For 2019 On the Colorado Scene, scroll down
For 2018 On the Colorado Scene Archive, go here
2017 On the Colorado Scene Archive, go here
For Greeley Tribune stories and columns, go here.
March 23, 2019
After line breakup, injuries,
MacKinnon soldiers on
It wasn't that long ago that we were trying to come up with a clever
nickname for the Avalanche line — Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — that seemed destined
to stick together for the ages. The Production Line and the French Connection already were taken and my suggestion, the NordiCanadian
Line (one from Canada, two from Nordic nations ... get it?), didn't catch on.
Now with Landeskog
out since since he was injured at Dallas on March 7 and Rantanen due to miss his third game, also with an upper body injury,
at Chicago Sunday night, that leaves MacKinnon the only one active among the three. In an attempt to shake things up and to
try to get more balanced scoring from multiple lines, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar separated them, anyway, in early February
and has put them back together intermittently since. But at least until Rantanen is back, and it could be as soon as next
Wednesday at home against Vegas, MacKinnon likely will continue centering J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot for the time
And the Avalanche's unlikely resurgence, back
into contention for a playoff spot, will continue.
I admit it, too: To paraphrase Dave "Tiger" Williams, which never gets old,
I thought them Avs were done like dinner when they lost consecutive home games to Carolina and Anaheim, but they
have won four in a row — including Saturday afternoon's 4-2 victory over Chicago Saturday in the Pepsi Center —
to get back in the hunt. They were holding down the second Western Conference wild card spot, leading Minnesota and Arizona
by one point, going into Saturday night's games.
MacKinnon didn't have a point in the win over the Blackhawks
Saturday, and he hasn't hit the scoresheet in the past three games, but the Avalanche got by. I sat down with him after the
game for a one-on-one discussion at his stall.
At least now he knows that I'm not there seeking to write another piece about
whether he ever could live up to the expectations he faced as a No. 1 overall NHL draft choice, and whether he ever would
progress into the "generational" No. 1 pick conversations with Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and perhaps Auston
Matthews. (I admit I overdid that angle when I was around the Avalanche more often in the early years of McKinnon's career.)
Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon recently were tabbed as the top three forwards in the league in the NHL Players Association's
poll. McDavid was a runaway winner, at 63.6 percent, with the Nova Scotia pals — Crosby and MacKinnon —
next at 17.2 and 4.1 percent, respectively. That's not a huge vote for MacKinnon, but players could only vote for one, and
cracking the top three is a major acccomplishment. This is MacKinnon's sixth season, yet he's still only 23.
"You have chemistry with some guys there now out of the
lineup," MacKinnon said. "It's definitely an adustment, but we have a lot of good players in this room and we've
had a decent record since Gabe's gone down and we've gotten help from everybody, so it's been positive. The thing is, we'll
get those guys back, or at least Mikko for sure. I don't even know what's wrong with him..." — his nose didn't
seem to be growing — "...but we'll get him back and we'll get Gabe back for the playoffs, and that's the goal,
to make the playoffs and get the team back together. And you never know what can happen. That's our mindset."'
MacKinnon at one point was upset when cooler heads prevailed as he was playing major
junior and he wasn't allowed to play high school basketball on a spot basis in the Halifax area, and he remains a major hoops
fan. So he's genuinely excited about the Nuggets' success this season and the possibility of having both Denver teams in the
playoffs for the first time since 2010 — when both lost in the first round, the Avalanche to San Jose and the Nuggets
"It'd be great to have us both make it," he said.
one of the reasons I brought that up was because the Nuggets and Avalanche had similar seasons a year ago — with playoff
berths on the line in what amounted to play-in games in the final regular season games. The Nuggets lost at Minnesota, the
Avalanche beat St. Louis at home, and it set the benchmarks for this season. The Avalanche, its rebuild seemingly ahead of
schedule after a dreadful 48-point disaster in 2016-17, was expected to make additional improvement this season, while the
Nuggets to a point were let off the hook after falling short, with making the playoffs a reasonable goal. Instead, it's the
Nuggets who are surprising this season.
"We made it by one point last year," MacKinnon said. "So it's not like we were
a Cup favorite this season. We won the last game of the season to make the playoffs. But, yes, our goal is to win the Stanley
Cup, not just make the playoffs. Just making the playoffs doesn't rally matter."
