To Boo or Not to Boo: Melo returns to Denver

Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony (00) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel (9) during the first quarter at the Moda Center. Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Shakespeare asked it best.

To boo, or not to boo?

Tonight, at Pepsi Center, that is the question (give or take a letter here or there).

When the name “Carmelo Anthony” echoes down from the top of The Can for the first time tonight (his newest, latest – last – team, the Portland Trailblazers are in town), there will be a mix of sounds to follow. Some will cheer. Others will boo.

What will you do?

Wait. Before you answer that, consider the following. Better yet, place yourself back in time exactly one decade ago.

It’s December 12, 2009 – a Saturday night. If there was one place to be in Denver on this particular night, it’s Pepsi Center. Of course, that could be said of most any night the Denver Nuggets were playing that season or the six before it; they were the hottest ticket in town and it wasn’t even debatable. If you were there, you knew. You knew it was the place to be. You knew Denver’s “beautiful people” would be on full display, dressed to the nines, ready to begin an evening that was sure to only start at the game.

And not only is a game night, but it’s a star-studded affair, too. The Suns are in town – Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Grant Hill – and the Nuggets match them star-for-star with Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, the Birdman. There was a good chance Lil’ Wayne was in the house – that’s how big of a deal the Nuggets were in those days.

The game ensues and Nuggets do what a team fresh off a trip to the Western Conference Finals should do: They’ll cruise to a 105-99 win. And the team’s stars do what stars do, too: Melo drops 32, besting all other scorers. Chauncey goes off for 24 and 8. It’s a perfect night in Denver, as one of the NBA’s premier franchises delivers a performance well-worth the price of that highly-sought-after ticket.

And that’s just one of 41 nights. And you loved it.

Thank you, Carmelo Anthony.

That’s right: Thanks Melo.

That night doesn’t happen without Melo. Sorry, it just doesn’t. Kenyon Martin doesn’t come to Denver without Melo. Allen Iverson and Chauncey don’t somehow wind up here, either. George Karl doesn’t consider coaching in Denver. Lil Wayne doesn’t frequent this lil’ flyover city. Stars beget stars.

Melo’s arrival began a seven-year stint that many (including yours truly) believe to be the greatest era of Nuggets basketball there ever was. Oh, sure, the old-school purists will point to the Doug Moe-led, original Rainbows, and there’s merit to that, but Melo’s Nuggets put Denver back on the map. They made going to Nuggets games fun again.

For every flaw Carmelo Anthony had – and there were plenty – there was still a very good chance that anyone in attendance on any given night could see something special. No, he never delivered a championship to Denver, but nobody has. With Melo came the promise that Nuggets fans had a star (or more) to watch every time he played; that’s worth a lot (just ask Sacramento).

And stars are difficult. Ask Cleveland. Ask L.A. Ask Boston. It comes with the territory.

In the heat of the moment – when Melo finally decided he wanted out – it was okay for Denver to be mad at Melo. When he wanted to leave, it was a shame. Sports are sports. Villains are villains, especially in midst of things. Then, Denver should have been upset with Melo. With him, who knows what the Nuggets could have done? Still, even if they never returned to the Western Conference Finals, like they did in the Spring of ’09, they were always worth watching. If we’re being honest, that can’t be said for far too many years of the franchise’s existence.

I’m convinced that Melo represented to peak of Nuggets basketball. Without him, the Nuggets might still be wearing those boring navy and gold jerseys, there might have been years and years of Dick Motta, Jeff Bzdelik, Michael Cooper …years and years of Anthony Goldwire, Keon Clark, Tariq Abdul-Wahad.

It’s been long enough.

To err is human; to forgive is divine.

Melo’s 15 should be hanging from the rafters of Pepsi Center the very moment he retires. And the very moment he steps onto the court tonight, fans in Denver should put themselves back in time a decade ago, having a ball on a chilly Saturday night in Denver, watching stars play like stars, enjoying the best basketball the Denver Nuggets had ever offered.

Melo gave us seven great years. Most marriages don’t do that these days.

Boo?

No way. Not me. I’ll be applauding one of the best Nuggets to ever lace ‘em up.

I’ve missed Melo; it will be good to see him.

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