Erlingur Einarsson is a new contributor to Roundball Mining Company. He is excited to join our team and honored to be an active part of something he cares so deeply about. This is the story of his relationship with the Denver Nuggets for the last 23 years…
I‘m raised on a farm in Iceland. This farm has one TV station, the state-run one. The only sports it shows with any regular frequency are football – sorry, soccer – and the two national delicacies of handball (a fascinating amalgam of the layout of a distorted hockey court, the physicality of rugby and the speed of basketball) and Icelandic wrestling. Not the cool kind of wrestling, I‘m afraid. From time to time, there are athletics. And every once in a blue moon (or about once a year, in June), glimpses of a fascinating sports from across the Atlantic Ocean. Basketball. My ten-year-old mind takes a mini somersault every time I glimpse it.
There are a couple of other TV stations in Iceland at that time. And during a visit to friends of my parents, I get to watch “the other station.” And on that particular visit, there’s a broadcast on from a game the night before. It’s showing a game between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. I have heard of the stars before, like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but not much more than that. I watch the game, and thanks to the absence of the Internet, I have no idea how the game went. I am instantly transfixed. Chicago wins 99-94 and advances to the Finals. I’m hooked on this sport for life.
I read the box scores from the NBA in the newspaper every day. My birth mother has now lived in Denver for years, so I get sent a box of basketball cards one day. It’s full of players from the Denver Nuggets. One is Chris Jackson, or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf; it’s a bit confusing. He used to be called Chris but changed his name. I find out that in a nearby town, one shop sells basketball cards. Every time we go, I either buy a packet myself or manage to beg one out of my parents. Soon, I have a whole bunch of them. I watch taped games whenever I can, and my parents’ friend even agrees to record them on his VCR whenever he remembers. Dikembe Mutombo appears before my eyes on TV for the first time. He’s even more impressive than the stats on my card say.
I break the 100-card barrier. I’m now a huge David Robinson and Clyde Drexler fan. Nowhere in Iceland can you buy NBA jerseys. I hate being on this rock in the middle of nowhere. Everyone around me is a Bulls fan, but doesn’t even know my Nuggets cap logo is for an actual NBA team. Stupid bandwagoners. This spring I watch highlights from the Western Conference’s First Round upset between Denver and Seattle. I decide to never support another team after seeing Dikembe spread out on the floor, clutching the ball in ecstasy.
I break the 500-card barrier. You don’t know who Bryant Stith and LaPhonso Ellis are? You’re not worthy of my time. Why can’t we get Channel 2? They show, like, five games a year. It’s definitely worth it, mom.
I go abroad for the first time. And it’s to Denver. It’s in August, so unfortunately there are no games on, but I still manage to get myself an Antonio McDyess autograph at an event and buy both a Mutombo and Abdul-Rauf jersey.
At this time, I’m becoming more versed in the goings-on in the NBA, and know the team pretty well. Jalen Rose and Antonio McDyess are two young guys with immense potential; Dale Ellis is a veteran presence; Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis and Abdul-Rauf have now played together for a few years. However, injury news pile up, the team disappoints with only 35 wins and Mutombo leaves for nothing in the summer. I am positively distraught.
I read about loss after loss in the box-score columns. The team is in complete disarray and makes inexplicable decisions like trading Abdul-Rauf away for Sarunas Marciulionis and a pair of used socks, trading Mark Jackson away mid-season after having thrown Jalen Rose away for him and the ghost of Ricky Pierce, and letting Ervin Johnson go after having been the only one getting any rebounds that season — in exchange for Danny Fortson. I can’t even…
I can’t even…
I just cannot…
The Web has now been thoroughly established. I frequent NBA.com and their Denver Nuggets website. McDyess, who came back a year after being traded away for five draft picks and a packet of biscuits, has his best season yet. I drool over box scores, but find myself gutted at seeing the Nugs miss out on the playoffs yet again. But hey, the future is bright. Right?
Not so much.
After watching Vincent Yarborough, Junior Harrington and Nikoloz Tskitishvili actually start games for my beloved but embattled Denver Nuggets, I vow that they better get someone worthwhile in the draft or I’m personally traveling to the States to kick every one of their front-office staff members in the shin. Oh, hi Melo.
