Counterculture in the NBA is almost non-existent. The league thrives on three tiers: the elite teams with a superstar (or three), the good teams going nowhere and the bad teams hoping to win the lottery.
To be cool in the NBA you have to have shoe deals, an aggressive attitude and a desire to be the next Michael Jordan. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant have that act down and maintain serious championship aspirations. They appear frequently on the NBA fashion websites, and are a part of endorsements that feed mainstream culture.
There’s not a lot of room to be cool in the NBA. The big cities try to get in the mix through free agency, small ones through the draft and most just spend decades treading water.
A funny thing happened in Denver, Colorado…
…The Denver Nuggets were cool. They had no superstar. They had no spokesman. They were a mixture of players that ran up and down the court and took the life out of other teams with their upbeat, high-tempo and chaotic style.
They Nuggets of 2012-2013 were misunderstood, overanalyzed and widely hated by conventional basketball fans in Denver (especially Coach George Karl’s system).
The Denver Nuggets were hipster cool.*
If you were not a sports fanatic watching such trends, you might have missed the movement. The second half of the Nuggets season last year captured an entirely new fan base. They rooted on the Nuggets unconventional style. Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Andre Iguodala and Javale McGee were cool to the NBA fans who felt they knew better than the establishment.
The Nuggets Fought the Law and the Law won
For fans of the Nuggets style of play, it was short lived. The post-Carmelo Anthony era or “hipster era,” was flushed out. Team president Josh Kroenke listened to the “conventional” basketball fans and fired the Nuggets mastermind George Karl after their general manager Masai Ujiri was allowed to leave team. The team hired new players and new coach to fit “a system.”
This was all because the Nuggets lost a playoff series to a fortuitously hot team. Those conventional fans cried that the Nuggets lost because their style wouldn’t work in the playoffs, but that was never the reason Denver lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry was great and the Nuggets were young.
Now the Nuggets are just an average NBA team. They have hope to become one of the the conventional NBA greats from a trade, the draft or free agency, but they are no longer fun to watch, full of life.
I watched the Nuggets sputter around the court against the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks last week. This team has room to improve within the NBA, but they are no longer living outside of the rules.
Their ceiling is only as high as the NBA allows it to be.
It was more fun when they were a counterculture movement.
*For those needing a refresher on hipsters, read this hilarious wikiHow “How to Be a Hipster”