With seven games remaining, MacKinnon has 37 goals and 54 assists. He was tied for
ninth in goals going into Saturday night's games and his 91 points placed him seventh in the league. He stands a bona fide
chance of bettering his numbers of last season (39 goals, 58 assists and 97 points), when he finished second in the Hart Trophy
voting ... and should have won. So this much is obvious: Last season was no fluke.
"I just want to be the player this for the next 10, 15 years," he said, then laughed.
"OK, maybe not 15, but 10 for sure. I work hard at it. I take it more serious than I have when I was 18, 19, 20. That's
when you're coming in and you learn, when you're young, I feel confident that I continue this." He said cracking the
top three forwards in the NHLPA poll "is humbling. There are so manay very talented players in the league, it could have
gone to a lot of different guys. Obviusly, I'm happy they voted (for) me, but it's just a poll."
But the point is, the votes he gets now are for accomplishment, for cracking the very
elite ... and not for underachievement.
March 21, 2019
CU in the NIT? 81 years ago,
they were in the first one
Tad Boyle watching from the sideline in the Buffs' final regular-season game against USC
When I researched March 1939: Before the Madness, I came across three things about the University of Colorado
program in that era that I hadn't known. And I was reminded of them as the 2018-19 Buffs accepted a bid to the NIT and beat
Dayton in the first round, and it turned out that they'll play host to another NIT game against Norfolk State on Monday night.
That's because Norfolk State knocked off Alabama in the first round.
One, the Buffaloes appeared in the very first National
Invitation Tournament in 1938. It's a bit confusing because at the time, the NIT wasn't even officially called that. The Metropolitan
Basketball Writers Association, with an eye on following the success of regular-season doubleheaders staged in Madson Square
Garden, organized and staged the 1938 and 1939 tournaments and also flaunted the conflict of interest, hyping them to the
point where you'd think Roanoke College -- one of the six teams in the 1939 tournament -- was the equal of the top teams in
Two, the reason the Buffaloes were considered a marquee drawing card and coveted as a member of the 1938 field was
that their star was one of the highest-profile college athletes in the nation at the time.
Yes, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, the renowned football hallfback, also played basketball
for the Buffs.
I didn't know that.
Here's the story of that first NIT, from the pages of my book:
* . * *
Meanwhile in New York, the first national invitation
tournament was played on March 9, 14, and 16, 1938, so it sandwiched the PCC title series. It definitely was an outgrowth
of the regular-season doubleheaders and involved the type of conflict of interest for writers that wouldn’t have been
tolerated later. Although Ned Irish’s fingerprints were on the tournament, too, the Metropolitan Basketball Writers
Association, made up of New York scribes, founded, sponsored, and promoted it—and promoted it to the point where they
sometimes came off as carnival barkers imploring passersby to enter the tent. The writers’ group was founded in 1934,
and Irving T. Marsh and Everett B. Morris, both from the Herald Tribune, were its
ringleaders. Morris also was the paper’s boating writer.
The plan was to follow
Ned Irish’s doubleheader formula in putting together tournament fields, mixing New York–area teams with intriguing
squads from other parts of the country. One of the goals was to confirm New York’s primacy in the college basketball
world, and the tournament did that, but there was some confusion because nobody seemed to know what to call it. Most often,
it was “the national invitation tournament,” with the informality of lowercase letters, but it also was labeled
the Metropolitan Basketball Writers’
tournament, the New York writers’ invitation tournament, and several other combinations. Capital letters and/or the
NIT acronym didn’t come into play right away.
The participants in that six-team
1938 inaugural invitation tournament were Colorado, Oklahoma A&M, and Bradley
Tech, joining eastern entrants Temple, New York University, and LIU. As those
with the farthest to travel, Colorado and Oklahoma A&M had byes, and the writers probably were second-guessing the bracketing
that matched two New York teams, NYU and LIU, in the March 9 quarterfinals, which guaranteed the early elimination of one
local draw. In a shocker, NYU knocked off Clair Bee’s Blackbirds 39-37. The Blackbirds finished the season with a 23-5
record, disappointing given the expectations and a soft schedule, with the other losses coming to Marshall, Minnesota, Stanford,
and La Salle. In the other quarterfinal, Temple beat Bradley Tech 43-40.
