“Here comes the wise man
And there goes the fool”

- What The World Is Waiting For (The Stone Roses)

One of my mates, Lurch (so named cause of his height) has been a Denver Nuggets fan since the day they drafted Carmelo. To be honest with you, no one really knows why. We’ve never probed too deeply. It’s just one of those things that is, kinda like how no one ever asks me why I’ve dabbled in every possible head covering short of a hijab since graduating high school. (Wait, they ask me that all the time. Wrong analogy).

Either way, the months leading up to the trade were quite interesting, as the few basketball nuts among us were wondering – what would happen when Melo left Denver? We all knew it was happening, but how would Lurch react? After all, he was the main reason he became a Nugs fan, despite his bizarre fascination with the Birdman (his basketball training gear was a pair of black shorts and a Birdman jersey). Would he follow Melo to wherever he was traded? Would he stick with the Nuggets? Would he simply enter fan free agency?

As it turns out, Lurch decided to take matters into his own hands. Figuring that he needed to see Melo live at least one time in Denver colours before he left, he took a couple weeks off work and decided to make a US trip in December which included a Nuggets home game and a few days in Denver before heading to catch up with a mate of his working in Aspen. Evidently he was sold enough on Denver’s combo of microbreweries, relatively easy to acquire pot and ski bunnies to be convinced that it was worth staying a Nuggets fan and going through a rebuilding phase.

Turns out the rebuild never had to happen. Thanks to Jimmy Dolan and Isiah Thomas, the Nuggets somehow managed to get three legitimate starters (including a potential All-Star in the Cock), a high upside project center in Mozgov and a few draft picks. Nice deal, I thought. Anytime you can get 90 cents on the dollar for a superstar you’re gonna lose anyway – you pull the trigger, especially if you’re still a shot at the playoffs.

Then, a few days ago, I ran into Lurch in the mall he works in – he had just gotten off and was keen to show me his latest score. I was thinking it was an iPad 2 or MDMA – no, it’s a Danilo Gallinari #8 Nuggets jersey. A bit of a letdown, yeah, but it became understandable as we got lunch and I listened to him jibbering about how much he loved this new Denver team, how they played real basketball instead of one-on-five iso crap.

What with uni and the Warriors sucking as usual, my focus has mostly been on college ball the past few weeks. With my March Madness bracket shot to shit and the regular season entering the home stretch, I accepted Lurch’s offer to come round his and watch a game on League Pass cause I’m too povo to get it anyway.

*TANGENT*

Now…

When I was learning to play basketball, I was taught the old fashioned way. We all learnt, as a team, that our individual glory was irrelevant if the team was losing. NBA stars could get away with it because they were the best athletes there was. We were just kids, so if we were gonna play basketball we were gonna learn it the right way.

Make the extra pass to the open man. Keep the ball moving. Put in effort on defense to get in between your man. Drive and kick, drive and kick (one that was drummed into me). Rotate on defense. Hustle for loose balls and breakaway plays. Play tough for each other (since we were all best mates since primary school that was easy). All cliches, yeah, but they worked. Even when we got to high school and our coach there gave us a bit more freedom, we still remembered our lessons and played as a team first and foremost.

Now contrast this to my experience with an AAU team in the US. Last time I was there, I went to watch my little cousin’s team practice. The first thing that stunned me was the size of the kids. They were all supposed to be under 15, but it seemed like almost all the players were 6ft plus and there were a couple of massive dudes there (and I don’t just mean tall, I mean big and tall) who moved like race cars. When I was playing u15 ball, we had one guy (Lurch) who was 6ft and he’s about as coordinated as Snooki after a bender.

I won’t go into great detail about the inner machinations of AAU ball – anyone who wants to know more should read Played Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann – but even a guy like me, who never played higher than high school in Sydney (I got a few D-II scholarship offers and a possible walk-on opportunity at Arizona State before I blew out my knees), could tell that most of these kids were incredibly talented physically, they had had no one to ever teach them fundamental basketball, they were more concerned with their own glory than anything and that the coach didn’t know jack shit about any of this or didn’t care.

The AAU culture is what afflicts the NBA more than anything these days. Players talk about winning and the desire to win in the abstract – but all they really care about is the prestige and glory that comes with winning. No one wants to win unless it’s on their terms.

*END TANGENT*

So what does all of this have to do with the Nuggets?

Well, when I watched them on Lurch’s crappy old computer screen I was surprised by more than a few things.

Here’s an NBA team where guys are making the extra pass.

Here’s an NBA team where everyone plays like they give a crap on defense.

Here’s an NBA team without superstars but everyone is pushing everyone else to up it when it matters.

Here’s an NBA team that beat the red-hot Lakers today.

And this isn’t a group of choirboys either. Hell, they weren’t nicknamed the “Thuggets” a few years back for nothing. But even the crazy guys like K-Mart, Birdman and JR are buying into the new team game and playing the right way.

Speaking of J.R., on another tangent – Ever since Melo got traded, he truly seems to have taken his role as an elder statesman of the team to heart. Not only are his stats better, but he’s playing with a maturity I never believed he would develop – hell, he’s playing backup point and actually passing the ball. It’s a wierdly affirming experience to watch a guy who was a professional fuck-up who no one ever thought would pull through finally grow up.

Whatever it was, I realised how much I loved watching this team play. There are few things in the sporting world more beautiful than well executed team basketball. The Nuggets are playing it right now and only a few weeks after this group came together.

So what does all this mean? Well, with the Dubs sucking as usual the Nuggets have won the honour of being my Bandwagon Team For The Playoffs. I was going to go with the Heat (just to piss people off) but I can’t go against Denver now.

Other than that, it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep all their guys, with Nene, Chandler, Afflalo, J.R. and KMart all coming off contract this summer and Gallo probably wanting a payday of his own. But even if this team’s run was short, it was fun while it lasted.

I’m grabbing a front row seat on the bandwagon. Up the Cock.


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