For years I’ve be fascinated with the amount of Nuggets fans I’ve encountered who hail from Australia. Given the relative population of Australia compared to the rest of the world, it’s always seemed like abnormally large number. So, after a long period of distant admiration, I finally decided to reach out to some of these fans from Down Under to get a better understanding of how they became Nuggets fans — of all things. Here is their story…
(Note: For this piece I interviewed three die-hard Nuggets fans: Tyson Ruch, 23; Chris Coutts, 37; and Adrian Gonnella, 19. While I know there are a plethora of Aussie Nuggets fans out there, these were the ones I was able to contact via social media and who were willing to participate in this survey. If you’re a Nuggets fan from Australia, or any other part of the world outside the US, I strongly encourage you to share your story of Nuggets fandom in the comments section below.)
Where in Australia do you live, and where are you from?
Tyson: I’m from Adelaide, the fifth largest city in Australia. I’ve lived here my whole life.
Chris: I’m from Melbourne, Australia — born in Melbourne, but I’ve traveled a lot, both as an adult and a child, including a couple of years living in London.
Adrian: I live in Melbourne (best city in the world) and my family is originally from Italy.
How did you first get into basketball?
Tyson: I got into basketball during primary (elementary) school, some of my friends happened to be playing in the school team, so I joined up and loved it. I’ve loved it since.
Chris: I had a mate who was a mad basketball nut when I lived in Sydney, and I’d only ever really followed Australian Rules Football, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Cricket, Soccer etc. So, I thought I’d see what the game was all about. The players were all athletic, strong and quick — and there was this bloke named Michael Jordan who was something else altogether. I was hooked after that, despite maintaining a love for almost every other sport you can name!
Adrian: I first got into basketball around 2005. I had a close friend in my street who was a couple years older than I, and he started playing and following the NBA loosely, so I decided to follow.
More importantly, how did you become a Nuggets fan?
Tyson: I became a Nuggets fan after my dad went on a business trip to Denver in 2002. That was about the time I was starting to learn about the NBA and I decided I needed a team to follow. Most of my friends went for the Lakers, Bulls or Hornets because they were the known teams at the time, but I knew I didn’t want to support the teams everyone else was, so when my dad came back home with a Nuggets hat for me, my decision had been made. I half followed the team in 2002-03 but because the team was so bad it was hard for me, at that age, to stay motivated. After drafting Melo, I turned into a full-time Nugs supporter, but I still wouldn’t even see an actual Nuggets game till a couple of years later.
Chris: So this probably doesn’t sound like a great story, but I’ve always liked the way I became a Nuggets supporter. I was originally an Orlando Magic fan. I started following them well before Shaq and Penny came on the scene, and my favorite player was a slow, balding point guard by the name of Scott Skiles. He was never a great player (despite holding the NBA’s record for most assists in a single game!), but he truly maximized his abilities. They had a team that wasn’t really that good, but Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott made them fun to watch. I got turned off by them, though, when I was at school, not long after Shaq was drafted. I was regularly called a bandwagon fan, despite having followed them well before the two superstars arrived. I decided I wouldn’t really follow a team after that, but there was a guy from the same draft class as Shaq who kept appearing in all the highlight reels (as we used to get very limited coverage of the NBA, outside of NBA Action, which used to be shown at about midnight, and sometimes didn’t even get broadcast!), and was just the kind of player I loved watching. That player was LaPhonso Ellis, who, to this day, remains my favorite Nuggets player of all time. I’m still shattered that his body just fell apart the way it did.
Adrian: I became a Nuggets fan due to Allen Iverson. My friend, who got me in to the NBA, followed the Sixers. I would often watch bits of their games and highlights without really picking a team. I started to watch stuff on my own and grew quite a liking for the players from the 2003 draft class (Lebron, Melo, Wade, Bosh). But listening and watching Sixers stuff made me fall in love with A.I. and the cornrow-crossover combo. It was his flash and scoring ability that made me fall in love with the game. So the day I heard The Answer would be teaming up with Melo in Denver I decided to commit to a team and become the biggest Nuggets fan in Australia!
Do you know any other Nuggets fans personally in Australia? If so, how did they become Nuggets fans?
Tyson: I’ve never met another Nuggets fan from Australia. Sad, but true. A few people have Melo jerseys but when I’ve asked them about it they said they only liked Melo and didn’t really care for the Nuggets.
Chris: Personally, no — but I do via a few forums and through Twitter. Most of them tend to be younger than I am, meaning they most likely came around on the back of Carmelo Anthony.
