The Nuggets are the 30th and last NBA team for which I had to do a Trip Guide. At the conclusion of this piece, the NBA will be done.
Why did I get the NBA done first, rather than the NHL, whose season ends a little sooner? Because there are 2 NBA teams in New York, and I don't have a preference for either (now that the Nets have abandoned New Jersey). In contrast, while the New York Tri-State Area has 3 teams, I don't like the Islanders and I hate the Rangers, so I only do this for the Devils. If I did it for all 3 teams -- e.g., "The Devils visit Denver on November 17. The Rangers do so on December 1, and the Islanders on January 22" -- the NHL would have been completed first.
At any rate, I still have to do updates of last year's pieces on the Pittsburgh Penguins, and both Florida teams, the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning; and never-before-done pieces on the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks.
The City of Denver, the State of Colorado, and indeed the entire Rocky Mountain region are still in the afterglow of the Denver Broncos' 3rd Super Bowl win. So they may be in a good mood, which is good for visitors.
Then again, it may be due to legalized pot. Regardless, of all the reasons the trip might be stressful, the locals are not likely to add much to it.
Before You Go. The Denver Post is predicting high 50s for Friday afternoon, and high 30s for the evening. Although the mountain air leads to a lot of snow, no precipitation of any kind is forecast for this week.
Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone, so you’ll be 2 hours behind New York time. And there’s a reason it’s called the Mile High City: The elevation means the air will be thinner. Although the Rocky Mountain region is renowned for outdoor recreation, if you’re not used to it, try not to exert yourself too much. Cheering at a sporting event shouldn’t bother you too much, but even if the weather is good, don’t go rock-climbing or any other such activity unless you’ve done it before and know what you’re doing.
Tickets. The Nuggets are averaging 14,076 fans per game, dead last in the NBA. At 73.5 percent of capacity, they're ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. This has led to talk of the Nuggets, the 2nd-oldest major league sports team in the Rocky Mountain region (only the Broncos are older), having to move, although no plan has been publicly mentioned. Chances are, you can show up 5 minutes before tipoff, and buy any seat you can afford.
Nuggets tickets are among the cheapest in the NBA. Law of supply and demand, I suppose. Seats in the lower level are $128 between the baskets and $53 behind them. In the upper level, they're $28 between and just $20 behind.
Getting There. It’s 1,779 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Denver. You’re probably thinking that you should be flying.
You can get a round-trip flight for Thursday morning, and buy it today, for a little over $800, depending on what time you want to fly. But it won’t be nonstop. While Stapleton International Airport (named for 1923-47 Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton) was a major change-planes-here spot for going to the West Coast and Las Vegas, the new Denver International Airport isn’t. You want to fly there, you’ll have to change planes, most likely in either Chicago or Dallas.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station at 3:40 PM Tuesday, arrives at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Wednesday (that’s Central Time). The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM Wednesday and arrives at Denver’s Union Station at 7:15 AM (Mountain Time) Thursday. The return trip would leave Denver at 7:10 PM Friday, arrive in Chicago at 2:50 PM Monday, leave Chicago at 9:30 PM Monday, and get back to New York at 6:35 PM Tuesday. The round-trip fare is $448.
Conveniently, Union Station is at 1700 Wynkoop Street at 17th Street, just 3 blocks from Coors Field. The front of the building is topped by a clock, framed by an old sign saying UNION STATION on top and TRAVEL by TRAIN on the bottom.
If you actually think it’s worth it to drive, get someone to go with you, so you’ll have someone to talk to, and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You’ll be taking Interstate 80 most of the way, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, before taking Interstate 76 from Nebraska to Colorado, and then Interstate 25 into Denver. (An alternate route: Take the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to Interstate 70 and then I-70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado into downtown Denver. It won’t save you an appreciable amount of time over the I-80 route, though.)
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, 6 hours in Nebraska, and 3 hours and 15 minutes in Colorado. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you’ll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that’s where you want to make rest stops), we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.
Even if you’re only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You’ll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.
Once In the City. Founded in 1858 as a gold rush city, and named for James W. Denver, then Governor of the Kansas Territory, from which Colorado was separated, Denver is a State capital and city of 630,000 people, in a metro area of 3.2 million -- roughly the population of Brooklyn and Staten Island combined. It's easily the biggest city in, and thus the unofficial cultural capital of, the Rocky Mountain region.
The State House
Broadway is the main north-south drag, separating East addresses from West. But the northwestern quadrant of the street grid is at roughly a 45-degree angle from the rest of the city, and this area includes the central business district, Union Station and the ballpark.
