Every morning I wake up with a different song in my head. Not sure why and I don’t think I need to seek the guidance of a psychiatrist or a swami to figure it out. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but sometimes it fits.
Today it’s No Man’s Land by Bob Seger. For the NBA and its players, running out the string of playoff games in Orlando? The severely-under rated No Man’s Land fits like a Steve Kerr tweet about the POTUS.
We have a Game 7. Everything on the line, no holds barred, blah blah blah. Yes, Game 7s are special as they’re about a combination of frenzy and adoration. Most professional athletes live for the adrenaline a Game 7 brings forth out of their collective minds and bodies. But they also desire the adoration, and that’s what’s missing – an SRO crowd of fans foaming at the mouth pushing their stars to a greater level toward victory with their cheers or opponent humiliation with their jeers.
Let’s set the typical Game 7 scene for a moment.
Fans get there as early as they can, settle in their seats with their roller food hot dog on a bun made fresh 4 or 5 days before that plus a pile of nachos with pumped cheese glistening with the sheen of a newly Turtle-Waxed old Camaro. Each fan will opine on what their beloved team should do to advance… and how they should dismantle the team and fire the coach if they don’t. The game will start, shouting and screaming will occur, refs will be abused and the rest of the nachos will end up polishing the arena floor.
But the game must be played. Nuggets vs Jazz. Nuggets, a name created from the nearby Rockies in a tribute from Colorado’s rich history of mining. Jazz, a named taken from the rich history of the birthplace of jazz, Salt Lake City. I’m kidding. What idiot decided to take the team that was in New Orleans to Salt Lake City and NOT rename them? Heard of the Oklahoma City Supersonics? Of course you haven’t. They were moved from Seattle and were subsequently renamed the Thunder. The Jazz is a sad name.
However, not quite as sad as the Nuggets playoff history. The last time I can recall the Nuggets playing any game of championship significance was when I was a kid. The final ABA finals before they merged with the NBA. Denver Nuggets vs New York Nets. David Thompson vs Julius Erving. Nets outscored the Nuggets 34-14 in the 4th quarter behind Dr. J’s 31 points and 19 boards to win 112-106 and take the final ABA title in 6 games. No please, do the math – the Nuggets started the 4th quarter with a 14-point lead yet still allowed 5’5” Monte Towe to play. Click here to see the entire game if you want, but go to the 1:07 mark to see Towe. He looks like a smurf.
It was the last time the Nuggets ever got to the finals. Yes sports fans, in their entire NBA existence spanning 44 seasons they’ve never reached the finals. The Jazz on the other hand, have reached the finals twice behind the great Jerry Sloan. As a player, the man was a grinder and as a coach ran his team like a fine Swiss watch. Alas, they never got to a game 7 either as Jordan’s Bulls took them out in 6 in back-to-back seasons.
Not that a victory tonight does anything to kill any of those haunting memories. This is the first round. Whatever team wins this game 7 gets to move along and face either the Lakers or the Clippers. As such, odds are the winner will end up being the loser.
But tonight us fans will relish our Game 7. We will gather and everyone will remember where they were and who they were with… if their team wins. We will also know where we weren’t. Not in the arena – and this would be a Nuggets home game – and not in a crowded bar… unless the bar wants to be shut down the next day. Nugget fans will tailgate on their collective patios and decks, grill some cowboy steaks, cook up some delicious Colorado chili and wash it down with a local craft beer while witnessing another spectacular sunset over the Rockies. Jazz fans will do what they generally do – gorge themselves on bland food: boiled chicken, cream of corn, and rigorously peeled and mashed potatoes topped off with milk-based gravy the consistency of wallpaper paste. Then they’ll go to sleep at 9.
Enjoy this Game 7. It ought to be a special one. There has never been any love between the Nuggets and the Jazz and there certainly is none now. The Jazz have Donovan Mitchell, a player the Nuggets drafted in the 2017 draft and then traded to the Jazz for effectively two sacks of beans. They also have Rudy Gobert the first NBA player to contract COVID and then joke about it – he apologized so I’ll give the French goon credit. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic. The Joker is a big man with a deadly outside shot and great passing skills. They also have Jamal Murray. He dropped 50 on the Jazz in Game 6. I don’t expect that in Game 7, but the battle between Murray and Mitchell is something worth watching.
In spite of the hoopla around this Game 7, and there still will be, they are stuck in Orlando, the metropolis where everywhere you look is either everything right, or everything wrong, about America. It’s either a city of a child’s dream or city covered with amusement parks that’ll suck away your life savings and a battalion of fast casual restaurants that’ll suck away your life. To me, Orlando is No Man’s Land.