The Countdown To The Inevitable Title begins. Melo struggles as a rookie expected to be a superstar, “but hey, this Nene guy is surely poised to break out and become a star as well,” I think every time I see him for the next eight years. And the playoffs are back. They go out in the first round, but I’m so happy at the progress that from now on I’m assigning the first-person plural to every conversation I have about the Nuggets, be it to my mates, my dad, my girlfriend or my cat, the last of which only appears to have any interest in what I’m talking about.
New additions Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby fill me with even more hope. And after Bzdelik is fired, the legendary George Karl comes in and the team barnstorms the second half of the season. Another first-round exit follows, but that’s because of the subpar first half of the season putting us – I mean them! – into a hole. Next season, just you wait.
Champions, baby! Well, only the Northwest Division — but still. When Camby and K-Mart are hobbled all season long and the best support outside of Professor Miller is Voshon Lenard, you gotta take what you can get. Improve the supporting squad, and next season it’s on!
The Answer is here. Put the Title Countdown Clock to five minutes to midnight, please. Damn Spurs, though. They just keep getting in the Nuggets’ way. Still, it’s Melo and Iverson’s first season together, Kenyon Martin just missed the whole season, or just about, and Nene is just one season away from really blooming. Next season, with AI, Melo, K-Mart, a more mature JR Smith, and a blossoming Nene, they’ll definitely go all the way. I’m sure of it.
By the time the Lakers finish off the Nuggets 4-0 in the first round I’ve realized I’m probably a glass-half-full type of guy. The first season with Melo and a full supporting cast not hamstrung by multiple injuries across the squad ends in 50 wins and some high hopes. The Lakers this year are just too strong, though. Bad matchup. We’ll figure them out next year. Don’t you worry ‘bout that.
This is the year I most hope/fear that the promise to myself to buy a plane ticket and go see the Nuggets make their first NBA Finals appearance — even if it makes me skint — will have to be fulfilled. However, Anthony Carter and a botched in-bounds play prevents that. I’m gonna have to make plans for next year, though, because that Billups trade has really helped the team and made a maturing Melo an even better player. NBA Finals 2010, here we come.
Still, in the summer, I have my closest personal encounter with the Nuggets, when I go on a massive journey to drive across the USA. In Las Vegas, I see a Summer League game with the Nuggets and my lack of comprehending Ty Lawson’s speed is only matched by the lack of comprehending the size of the Grand Canyon three days earlier. Next season — with Billups starting and Lawson supporting — is gonna be epic. Melodrama looms over everything, though. Let’s hope they get someone good for him if he leaves.
I’m more torn up about Billups leaving than Melo, because him leading that deep, deep squad would have gotten them further than the first round. Still, it’s early days with this team. Let’s see how next season goes. It’s hard to beat a team that can keep coming at you from the bench.
Again, circumstances force the Nuggets to put my dream of seeing them in the Finals on hold once more. Sigh, next season, I guess.
After the first losing season in 11 years for the Nuggets, and one that brought perhaps the greatest change to the team and the air around it in a long time, I join the ranks of writers for Roundball Mining Company. The team stands at a crossroads. For the first time in a decade I’m not absolutely convinced they’ll be better than the previous season. Injuries decimated the team yet again, perhaps worse than ever since I started following them. There’s uncertainty about the coach. Is he the real deal or not? I’m not sure. But in a way, I’m still more excited about that than knowing exactly what I’ll get from a George Karl-coached team, which is an overachieving regular season followed by a first-round exit and a shimmering illusion on the horizon that somehow it will all fall into place next year.
It won’t all fall into place next year. But I’ve been through much worse as a Nuggets fan than the transitional 2013-14 season. I’m absolutely convinced that we fans won’t see a regression to the long desert walk of 1996-2003, which came after a similar period of unfulfilled promise and ultimately broken dreams of glory as we see setting beyond the mountains now.
And now I am for the first time in a position to write about my single favorite team in all of sports. It’s the one I have felt the most emotional link to for the last 23 years of my life, and I know it may not be to follow an immediate title chase. But I have faith in my Nuggets. They’ll do something bold. They regularly have, taking flyers on future Hall-of-Famers (Tim Hardaway, Allen Iverson) and crippling busts (Tskitishvili, Raef LaFrentz) alike, getting big names aboard, seemingly against all so-called “big-market” logic and generally being that crazy, unpredictable Rocky Mountain wildling of the NBA. And I have no reason to believe they’ll stop doing that next season. Just you wait and see.