Why do we watch? Why do we invest so much in something that so rarely rewards us with anything tangible, especially when the toll is so emotionally draining? Sports, by their very design, traffics on competitiveness, on the need to win. And yet the system is cruelly rigged to reward but one team out of thirty, leaving 97 percent of fans cold at the end of every season.
Even worse, the NBA is – again by design – a top-heavy league and as fans with neck-braces from perpetual star-gazing can attest, the bottom is a much more familiar place to most. So why care, why even pay attention? On the precipice of a new season, the question must be asked, and answered, anew.
Denver enters this season lost at sea, dropped in a roiling ocean with no shore in sight. It remains to be seen how far they can swim, and where, if anywhere, they’ll end up when they stop. If the sun shines kindly on these Nuggets they’ll stay healthy enough to shake themselves from the throng of borderline playoff teams into a seventh seed, where a first round out grimly awaits them once again. If things go wrong, they’ll likely not go badly enough to out-battle the teams tailor making their tank.
The egalitarian approach that worked so well and yet didn’t seems to be a thing of the past, an outdated conceit Denver wants to move past. But if equality and depth are no longer the Nuggets calling card, then what is? What will define this team among the stylized, amorphous blob that is the NBA? What niche remains there to be carved out for a transitional team in a league of constant, tempestuous change?
Kenneth Faried trade rumors swirl and the keys to a capped out team are being handed to JaVale McGee. The frontcourt is overcrowded, the backcourt is small, and the wings are few and far between. Defense, as a fundamental concept, seems to have been somehow forgotten in the construction of the team. The murky future seems pristine compared to the ambiguity of the present. So what’s the point, why do we even bother to watch?
We watch because basketball, in all its varying and iridescent forms, is a beautiful thing.
We watch for the haunting sound of that first dribble, the one that somehow alleviates all our stress and fear when the serrated rubber greets the paned hardwood, a memento for all the dribbles that will follow.
We watch for the Ty Lawson fast breaks, the ones that make you reassess how fast a man can go with a basketball in his hands. We watch for the Faried rebounds, marveling how someone can make ferocious art out of such a mundane skill. We watch for Danilo Galinari, and the fluttering feeling he gives as he dances alluringly with that ever-elusive line of true stardom.
We watch to see JaVale McGee screw up, defy all laws of physics and gravity, and then screw up again. We watch to see Nate Robinson bloody, defiant, and small, reach too far, fail, shrug it off and reach too far again. We watch to see Anthony Randolph, shrunken and broken by years of weighty expectations, break free from those wilting eyes and embrace the role he was born to play, even if that role is relegated to garbage time dunks and bench celebrations alone.
We watch to untemper our investment of hope in Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller. We watch to see that hope confirmed in Evan Fournier. We watch to see Andre Miller lead through detachment, and to see Brian Shaw lead through involvement.
We watch to catch that glimmer of light among the bleak darkness of a starless team. We watch to hope that J.J. Hickson alleviates all our trepidations, and that Darrell Arthur confirms all our expectations.
We watch because we can relate on such a fundamental level. Life is so often lived in the middle, looking – never touching – the stars above while never truly falling to the pitted abyss below. Things never get too good or too bad, which is inevitably the eternal lament of the middle, monotony that goes unchanged ad infinitum.
The Nuggets, like us, seem to be stuck on that single-paced treadmill and there is a certain amount of comfort in that comradery. But why we watch, why we care, is that potential, on any given night, to break through. To transcend the mundanity of our collective existence into something greater than we can ever hope to be. The fact that it will be coming from the middle, the place we all call home, makes the experience all the more profound and all the more enduring. This Nuggets season will be about chasing that high, wherever it may take us.
On the cusp of a season born anew, we will watch because basketball is beautiful, because basketball is forever.
Enjoy the games, friends.