It's been seven years since one of my Sad Four played for a conference title. Those Avalanche lost 7-0 to the hated Red Wings in one of the more forgettable games I ever remember watching. By my fifth or so beer I wished it was sulfuric acid spiked with cobra venom.
But after finally disposing of the Mavericks, the Lakers loom on the horizon. The defending Western Conference champion Lakers. The Lakers led by Kobe, presumably doin' work. The Lakers run by Phil Jackson, he of the nine titles. Nine.
That's fucking absurd.
This may have come up before in these parts, but if not I'll reiterate. Growing up, I vaguely remember the Doug Moe run-gun-and-fun Nuggets that routinely put up 130, 140 a game (while also giving up nearly that many). The last time the Goldens went this far, I was six. Not exactly in my basketball prime.
By the time I got into my teens, the Nuggets became a laughingstock. My dad and I would watch the games just so we could crack jokes about Blair Rasmussen's hair or Bill Hanzlik's nose. Then 1994 came along, and they became the first #8 seed to beat a #1. Denver got wrapped up in Nugget-mania. And in the second round they met ... the neighboring Utah Jazz.
I remember trying to will the Phons, Dikembe, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (ne Chris Jackson), Robert Pack and the rest back from a 3-0 hole. They almost did, too, taking Utah to a seventh game.
But something funny, and painful, happened after that.
The Nuggets turned to shit.
Having finally gotten on the basketball kick, and getting to an age where I could appreciate a good drop-step or close-out as much as a ginormous dunk, I wanted to see good basketball. So I started following the Stockton-to-Malone pick-and-rolls, the fluid ball movement ending in a Jeff Hornacek three. So the Nuggets became an afterthought.
Did I ever become a Jazz fan? I don't know. I'd like to say I didn't, but I remember owning a Jazz hat. So that's a part of my past, and I can't change it.
But I know that I never stopped being a Nuggets fan, even when they turned into jogging punchlines. And they may fall in the next round - I think they can take the Lakers, to be honest - but even if they do, the Nuggets have had a fantastic season, and are the only positive thing in my sports-rooting life. The Sad Four is now the Sad Three.
They are exciting, they are explosive, and they are fun as fuck to watch. And as of right now, the Nuggets still have a chance to be champions.