I rubbed my eyes to clear them. This couldn’t be right.
No illusion. The sports analysis still said the same thing: the Denver Nuggets were the favorite to win the West. With about one chance in eight of winning it all – better than anyone but the Boston Celtics.
This had to be a joke. Or at least a Jokić.
No slam meant on the Nuggets, by the way, who along with the Avs, have contrived to make half of the Colorado sports year exciting again. But I’ve lived most of my life in Colorado. And in many of those years, the Denver Nuggets were the Little Engine That Almost Could.
Alex English. Dikembe Mutombo. Carmelo Anthony. Time and again, the golden boys of basketball turned up some of the game’s brightest stars from yesterday’s Dan Issel to today’s Nikola Jokić. They made run after run at the playoffs, sometimes with moments for the ages. (I still remember Mutombo’s expression of joy as he lay flat on the court after upsetting the top-seeded SuperSonics.)
But they never brought home a championship. Barely even came close. The Avs brought home Stanley Cups. The Broncos discovered a way to win Super Bowls (and I wish they’d jog their memory). Even the Rockies managed to at least make the World Series once.
The Nuggets? The numbers tell the tale. Since joining the NBA in 1977, they’ve made the Western Conference finals four times – and been shot down every time. Three of them by the Lakers.
NBA Finals appearances: zero.
But as Nuggets fans know, even numbers only go so far to describe heartbreak. So many times, it’s seemed like this had to be the year, whether from on-the-court awesomeness or blind Cinderella magic. But the moments that are mere bumps in the road during an 82-game regular season can bump you out fast in a short playoff series. And bumped we were – again and again and again.
It hurts. Maybe because it’s so familiar. And I don’t just mean on the basketball court.
A lot of us have been there. Maybe all of us. Year after year of doing the right thing, maybe even doing it well … but somewhere, at least once, falling short when it counted. Not because of laziness or ignorance or anything else wrong, but because the moment just wasn’t there.
A moment that you know deserved to be better.
We get up again, of course. That’s literally how we’re made. Biologists describe humanity as a persistence predator. That means our early successes weren’t from having mighty strength, sharp teeth or blazing speed, but from a sheer refusal to quit, walking on and on long after our faster prey had worn itself out.
Funny thing. Hope works the same way.
Excitement can die off fast. Optimism melts like fog when the heat of the moment hits. But hope walks. Step by step, mile by mile. Maybe not catching its target right away, but never leaving it. Always keeping it in sight, however exhausting it might be.
Sheer stubbornness. At its worst, it’s the most exasperating quality humanity has. But at its best, it’s the one that carries us through when everything seems lost.
Even when it hurts.
So best wishes to the Nuggets. Sure, in a world full of crazy, one NBA season might not seem like much. But if they can break through the wall at last … well, a little more joy and sunshine never hurt anyone.
And if they don’t … then it’s time to do what we always do. Dust off, stand up and move forward again.
And that’s no joke at all.