Nuggets reporter Chris Dempsey and power forward Paul Millsap are proud of their shared neighborhood heritage
by T.J. McBride
Montbello High School has always meant a great deal to thousands of Denverites. Two of them have become prominent in the Denver Nuggets’ organization.
Power forward Paul Millsap grew up in the Montbello neighborhood and proudly held his introductory press conference in Denver there, but he’s not the only hoopster involved.
Altitude Sports’ Chris Dempsey played basketball at Montbello High School in the early 1990’s, and he also grew up in the Northeast Denver community. Millsap, the man Demspey now covers, never actually played for the Warriors. The skills Millsap began to learn through Montbello’s youth athletic programs, however, were clearly the start of something special.
Dempsey was a good basketball player – well above average, even in the high-flying Denver Prep League, no doubt – but, unlike Millsap, Dempsey’s game didn’t ascend to the NBA. And that’s okay. To Dempsey, Montbello High School was the place he became the man he is today.
“Montbello High School – that is a complex question — means a lot to me because it is the neighborhood that I grew up in,” Dempsey explained. “It was a school that was full of good people, good teachers, and I thought it was a very misunderstood high school; especially when I was there. That place — I grew up a lot there. That school and that community really prepared me for life.”
For Dempsey, Montbello High School and Northeast Denver are much more than a school and a neighborhood. To him, it is home and, as they say, home is where the heart is. That is why Dempsey has done all he can to help support his community over the years, including going back to a school in Northeast Denver to spread messages of positivity.
“A couple years ago, I was asked to come back and speak to some middle school-aged kids at the [Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center], which was the Montebello recreation center when I was a kid,” Dempsey explained. “What I thought needed to happen was that somebody from there needed to talk to those young boys and girls and say, ‘Hey, it is okay that you are from here; you can grow into being whatever you need to be, and this place will help you do that – it wont hurt you to do that – it will help you to do that.’”
In the Denver-metro area, Montbello High School was often perceived as an institution with more issues than advantages for its students, but according to Dempsey, that perception was – and is – inaccurate. “Montbello will always be in my heart – big-time in my heart — because of the lessons that it taught me and the high school itself, for being a great place for learning with great teachers,” Dempsey explained. “I would not be who I am today without that.”
That is why Millsap – the Nuggets’ starting power forward and a one-time northeast Denver resident – elected to have his introductory press conference at the new Montbello Recreation Center – a beautiful new facility that has a full football field, a pool and, of course, a basketball court. It may seem like a minor gesture to some, but Millsap’s choice be introduced there, instead of the Pepsi Center, was a monumental step towards portraying the real version of Dempsey’s hometown.
“Paul Millsap lived there for what, a year?” Dempsey asked, rhetorically. “So, for him to do that, it meant a lot to people who grew up there because it put the community in a space where people had to come in and look at it and see how it is now – see how it is operating. ‘Oh, it is not as bad as we thought it was? Oh, it is not bad at all?’ That is what it meant, and for a guy like (Millsap) to do that; it really was big-time. I am glad the community and the rec center, at that point in time, really got the spotlight onto it, because it should. To highlight the positive aspects and the people doing so many good things in the community; I thought was a really great thing.
“It was incredible, and I will tell you why — because it put a positive spotlight on a community that needs it.”
To Dempsey, Montbello High School and northeast Denver are misunderstood places. Old prejudices die hard, even though the community is taking steps forward and evolving at a rapid pace. So what needs to happen for the neighborhood to be perceived as it should?
“Honestly, it takes people like me, who get out and are doing things as adults, to talk the community up,” Dempsey explained. “There are so many people that I went to school with that talk the community down. They were there, and I do not know why anybody would do that.
“It takes people leaving and talking it up. It takes people – if you have left the community – going back and doing good things in the community and helping the next generation of kids grow up there, and do it in a very positive manner. It is just like almost anything; if you do not invest in the future, than what will it be? I think that is what has to happen there.”
Dempsey does that, and more. Montbello High School is where he became the man he is today; something he’ll never forget. “I know I try to do what I can when I can, and I certainly hope that more people do, because that is a community that is much better than it has ever gotten credit for,” he explained. “But it will take people carrying the torch for it, and really ride for it, for it to be able to realize its full potential.”
A potential that Dempsey has clearly realized.
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