Colorado had won the Rocky Mountain region’s Big 7 league, but the Buffaloes
were sought because they had the biggest star in the tournament—an event its home-state Denver
Post, by the way, called “the first national Invitation Intercollegiate tournament.” That star was a scholarly
fellow from Wellington, Colorado. Byron “Whizzer” White was an All-American halfback for the Buffaloes and a solid
starter for Colorado in basketball. The New York scribes couldn’t get enough of him, just as they had enjoyed building
up Luisetti when he came through with Stanford during the regular season. The Colorado hero was the toast of Manhattan from
the time he arrived with the Buffaloes’ traveling party. He had eight points in the March 14 semifinals as the Buffaloes
edged NYU 48-47 on Don Hendricks’s late basket.
In the other semifinal, the Oklahoma Aggies, coached by 33-year-old Henry “Hank” Iba, lost a 56-55 heartbreaker
to Temple. The New York scribes puffed out their chests as they typed, knowing the nip-and-tuck semifinals had been exciting,
and hoped for a reprise in the March 16 championship game.
Instead, they and the fans got a stinker. Temple routed Colorado 60-36 to win the tournament title, and
Whizzer White bowed out of his college basketball career with a 10-point night.
after the championship game, he again was being asked which he would choose—the outlandish $15,000 contract from
franchise owner Art Rooney to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, Pirates, pre-dating Steelers) or a Rhodes scholarship
to study in Oxford.
“There are about 500 people trying to make up my mind,” he said in
the Madison Square Garden dressing room. One way to tell that White already was an extraordinary celebrity was that at least
one scribe actually talked to him after the game instead of following the usual procedure of typing eyewitness accounts of
the game and not seeking comment from anyone involved.
Temple, the tournament champions,
finished the 1937–38 season with a 23-2 record. Many in the east advanced the Philadelphia squad as the nation’s
best, and it wasn’t unreasonable. Their head-to-head victory over Stanford, the west’s top team, bolstered the
claim. There were scattered references to the Owls as “national champions,” but for the most part, the national
attitude—at least among those who noticed in other areas of the country—seemed to be that the Owls had won a new
tournament for New York teams and invited guests, no more suited to select the best team in the land than, say, a holiday
tournament. It was a tournament for select (and selected) teams, but not a national championship, and Stanford wasn’t
After beating the Webfoots
for the 1937–38 PCC title, the Indians didn’t go anywhere, except perhaps to their homes during spring break.
They already had made two cross-country trips to New York and beyond in the previous sixteen months. That was enough.
Considered an experimental venture that first year,
the invitation tournament was pronounced a success. The catch, though, was that organizers couldn’t count on having
a Whizzer White–type drawing card every year from among the teams brought in from outside the New York area or the East
Stanford coach John Bunn was one
of many in his profession who began to wonder if there might be a way to both combat the national invitation tournament and determine a national champion, perhaps as soon as the upcoming 1938–39 season.
* . *
OK, that's No. 1 and No. 2.
No. 3 is that when the National Association of Basketball Coaches indeed put together
the first NCAA tournament for 1939, setting up four-team regionals in San Francisco and Philadelphia,with one representative
from each of eight districts, and then a championship game in Evanston held in conjunction with the NABC convention, the Buffaloes
were one of a handful of teams turning down invitations. My opinion is that by the end of the season, the eventual champion
-- Oregon -- was the best team in the nation, and the Ducks routed all three of their opponents, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio
State. But we'll never know how the Buffaloes would have done.
how that came about, again from March 1939: Before the Madness.
. * . *
The Colorado Buffaloes had gotten over their loss to St. John’s in Madison Square Garden.
They easily won their league with a 12-2 league record, beating out (in order) Utah State, Utah, Wyoming, Denver, Brigham
Young, and Colorado A&M. The Buffaloes were the obvious NCAA tournament choice in the Rocky Mountain district that included
the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico.
CU officials announced
that they would conduct a vote among the players and take the result under advisement. With the Buffa- loes’ season
over and no league playoffs, Colorado’s players knew they would have two weeks to rest up for the regional—or,
to put it another way, their season would be extended at least two weeks if they accepted the bid. These were mostly the same
fellows who the previous year had traveled by train cross-country to play in the first national invitation tournament, and
then made another trip to New York in December. Would they be up for more travel, first to San Francisco, then possibly to
Chicago? For a new tournament?