Adrian: I don’t personally know a lot of dedicated Nuggets fans. I know a few just from playing local basketball but none that I would say are truly committed. I’m pretty sure most of them became fans because of Melo, and most of them headed off to New York with Melo.
What’s the culture of basketball like in Australia? Do you see it becoming more popular as time goes on?
Tyson: Basketball was big here during the Jordan era, then went through a major lull, but has seen a massive revival in the last 4-5 years. For the majority of the time I’ve been an NBA nerd I’ve had nobody to talk to. But between the Internet, live streaming, lots of exciting young superstars and “superteams,” the fact our Olympic team has played against the US a couple of times in recent years and some good Australian players making the league, it’s definitely spiked interest over here. And it’s only going to continue to get better. The Australian Institute of Sport as well as Basketball Australia have really been making strides and putting a lot of money into youth development, which is really beginning to pay dividends. Dante Exum could very well be our best player ever and if he goes top five in the 2014 Draft it will only add fuel to the fire.
Chris: Basketball was huge back when I started following the game (89-93). The local league in Melbourne was drawing crowds of 12,000-15,000 for Melbourne Tigers games during that period, but interest has since waned to the point where the NBL (our local league) has shrunk to a much smaller league with eight teams (from memory), and even those teams change semi-regularly. Way back in the day, though, we had guys in the NBL who had come out of the NBA (Lanard Copeland), playground legends (Cal Bruton) and other players who were regulars in Summer League and training camps but just couldn’t cut it (Ricky Grace, Mark Bradtke). There were also several guys who stuck around in the NBA for a few years before returning back to the NBL (Shane Heal, Andrew Gaze, Chris Anstey).
As time has gone on Australia has had more players go through the NBA, including a few who seem to have stuck in the league (Luc Longley, who spent time winning championships with the Bulls 96-98; Andrew Bogut; Patty Mills and Aaron Baynes, who are both currently with the Spurs), whilst the former head coach of our national team, Brett Brown, has just been named the head coach of the 76ers. Of course, that’s all forgetting about the best basketballer Australia has ever produced, and (in my eyes) one of the three best female basketballers of all time, Lauren Jackson (the others being Cheryl Miller and Lisa Leslie).
Basketball is having to work very hard to remain relevant in the Australian sporting landscape. They tried turning basketball into a summer sport to avoid competing with Rugby Union and Australian Rules Football, but it was met with limited success. The standard of the league is getting better, but it’ll be interesting to see where the future of the league lies. I have hopes that seeing guys like James Ennis (drafted by the Heat this year in the second round) come out to Australia will encourage more guys to give Australia a chance (whilst earning six figures), rather than slaving away in the D-League for peanuts. Australian teams are happy to include NBA call-up clauses in contracts, which were given to Jonny Flynn and Ennis in his recent contract.
Adrian: The culture of basketball in Australia is pretty big. Junior participation rates are up there with netball and Australian rules football. But the way junior basketball is run here is very poor. It’s the main reason why a lot of young talent leave to play other sports. The NBL is not so popular. The league has an import rule where each team can only have two international players. This ruins the quality of the games and pushes a lot of young fans away from the Australian game. The NBA has skyrocketed in terms of popularity over the last three to four years with people of my generation. Many people also got drawn to the game due to the popularity of wearing jerseys and snapback hats out in public. This became a fashion trend about two years ago and has drawn a lot of fake fans to the sport. And that’s basically what I was referring to with the Nuggets fans here. A lot liked Nuggets jerseys and Melo and said, “Oh hey, I follow them,” but never really do. I hate those kinds of people and I’m more than happy that the vast majority of them follow teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Heat and most recently the Clippers.
Who’s your all-time favorite Nugget and all-time favorite NBA player? Why?
Tyson: I have a couple of favorite Nuggets. As I said, I’ve been a fan since 2002, which of course was Nene’s rookie year. He was always a favorite of mine and I felt really sorry for him when he got traded to the Wizards after all he’d been through in Denver. Even though I never saw them play live, I love anything Alex English or Fat Lever. They’re great fun to watch and I admire their statistical greatness. Talk about two underrated players. My favorite all-time NBA player is a super-hard question. Jordan, Pippen and Magic all come to mind, but a prime Tim Duncan might be my favorite player to watch. He’s the smartest post player I’ve ever seen. If I could start a franchise with only one big, he’d be right up there.
Chris: See question three.
