The Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Finals … and I always believed

7 min. read
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone holds the conference championship trophy after Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series against the Los Angeles Lakers Monday, May 22, 2023, in Los Angeles. Denver won 113-111 to win the series.
AP Photo/Ashley Landis

By Vic Vela, CPR News

It didn't sink in that I was actually covering the NBA Finals until Jimmy Butler walked by me as I was exiting the men's room.

There are many, many things you can imagine happening next after washing your hands in a restroom, but nearly bumping into one of the greatest basketball players of our time probably isn't one of them.

Unless you're a journalist covering the NBA Finals.

Butler had just emerged from an interview session with about a million reporters at Denver's Ball Arena Wednesday, as part of the Finals' "media day." Journalists from around the world have converged on Denver for one of the biggest sporting events this city has ever held.

But it's not the actual event that's so amazing for me to cover -- after all, I've been a journalist for many years and have covered all sorts of major news events in my career. What makes this Finals special is that the Denver Nuggets are a part of it.

The Denver Nuggets are actually playing ... in the ... NBA Finals.

It's taken me several days for me to be able to string those words together with a straight face. But now it's finally sunk in. My favorite team in the whole wide world is playing for a championship for the first time ever -- and the series starts in the best darn city in the whole wide world, Denver, Colorado.

And if you know this city and this team as well as I do, you'd know that we've all been through a lot together.

I'm a Denver sports homer. I make no apologies for it. And I'm always honest with my audience about it. Born and raised in Colorado, I've screamed and cheered for the Broncos thousands and thousands of times since I can remember. I was practically raised in the South Stands of the Old Mile High Stadium, where, in the 1980's, I learned a whole bunch of new cuss words that I would take back to my elementary school on Monday mornings.

But as much as I loved the Broncos and what they've accomplished... they're just not the Nuggets. They're not my Nuggets.

The same Nuggets who I loved so much as a 7-year-old boy in 1985, I dressed up as Doug Moe for Halloween.

The same Nuggets who I saw play at the old McNichols Arena. I sometimes get asked by other longtime Denverites which artists I remember seeing at Big Mac back in the day. Oh, I could go with the Grateful Dead or Phish or The Who or Paul Simon or Bob Dylan. But instead I usually say, "I saw Alex English play there."

Alex English, man. The dude scored more points than any other NBA player in the 1980's. The high-octane Nuggets led by Doug Moe was less of a basketball team and more of a pinball machine!

The same Nuggets who I watched play the Seattle SuperSonics in my high school buddy's living room in Longmont in 1994, the year the Nuggets stunned the world after becoming the first 8 seed to beat a 1 seed in the NBA Playoffs. I will never forget that incredible image of Dikembe Mutombo clutching a basketball that's as big as the teeth-filled smile he wore on his face after winning the game.

The same Nuggets led by 'Melo and the Pride of Park Hill, Chauncey Billups, who I saw put up one hell of a fight against the Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals.

So, the Nuggets have created a lot of happy moments for fans like me over their 56 years of existence -- but there were a lot of bad ones too. A whole lot.

In the late 1990's -- a brutal period for the Nuggets -- I took dates to Nuggets games, almost as a sort of scientific experiment to see which turned out worse.

The Nuggets had some terrible years. Oh, they would sometimes tease fans with a good team every now and then. But they never could win a championship. They always came up short. But Nuggets fans like me still stood by this team through all the many, many down years of being among the worst teams in basketball.

Maybe that's why I cried in a Phoenix hotel room on May 22 after the Nuggets swept -- Oh my gosh, yes, they swept! -- the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

I was with my best friend, Mike. We were in town to see Dead & Company the next night. I was wearing a tie-dyed Grateful Dead basketball jersey with a skeleton in Nuggets gear on a fast-break: Don't tell me this team ain't got no heart!

With seconds left in the game and the Nuggets clinging to a lead, I paced and screamed, "LET'S F***ING GOOOO!"

As Jamal Murray wrapped his hands on the ball that LeBron James was about to put in the basket, I screamed, "Come On!!!! Just one more stop, Denver!!" and cupped my head with my hands, hoping, praying the game clock would strike zero and the Nuggets would win.

"COME ON!!!"

They won. They did it. They actually did it!

I cried.

There was a lot going on in those tears that night.

Maybe I cried because I was actually alive to see this moment.

I'm in my late 40's and I got a laundry list of health issues. I recently went through a major health scare involving my immune system's response to diabetes, heart disease and HIV. Doctors said my blood sugar was so high earlier this year, I could have easily fallen into a coma or died.

I could have missed seeing my Nuggets make history.

I've done many heavy drugs in my life and I'm in recovery from that heavy toll. I've overdosed multiple times. I was once so sick with HIV, I had borderline AIDS.

I'm doing much, much better these days but, move over Annie, I've lived a hard knock life. And yet here are these Denver Nuggets -- Our Denver Nuggets -- making me feel like a hopeful, happy little 7-year-old boy all over again.

Let's. Go.

Yes, the Miami Heat are well-coached and have a great culture of winning and, yes, Jimmy Butler is one heck of a player.

But we got guys like Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon and MPJ and KCP and a home court advantage unlike any team in the league.

Let's. Go.

The Nuggets are making me feel young again -- You make me feel so young! Heck, they're making this entire darn beautiful city feel young again. Everywhere I go nowadays, I see people young and old -- grizzled old, gray-haired Nuggets fans who have been waiting decades for this moment.

And they all have smiles on their faces. The City of Denver has a smile a mile wide and high.

Let's. Go.

And even if you're not much of a sports fan, this Nuggets team is for anyone who's ever lost over and over again; the lovable losers among us who keep putting one foot in front of the other. They're for anyone who has ever been kicked while they're down -- and don't get me started on those East Coast media elites who have trashed the Nuggets every chance they get!

Kierkegaard said, "Faith sees best in the dark."

For decades, Nuggets fans somehow kept the faith during dark times.

Now go outside and look at the sun shining.

It's OK to look. It's OK to believe. You CAN believe!

Casa Bonita is alive again and so are the Good Ol' Denver Nuggets!

Your Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Finals.

Let's. Go.

Run through the streets and shout it like you're George Bailey screaming, "Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan!"


And don't be surprised if you see me crying at Ball Arena ...

... when they win the whole darn thing.

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