The Buffaloes’ decision was announced Tuesday.
Colorado’s athletic committee said that it had consulted with Coach Frosty Cox and the players, and the decision was
based on the fact that the Buffaloes were banged up, tired, and even sick. CU’s star center, Jack Harvey, was hospitalized
three times during the season and missed the final three games because of illness, and two other starters had spent time in
the hospital, also. Without naming the national invitation tournament, the committee said CU wouldn’t consider taking part in any other tournament, either. The Buffaloes
were going to stay home.
The next day, the head of the NCAA Tournament’s Rocky Mountain
district selection committee, Wyoming coach Dutch Witte, said his group had recommended to Harold Olsen that Big 7 runner-up
Utah State—coached by the respected Dick Romney, a former multiple-sport star himself and a member of a prominent Utah
family— get the NCAA bid.
Olsen went along with that, and Utah State’s athletic council quickly accepted the invitation.
* . * . *
If the Buffs win two more games, beating Norfolk State and
then the Xavier-Texas winner, they'll make the NIT's Final Four in Madison Square Garden.
Secondarily, here's my Greeley Tribune column out of the Buffs' final regular season game, a victory over Southern California at home. It touches on Tad Boyle's connection
to Greeley, then pivots to the current Buffs.
February 7, 2019
Sakic support of Bednar
seems genuine -- and it's
right thing to do
The Avalanche is reeling.
After a 4-3 overtime
loss at Washington Thursday, the Avs had lost five in a row and were 5-15-4 in their last 24. Yes, only five wins in their
past 24, or since they were 17-7-5 after a December 6 win at Florida.
Especially in hockey, I've always felt that it's unseemly to be among the first to broach the issue of
whether a coaching change is imminent, and/or needed. That's because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying
a single writer or media member bringing it up makes a change inevitable, but once the speculation starts, it can gather momentum.
This is a league in which general managers -- some of them former coaches -- have championed the scapegoating
phenomenon, deflecting the blame for on-ice problems from the front office to the bench. And it goes beyond that. If players
"tune out" coaches, it's often because they've gotten the impression they can or are expected to -- and can get
away with it.
So Joe Sakic's decisive statement that
he's not considering firing Jared Bednar is a bit refreshing. It's also fairly convincing because Sakic already has shown
he will defy NHL convention, as evidenced when he stuck with Bednar after the horrendous 48-point 2016-17 season, the worst
bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history. It would have been embarrassing to fire Bednar after only one season, but it also
wouldn't have been all that surprising. Sakic was convinced that Patrick Roy's August resignation put Bednar in a difficult
position, but he still could have taken the easy way out and made another change.
This is not an unconditional, blind endorsement of Bednar's work. The coach must be
accountable, too, and if Sakic concludes after the season that something must be done, fair enough. But now? It would be panic,
it would be making Bednar accountable for having awful goaltending and a roster with other deficiencies being exposed. Bad
goaltending is deflating and demoralizing, and it affects everything. But this also is a team still without enough scoring
depth beyond the top line -- when it's together -- and with two smallish defensmenen among its top six. Yes, Tyson Barrie
and Samuel Girard are adept puck-handlers and offensive threats, but it's playing with fire in the defensive zone. (Plus,
Girard hasn't been as productive offensively as he needs to be.)
this simple. It really is. If either goalie, Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer, gets his act together, the other issues
suddenly will seem less significant and debilitating. The question is how soon, or even if, that will happen. The most
amazing thing of all is that the Avalanche hasn't fallen completely out of playoff contention. The Avs can get back in the
hunt -- that's a tribute to Irv Brown -- with one good run.
A coaching change now, or in the foreseeable
future, isn't the answer.
January 26, 2019
Is it time to try the
clerk in the Avs' net?
At the arrival of the All-Star break and then its bye period, the Avalanche had gone 5-13-3 in its previous 21 games.
biggest shock of all is that Colorado still is hanging on to what would be the second wild card playoff spot in the Western
Conference by its fingernails. Seven teams, including the Avalanche, are within three points of one another in the race for
the two spots. Yes, the Avs, thought to be on the rise after last year's 95-point season, seems to have been reduced to shooting
for a wildcard spot again.
