Originally posted on Bullets & Bloodshed February 23, 2011
written by Jimmy Weber
I’ve always been a Denver Nuggets fan. Before I was a motion graphics designer, before I liked horror movies, before I was into music, and before I even cared about art in general, I was a fan of my hometown professional basketball team. Some of my earliest memories are going to games with my Dad and watching the patented run-and-gun, fast break Nuggets offense.
Every game I’ve ever gone to, the first place I look when I take my seat is the rafters. I look at the five retired numbers: 2, 33, 40, 44, 432. As a kid I would always ask my Dad about the players who wore those numbers and he would tell me the coolest stories in a way only my Dad could tell them. He would tell me about how crazy Doug Moe was and how he was the greatest coach to ever live. Or David Thompson’s 73 point game as he battled George Gervin (The Ice Man) for the scoring title. I loved those stories.
Retiring a jersey is something I find really special. No other player can wear your number because you are the greatest player who could ever wear it. That’s a pretty big honor. I’ve learned retiring a jersey can even be cooler than winning a championship. The Nuggets have never won a championship, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t had some of the best players ever. Those five jerseys hanging in the rafters are proof of just that.
I never saw any of those guys play and I never saw Doug Moe coach. So naturally, as a die hard Nuggets fan, I’ve always wanted to see a player of my generation get their number retired. Unfortunately, I grew up in the 1990s. Sure, we had a couple of good runs here and there, but we weren’t the most feared team in the NBA to say the least. In fact, in 2002 we were fighting to avoid the label “worst team in NBA history.” I probably don’t need to tell you this, but no one from that roster will have their jersey retired.
But everything changed the next season. We drafted Carmelo Anthony. With Carmelo, we didn’t just get a good player, we got a bonafide superstar. This guy single-handedly took an unranked Syracuse basketball team to the National Championship and won it…as a freshman. This was my guy. Growing up, I always said if a Nuggets player had their own signature shoe, I would cough up the $100+ and buy a pair. That didn’t happen until I was 18-years-old. But Carmelo Anthony did just that: He made me a kid again. I bought those shoes, watched every single game and wore his jersey every time the Nuggets played. The franchise was revitalized and Nuggets basketball was magical again.
I’ll never forget a game at the beginning of his rookie season. We were playing the Boston Celtics and were down by one point with only 10 seconds left. After years of having crappy teams with crappy players, I knew this game was over and we were going to lose. But then Melo got the ball and buried a 19-footer to win the game. After I finished screaming and jumping up and down, I looked at my Dad, stunned. We had a weapon. We had a player. We had a winner.
This became Melo’s trademark. If we were down by one or two points and there was less than ten seconds left, give Melo the ball, because he was going to drill it and we were going to win. This is something I’ll miss the most. It’s something I almost took for granted. Melo is clutch. He has no fear. The biggest shot in the game doesn’t fear him, it’s what he lives for. It’s what he’s best at.
But now Melo is gone. After playing here for seven years, the Nuggets have never been better in my lifetime. He was an NBA All-Star four times, averaged over 20 points, and has taken us to the playoffs every single year of his career, something very few players can say. If you look at the Nuggets record books, he’s ranked in the top five of almost every major category. In most categories he ranks above Alex English, David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Byron Beck: the four player’s numbers hanging in the rafters. But even though Carmelo Anthony is the best player to wear a Nuggets jersey and may be the greatest athlete in Colorado sports history, his number will not be retired. Anyone can still play for the Denver Nuggets and wear number 15. This is what breaks my heart.
I took my Carmelo Anthony jersey off after he played his last game just before the All-Star break and will never wear it again. I’m going to frame it and hang it in my office. Melo’s number may not hang in the rafters of the Pepsi Center, but it will always be retired in my house. When my son grows up and learns to love the game of basketball, I’ll tell him stories about Carmelo. I’ll tell him about the game-winning jump shot over Phoenix in triple-overtime with a six-inch tissue hanging out of his bloody nose. I’ll tell him about the time he crushed the souls of the Dallas Mavericks with a game-winning three-pointer and lead the “Thuggets” to the Western Conference finals. And when I take my son to Nuggets games, I’ll also tell him the same stories my Dad told me: The Skywalker’s 73 point game, Doug Moe ripping off his tie in hysterical anger every game, Dan Issel’s deadly long-range bombs…
Maybe when my son grows up, he’ll be able to see the Nuggets hang a jersey up in the rafters. Maybe I’ll still be around to enjoy that moment with him.