Adrian: This is a tough question. Being a fan since about 2007 means I don’t go back to the days of Alex English, so my all-time favorite would have to be Carmelo. It’s between him and Chauncey, anyway. The reason I would pick Melo would probably be because he drew me to the team. For that, I will always be thankful. He is the easiest scorer I have seen and the way he played in the 2009 season was amazing. My all-time favorite NBA player? Well, tough for nearly anyone to pass on M.J., huh? I remember getting the Bulls 3-Peat DVD when I was six or seven and watching him and being amazed. He was an almost godlike character that made you love him and the game of basketball. Also, how great was Space Jam? I also have a bit of a man crush on Shawn Kemp.
How do you watch Nuggets games?
Tyson: I don’t have a lot of choices. Most of the time I have to watch illegal streams online but I’ve had League Pass for periods too. We might get two Nuggets games a season on ESPN Australia if we’re lucky.
Chris: I’ve got a mate who’s a die-hard Heat fan (from well before the Big 3 came to be), and have split the cost of NBA League Pass with him. I tend to watch games in the early evening, and he tends to watch them late at night, so it works out well. Of course, I tend to watch the condensed games when the Nuggets lose, but I love being able to spend a couple of hours watching the good games. When I can, I also like to keep an eye on league-wide results, and when there are other good games I’ll try to squeeze them in as well.
Adrian: For the last two seasons I’ve had League Pass but before that it was also live Internet streams and before that, in the early times of 2007-08, it was listening to Altitude Radio while having ESPN GameCast open. I still remember listening the game Linas Kleiza scored 43!
Have you ever been to Denver to see a Nuggets game live?
Tyson: I’ve never been to the US, let alone Denver. I’m planning a US road trip with a friend of mine for the end of next year with a stop in Denver for a couple weeks so I can hopefully catch a few games. I’ll try to time it so I arrive at the start of a lengthy home stand. It’s been 12 years in the making, really. I’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. Maybe I’ll e-mail Josh and Tim and see if I can come to a practice or something (I wish).
Chris: I have! My wife and I spent a holiday traveling through the States in late winter of 2007 (before the kids came along!), and I made sure to schedule a one-night stopover in Denver to see a game. We saw Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony take on the Hornets on March 6 (from memory). We were sitting two rows up in the stands near center court on the opposite side of the bench. Denver won pretty comfortably, and I’m pretty sure I spent the entire three hours at The Can smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. I also remember looking at the box score the next morning and realizing that Marcus Camby almost had a Hi-Five, which was pretty amazing. It was a pretty special moment. I even think I still have the copy of the Rocky Mountain News with that box score in it!
Adrian: I wish. I haven’t even been to the US yet.
What’s your favorite thing about the Nuggets, and conversely, if you could change one thing about the Nuggets what would it be?
Tyson: My favorite thing about the Nuggets is that fans finally have a really likable, fun team. For years we had too many egos for me to really enjoy watching the offense. Now it’s actually a team that enjoys playing with one another. If I could change one thing, it would be to open up Kroenke’s pockets a bit. If my family was worth many billions of dollars, I’m pretty sure I would pony up the extra 1.5 million per year to keep Masai.
Chris: My favorite thing about the Nuggets? Probably the fact that they have been such a joy to watch since the season when J.R. Harrington and Vincent Yarborough were the starting backcourt. I hated the Melo-Drama, but truly underestimated how good the haul was that Ujiri got from New York. Gallo has turned out to be a better player than I thought he’d ever be. They’re genuinely a good team now, but I’m a little nervous about what the future holds as letting Ujiri walk was a bad decision, which was just compounded by the sacking of George Karl and the loss of Andre Iguodala in free agency. Denver isn’t exactly a free agent’s dream city, so it’s hard to entice them here. How does Denver get better when they’re largely capped out and destined for mid-tier mediocrity? That’s what I’m worried about and why I’d prefer Denver had tanked or found a way to go all in via trade for a superstar player. And, having been an Arsenal fan since I lived in London, I’m most annoyed by the fact the Kroenke family doesn’t seem to be willing to spend to make either of my teams better!!!!
Adrian: My favorite thing about the Nuggets…. playoff success? Nah. Look, I love the run-and-gun offense the Nuggets have always played. They have always been so entertaining yet so equally frustrating! (Anyone remember the drubbing Sacramento gave the Nugs a few weeks before Melo got traded?) The Nuggets have always given me the emotional up and downs that makes sport so great! If I could change one thing about the Nuggets it would be that they kept Masai and made a play to get any of the Jazz’s big men or Danny Green. I wish we had Danny Green SOOOO BAD! Let’s see what Brian Shaw can do though!