I'll concede this: The Avalanche is not perfectly constructed.
The Avs need more
secondary scoring, beyong the NordiCanadian Line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
They every once in
a while falls victim to the perills of having two undersized, if speedy and crafty, defensmen among the top six. Neither Tyson
Barrie nor Sam Girard are capable of physically intimidating work in front of the Colorado net. Or anywhere else. And as a
group, the Avs' "D" has been no better than mediocre.
But let's be real.
major problem here is the goaltending.
lack of faith in the men is in the net is debilitating for any team, and one of the reasons is that it becomes a rationalization.
. . or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teammates become tight, overly concerned that a single mistake too often can lead to a
puck in the back of the (wrong) net. And on the rare nights when the goaltending is major-league and larcenous -- in other
words, on the nights when the Colorado goalie has done his job -- the post-game narrative is a condescending overreaction,
as if Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer has reprised Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek in their primes and the game video should
be sent to the Hall of Fame in Toronto.
With 32 games remaining, of course, it's possible that one or the other could snap
out of this and give the Avalanche competent work in the net. But for now, this is just flat-ut unacceptable: Varlamov has
a goals-against average of 2.82, only 25th among NHL qualifiers, and a save percentage of .908. In his contract year, while
attempting to prove that he can stay healthy, the issue of whether he again can do elite work moving forward in the net has
reappeared. Grubauer's goals-against of 3.38 is awful, 46th among the 50 qualifiers, and his save percentage of .891 is below
what I tend to call the Astrom Line for a reason.
Flashing back to the 1979-80 season -- yes, nearly 40 years ago -- the outspoken and snappily-attired Don Cherry
passed through to coach the lowly Colorado Rockies for one season.
Cherry hated his goaltenders.
The goaltending indeed was bad, but in retrospect, I probably concurred too easily with Cherry’s position that Hardy
Astrom, who was acquired from the New York Rangers and making decent money, was the worst NHL goalie of all time. That team
had a lot of problems beyond its own crease.
A handful of others in the league who played twenty or more games that season
had worse goals-against averages than his 3.75, and there were even a couple who played more than half their teams’
games—Hartford’s John Garrett and Los Angeles’s Mario Lessard. Regardless, Cherry held his nose long enough
to use Astrom in 49 games, while also trying Bill McKenzie, Michel Plasse, and Bill Oleschuk in the net.
It came to a head in February, when the Rockies had to settle for a 4–4
tie at Hartford when Plasse had only 17 saves.
Cherry had let loose many times, but he got into high gear that night. “Our goaltending was horse—-,”
he said, standing a few feet from the trailer where I had done a between-periods interview with a fledgling Connecticut-based
cable operation called ESPN. “Let’s face it. Come on. Let’s be honest. We’re not going to go anywhere
until we get a goalie. I’ve tried everyone except the guy who works in the confectionary store.”
Jared Bednar's code word for substandard goaltending is "OK." As in, "He
was OK." He hasn't tried to insult anyone by letting the goalies off the hook, but he hadn't let loose, a la Cherry,
It's that simple. If the Avalanche doesn't big-time goaltending, from someone, down the stretch, this season will
be both regression and a huge disappointment, wasting the magical work of the top line.
January 20, 2019
Stay on a Roll?
After the Avalanche routed the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, workers put the finishing tuuches on installing the floor
for what turned out to be the Nuggets' romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Los Angeles Rams are going to the Super Bowl. And they're just part of the Stan Kroenke sports empire that also
includes the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and Arsenal FC.
Could this just
be the start?
An audacious thought, I know,
but the Kroenke portfolio mostly was struggling mightily on the field, court, ice and pitch not all that long ago and this
already represents a turnaround.
The Sean McVay-coached Rams obviously have a bona fide chance of giving Kroenke an
opportunity to accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy -- which is no Stanley Cup -- after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta in two weeks.
Can that be just the start of
a big year for the Kroenke empire?
The question, of course, is what would qualify.
I'd say on this
side of the pond, it would be the Nuggets and the Avalanche both at least reaching their Western Conference finals, the Rapids
returning to respectabiity in Major League soccer after a dreadful 2018, and indoor lacrosse's Mammoth recovering from a slow
start to make the National Lacrosse League playoffs.
