects postseason play.
That’s just fine with longtime fans like Quinn Marchman. When the Nuggets hit their winning-stride, the new fans are “more than welcome to hop on the bandwagon.”