Andre Iguodala is a Denver Nugget and Denver sports fans rejoice. Then that jubilation is muted as we learn Iggy, as he’s known, thinks of his trade to Denver as a less glamorous version of Napolean’s trip to Elba. Such is the life of the Denver sports fan.
According to the Denver’s Post Mark Kiszla (@markkiszla), Iguoudala feels his exile to Denver might as well be Elba. "I'm happy to play basketball," Iguodala said. "I don't care if I was playing in Alaska." To which Kiszla interpreted as Iggy saying he might as well be playing in Alaska due to Denver’s reputation as a remote outpost in ESPN coverage and nightlife for the young basketball playing millionaire. Kiszla was there so he could read any nuance in that statement we couldn’t, but he generally felt Iguodala was just being diplomatic in answering the question about his new hometown.
This is a bit of a set back for those of us who felt the Iggy signing was a positive move forward for an on-the-cusp Nuggets team because it now seems like the gold medal winning shooting guard doesn’t really want to be here at all. And as we’ve seen in Denver, that never bodes well for team chemistry or convincing these players to stay for an extended length of time. Not knowing much about his personality it may be unfair to characterize him this way, but based on the track record of athletes complaining their way out of town, it may be right on the money.
But why do Denver teams run in to this problem time after time? Why do athletes not recognize the positives Colorado offers and refuse to embrace its sublime greatness like the rest of us do?
Carmelo Anthony’s defection from the Mile High City is one of the more legendary and nausea inducing examples of an athlete spurning a fan base. We all know the story of Anthony’s dissatisfaction with his low profile in the sports world while playing for the Nuggets and he famously whined his way out of Denver without fully admitting it. But we all know he didn’t want to stay because the bright lights of NYC offered more for him than the dim ones down on Wazee street. It’s easy to see how a person of his stature can feel he’s better served in a market like New York, but it still doesn’t explain why free agents of any sport, especially basketball, shy away from Colorado.
What is it about Denver that professional athletes don’t like? It can’t be the climate. We have some of the best weather in the country. The winters are surprisingly mild and the summers are hot but humidity free. It’s also beautiful here. Take a drive in the mountains right now and you’ll be floored by the purple mountains majesty that loom just up the interstate for your enjoyment. Geographically and meteorologically, there aren’t many places better on earth.
Sports fans definitely can’t stay away. The Rockies play the Cubs at Coors Field at the end of September and if you were to go, you would be beaten over the head with loud and proud Cubs fans that have chosen to make Colorado their home. Take in the first Avalanche/Red Wings game at Pepsi Center this season and you’ll be treated to more red and white jersey than you can stomach. When the Steelers play the Broncos for the first game of this glorious upcoming season? You could collect Terrible Towels all night long and not need toilet paper for the rest of the year. And why? Colorado is a great place to live. And while the douche bags in Cubs gear may not admit it, they are here for a reason: where they come from is a crime-ridden, humid mess. So why don’t athletes make the same decision when choosing Denver?
Winning should be the main reason an athlete decides to make any city his home. And failing that, money will be a quick second. Josh Kronke and Masai Ujiri’s desire to put a winning team on the floor is obvious and the Denver Nuggets commitment to winning should never be in doubt with potential players. Peyton Manning famously chose Denver and Champ Bailey has stuck with Colorado despite a three year gap where the Broncos went so far off the rails, no one would have blamed him for fleeing. The Avalanche players routinely hang around long after they’ve retired and since no one ever gets fired from the Rockies, you see a lot of those players staying and playing here. That is unless you’re a pitcher.
The quality of basketball played in Denver can’t really be a factor. The Nuggets have been to the playoffs for the last 10 years, and while it doesn't mean much in David Stern’s version of basketball, a team that contends is all some of these guys can ask for. Before this trade the Nugs had just a moderate chance to advance to the second round. Now they’re at least in the conversation for a conference final appearance. That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.
Is it the night life? I’m sure Denver pales in comparison to Los Angles or New York, but if you circle back to the winning argument, does it matter where you play as long as you’re the best? Any player who chooses the nightlife over playing in front of a rabid fan base, you don’t want playing for your team. Take Kevin Durant in OKC. Oklahoma is probably just an awful place to be young, rich and black. But KD will probably play his whole career there. He can sit on a beach during the off season. The question that matters is he ready to win a championship when the season starts? A player’s McMansion in Miami doesn’t offend me as long as he’s committed to winning here in the Mile High. And if the player has a family, you can’t go wrong with reasonable real estate prices and some of the best schools in the country. Ask Champ Bailey or Joe Sakic why they’ve stayed. I’m sure it has something to do with the clean living, good schools and lack of horrid living conditions for their kids to grow up in.
It seems like it’s an NBA problem and not an overall athlete problem. If Iguodala truly doesn’t want to be here, as Kiszla has suggested, he’s committing a major foul with Denver sports fans: we reward those who play hard and want to be here with our undying devotion. As Al Harrington was shipped off to Orlando, he took the right tack and praised Nuggets fans for their die hard support. He didn’t need to do that but recognized it because it was true. Denver may not have the hottest nightclubs, and its teams don’t get on Sports Center on a nightly basis, but we do have the best fans and there isn’t a finer place to live. If an athlete can’t get on board with that, he may want to find another place to live. And play.