And on the other side of the Atlantic,
it would mean Arsenal -- currently embroiled in controversy and mediocrity at best on the pitch in the
English Premier League -- at least do well enough to convince the rabid and critical soccer fandom
that the Kroenke ownership isn't incompetent at the real football. Kroenke has been involved in ownership since 2007
and has been sole owner since last August.
The Nuggets, with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way, are a half-game behind
the Warriors in the Western Conference going into Monday's games are are the top candidates to make a deep playoff run. The
problems are that last Tuesday's Warriors rout of the Nuggets in Denver was remindful that Golden State is meandering through
the regular season and capable of flipping the switch at any time -- and on any night. A title? If -- and that's a big if
-- the Nuggets get past the Warriors to reach the NBA Finals, they've had problems with Milwaukee, the most likely finalist
from the East.
The Avalanche has been maddening, mercurial and underachieving and the biggest favor
anyone can do for them is to stop making excuses. They aren't playing Hall of Fame goalies every night, their puck luck isn't
always bad, and any team with three linemates headed to the All-Star Game should be held to a higher standard now that residing
on the playoff bubble.
But we all know the way this league works. In some ways, I'm convinced the Avalanche
has a better chance of making its league finals than does the Nuggets. I'm not sayin g it will happen. I'm saying it could.
That's because there's no Warriors here and if Semyon Varlamov stands on his head from the second he arrives at the rink to
the time he leaves, the whole dynamic changes. Plus, this now is a talented -- talented, not deep -- enough team to pull it
off in a wide-open league.
Beyond the Nuggets and Avs, the Mammoth needs a bunch of sock tricks, the Rapids need to stop
collecting ties, and the Rams need to continue to have the guys in stripes let 'em play.
January 13, 2019
Alex English was both
smooth and breathtaking
Alex English at the Nuggets' game against Portland
On Sunday night, the Nuggets commemorated "Skyline" night by wearing their retro jerseys
-- which look like someone put the original skyline jerseys in the washing machine with way too much bleach -- against Portland
and honored former smooth-as-silk forward Alex English.
I went to say hi and be a part of English's pre-game media availability.
The previous time we visited was at the Nuggets' home opener last season,
against Sacramento in October 2017. The Nuggets honored a handful of former players that night, including English, David
Thompson, Dan Issel, Byron Beck and Dikembe Mutombo.
This time, the spotlight was on English ... alone.
Although his number (2) was retired in 1992, when the Nuggets still played in McNichols Sports
Arena, and it now hangs in the Pepsi Center, English for many years felt a disconnect with the Nuggets after his trade to
Dallas and then during his working career as an assistant coach and scout. He wasn't shunned; it was more apathy. Now, in
part thanks to vice president of basketball operations Lisa Johnson, a treasure trove of institutional knowledge, the Nuggets
have done a better job of re-embracing their past.
"I feel much better," English said. "If you look at most teams
that are successful, they're successful because they have a history that is part of their success. You look at the Lakers,
you always see Kareem and Magic and Kobe talk about that being their team. And the Celtics as well. So I think history is
vey important. I can compliment them on reaching out to all of their former players and bringing them back and making them
feel like they are a part of what they have been, what they've built."
He said of his reacton when he returns: "Of course, it's a different
arena. But it's always great to come back, especially now that they're doing so well, and to see the fans come out to support
them ... I have fond memories of being here in Denver and playing for Doug Moe and playing for the teammates I had. I had
a wonderful time."
I joked with him about having
fond memories of the irascible Moe, whose verbal prodding made English a better player -- and whose passing-game, relentless-movement
offense made English a star.
you guys, he was probably like a big mean, ol' bad boy," English said. "But he was a big baby. You get him off the
court, get him out of the environment, he's just a big baby."
After the hockey Rockies moved to New Jersey in 1982, I was switched to the Nuggets
Alex was aready there.
Because of the convivial atmosphere in McNichols
Sports Arena in those days, with media wandering through both offices, I didn't feel as if I was starting from scratch,
and I knew a lot of folks in the Nuggets' organization. Moe already was calling me "Dip----," as he did with everyone
he liked (or, in some cases didn't like).
One of my first assignments on the beat was to cover the then-troubled Thompson's trade to Seattle, and all the dramatic
subplots surrounding it. (He never got to wear the skyline jersey.)
