The line outside the doors at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Lakewood began to form sometime around 7 a.m.

About 9 hours and 45 minutes earlier, the Denver Nuggets won their first-ever NBA Championship.

Correction: OUR first-ever NBA Championship.

In the unwritten rules (or probably written somewhere) of good journalism, it’s highly frowned upon to take ownership of the accomplishments of whatever sports team – whether they play in your city or not – one might be covering. But our is the story in Denver. In the moments that have followed the final whistle at Ball Arena on Monday night, there’s just no other word that can be substituted.

Our team. Our town. Our title.

The aforementioned line – the one that snaked from the door and deep into the parking lot – didn’t go away once the doors opened. By noon the line still wasn’t gone, and it had moved from outside to inside. At this particular store, there are two checkout points, both with multiple cashiers; the lines at both places were 10, 20, 30 people deep at all times. There were another 30 or 40 picking through a gigantic stash of Nuggets gear – hats and shirts and whatever that featured the one word nobody had ever paired with “Nuggets” before – “champions.”

We wanted a piece of that.

“It’s been like this since early this morning,” said Brennan, smiling as he checked me out, not bothered by what was likely the busiest day behind the counter he’d ever had, or perhaps will ever have. “I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon.”

Brennan was correct. Our city has been waiting for this for a long, long time. It’s hard to say when the Nuggets win will sink in or when – or if – it will ever become old news. The sheer joy that flooded Denver as soon as the Larry O’Brien Trophy was raised isn’t going away anytime soon.

I have lived in Denver my entire life, and with the exception of the Broncos first Super Bowl win to cap the 1997 season, nothing compares to this one. I type that very respectfully, as all of them are important, all of them mean something special, all of them are adored for their own reasons, which can be different for everyone.

But there’s a feeling in the air here at 5,280 feet above sea level, at the moment, that is different. And it’s not just “different” in the context of comparing one champion to another. It’s different in that Denver feels like a different place today than it did two days ago, a month ago or a year ago.

Today, Denver feels connected.

Denver is no longer the dusty old cow town that ESPN might have believed it was. We’re not New York City or L.A. or even Miami, but Denver has grown. The notion that Denver no longer belongs to the natives is an accurate one. If the 1980s version of Alex English and Doug Moe would have been dropped into the heart of Denver via a time machine in 2023, they’d have thought they were lost. Just as one isn’t supposed to use “our” or “we” in a sports article, I’m not supposed to talk religion, politics or business, either – but in every aspect, this is no longer the Denver built by Danny (Schayes, that is). Left or right, city or country, from here or there, Denver is a different place these days, and those who call Denver home rarely agree upon much.

Except this.

To believe that a basketball team brought an entire city together, even for a single night, is lofty, unrealistic, sappy and, ultimately, incorrect. A week from now, Denver will be the same Denver is was before the playoffs began. But that’s how it felt. What the Nuggets did felt bigger than sports.

Whether you were in the line waiting to buy your championship merchandise, or the one that wrapped around Stoney’s Bar on Lincoln for the hours before and after the game, or if you’re one of the half-million-or-more who will be in attendance for Thursday’s downtown parade, you probably felt it, too. Everywhere in Denver, we’re surrounded by people who wanted the same thing we did

Perhaps a better way to examine what the Nuggets just did, however, is a question:

Who didn’t want to see the Nuggets win it all? Who can’t appreciate the world’s most humble superstar? Who can’t pull for Jamal Murray, who came back from a severe knee injury on his way to becoming one of the best players in the NBA? Who can’t like a player like Aaron Gordon who does all the dirty work, or a guy like Bruce Brown who came to Denver to fill a specific role and ultimately doubled (or more) his own value, or a guy like Michael Porter Jr. who had a rough, rough series only to emerge as one of Game 5’s best players?


The answer is pretty simple: Nobody inside the Centennial state lines. With all of the national ignorance, disrespect, indifference – whatever you want to call it – this one felt like us against the world. And we – behind the heroics of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Bruce Brown and all the others – prevailed.

Inside Ball Arena, Game 5 of the NBA Finals was different than practically every other big game inside the same arena leading up to the postseason. As Denver changes, the more people not from here are here. That’s okay; we understand. It’s a great place to live. But that means that opposing fans tend to ooze into the same stadiums and arenas that used to support only one team, our team. On Monday night, if there were any Heat fans in the house, they were drowned out entirely.

In Miami on Friday night following Game 4, an executive inside the Nuggets organization told me that internally, the Nuggets were in search of tickets for Game 5. Sounds funny, considering the organization is the origin of the end product, but it was true, the organization was trying to buy back tickets. The requests – from celebrities, from major sponsors, from “friends of the program” – were pouring in. Backs needed to be scratched. Favors repaid. Or, tickets were simply in such high demand that for the rich and famous, the “number” mattered very little. The organization would have been happy to buy back as many as they could, or even just make a connection, for absurd amounts (think luxury vehicles, not seats at a ballgame), but the funny thing is that very few were interested.

What’s a memory worth? To someone who can afford courtside seats to the NBA Finals, does another hundred grand make a difference? Or is the ability to say you were there simply priceless?

Outside of Ball Arena in the time between the championship clinching game and Thursday’s parade, it feels as if a weight has been lifted. There was no anger. Nobody was mad at Stan Kroenke or Comcast; nobody spoke of issues; nobody cared if you were native or new to town. Everyone simply seemed happy.

I’m not naïve enough to think all of that is entirely true. It’s not. Surely, there are plenty of locals who couldn’t care less about what happens inside a sports arena. But for a day and probably more, I was reminded once again – by the Denver Nuggets – of the power of sports.

Sports connect people. Sports provide commonality. Sports have an amazing ability to put everyone on the same team.

Our team.