Thompson's departure nudged English a bit more to the Nuggets' forefront, and that was the
English was the sneakiest, sleekest,
smoothest big-time scorer in NBA history, always moving in the passing game. He was not made for SportsCenter highlights;
what he did was maneuver, glide, float ... and score. His nickname -- "Pink Panther" -- was apt.
At the end of the night, if you weren't tracking
it, you'd go: "He had how many points?" And they all counted.
He was a great player who didn't get enough credit because of his low-key
personality and a game that took paying attention to, to truly appreciate. The Nuggets were his third stop, after Milwaukee
and Indiana, and we hadn't seen this coming.
Among the English highlights the Nuggets show of English when they honor him is one that believe sums him up. It
was a gliding shot over and past a challenging Maurice Lucas, then with Phoenix. It was nothing flashy, but he simply
got the shot with one of the most physical players in the league with his arms up and within, oh, 18 centimeters.
That's how Alex scored. averaging 25.9 points
in 11 seasons with the Nuggets. He scored in traffic or without flashiness leaned almost imperceptively just far
enough to get the shot off -- and in.
I asked him how his game would fit in today's league.
"Well, you know I'm not a three-point shooter," he said. "I still would be a mid-range
game player. There's some room for mid-range. I worked with DeMar DeRozen in Toronto. He's a mid-range player that I love
to see play. That's missing in the game today. But it's exciting to see guys come down and if they know how to shoot threes,
to make threes. It's exciting to see that. Different style, though. For a minute there everybody was talking about defense
and trying to play like the Pistons. And as we evolved and as the Golden State Warriors started playing like the Denver Nuggets
of old, everybody said, 'That's how we need to be playing.' Everybody's
kind of migrated back to the old ways with the addition of the threes."
He was asked what he thought when seeing James Harden launch 15 three-pointers in a
"It drives me crazy,"
he said. "Even though I scored a lot of points, and I shot the ball a lot, I was a team player. I liked getting my teammates
involved and letting them be a part of the game as well."
But that was the beauty of the passing game, with its constant moving -- of both bodies and ball.
By definition and design, everyone was involved, regardless of who scored. Including guard T.R. Dunn, who rarely kept the
ball for more than four-tenths of a second.
"I wish I was still coaching," English said. "It's an unstoppable offense. Even if you wanted threes,
you still could get threes. But nobody has adapted, or tried to adapt Doug Moe's offense. It was so successful, as you know
... And contrary to what people say about us playing defense, if you look at the teams that forced the most turnovers, blocked
the most shots, we were always there. We had three, or four, actually, of the toughest defenders that have played the game
in T.R. Dunn, Bill Hanzlik, Elston Turner, and Wayne Cooper's got to be there for shot blocking."
English has been watching this Nuggets team with
great interest from afar.
got a good vibe going," he said. "They're winning. It helps when the fans come out and support you. And they've
got a good coach. Mike Malone's a very good coach. He's done a very good job of bringing them together ... I personally feel
they'll be in the Western Conference Finals, if they continue to play like this. They're such a balanced team. Even though
(Nikola) Jokic and (Jamal) Murray get a lot of credit, when I watch them I see a lot of different pieces that contribute.
I'm glad to see Will Barton back. I feel like he's a major part of their success and once he gets back and gets acclimated
to playing, he's going to be a big contributor. And you all haven't had Isaiah Thomas yet. I coached Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento.
I think he's going to be a bg plus for this team because he can score. Tough little guy."
Sandy Clough of "The Fan" asked him about
Jokic, who a little later would have 40 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists against the Blazers.
"He sees the floor so well, he scores, he shoots
threes," English said. "The only other player in the league right now that I feel is comparable to him is DeMarcus
Cousins, who I coached in Sacramento. He's
got a lot of the same skills and maybe Anthony Davis."
Now, about those skyline jerseys. I've told this story before, but it's appropriate.
The Nuggets unveiled the original version at a news conference after holding a fan contest to design them. At the news conference,
they said they had brought in a special model, and then Kiki Vandeweghe came out in the new jersey. And we were told that
after lengthy negotiations, he had just agreed to a new, long-term contract. They had managed to keep that quiet, and it was
a big deal.
Shortly thereafter, the winning
designer visited me at the newspaper office.
He was mad that the Nuggets hadn't exactly followed his design.