The sales tax in the State of Colorado is 2.9 percent, however, the City of Denver adds a 3.62 percent sales tax, for a total of 6.52 percent. The Denver Post is a good paper, but don't bother looking for the Rocky Mountain News: It went out of business in 2009. Bus and light rail service in Denver is run by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and goes for $2.25 for a single ride, and $6.75 for a DayPass.
Don't worry, the weather isn't forecast to look like this during your visit.
I chose this picture for the look of the train, not for the snow and wet streets.
Chopper was actually a Jersey Boy, albeit from Woodbury on the Philly side. He died in 1999, age 77, right before the new arena opened. Chopper Circle is an extension of Wewatta Street.
Food. Being a “Wild West” city, you might expect Denver to have Western-themed stands with “real American food” at its arena. Being in a State with a Spanish name, in a land that used to belong to Mexico, you might also expect to have Mexican food. And you would be right on both counts.
Unfortunately, the team and arena websites don't include charts showing where the concession stands are. The arena website does mention specialty restaurants:
The Shock Top Lodge is a restaurant that seats 325 guests, 250 in the restaurant and 75 at the bar, and is open to all ticketholders.
The Land Rover Denver Club has seating for 125 and can accommodate over 300 in a lounge-like environment. Guests can enjoy a Colorado craft beer or specialty drink coupled with a chef-inspired dish without missing any of the action in the arena while watching on one of the 20 HD TVs positioned throughout the space.
The Peak Pub House seats 236 patrons, and is available to suite holders, KeyBank Club Level ticket holders, the first row of rinkside, all courtside seat holders, and all patrons with 5 minutes remaining in the game.Team History Displays. The Nuggets' banners are at the east end of the arena, and the Avalanche's banners at the west end. There are also banners for the Arena Football League's Colorado Mammoths -- which, like the Avs, the Nugs, MLS' Colorado Rapids, the NFL's newly-returned Los Angeles Rams, and English soccer's Arsenal Football Club, is owned by Walton of Walmart infamy in-law Stan Kroenke.
Despite the Nugs' long history, which will reach a 50th Anniversary next year, they have not had much success. Starting as the Denver Rockets in the American Basketball Association in 1967, then in 1974 adopting the name of an earlier NBA team called the Denver Nuggets, and joining the NBA after reaching the Finals in the last ABA season of 1976, they've won 17 Division titles: 1970, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1985, 1988, 2006, 2009 and 2010.
They have banners for those honors. But they didn't win an ABA title, and have reached the NBA Western Conference Finals only 3 times: 1978, 1985 and 2009. There are no banners for those.
UPDATE: This is now true for Allen Iverson as well. And the Nuggets have announced that Mutombo's Number 55 will be retired on October 29, 2016.
English, Thompson, Beck, Issel, Moe and Travaglini have been elected to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, which is located at the new Broncos' stadium. No Nuggets players were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players, not even Issel, who, at his retirement, had scored more points than any pro basketball player except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain). But Haywood, Thompson, Issel, and guards Warren Jabali (formerly Warren Armstrong) and Mack Calvin were named to the ABA All-Time Team.
Stuff. Altitude Athletics is located in the Grand Atrium at the arena's west end. It sells Avs, Nugs, Rapids and Mammoths merchandise -- but not the Rams or The Arsenal, as these teams are located nowhere near Denver. They may sell cowboy hats with team logos on them, to tie in with the State's Western heritage.
Being a not-very-successful team, and a not-very-glamorous team, there are no official NBA videos about the Nuggets, and books about them are few and far between. In 2014, Zach Wyner contributed their entry in the NBA's On the Hardwood series. In 2015, Nate LeBoutillier did the same for their A History of Hoops series. Perhaps the upcoming 50th Anniversary will lead to team history books and videos.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Nuggets' fans 17th, in the bottom half of the league. The article praises them for not having fair-weather fans, saying that they show up even when the team is mediocre.
Coloradans love their sports, but they're not known as antagonistic. Although the Jets came within a half of derailing a Bronco Super Bowl visit in 1999 (1998 season), and the Devils came within a game of short-circuiting their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the people of the Centennial State don't have an ingrained hatred of New Yorkers, despite the 2006 brawl between the Knicks and the Nuggets at Madison Square Garden.
As long as you don't wear Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders gear, you'll probably be completely safe. (But, as always, watch out for obnoxious drunks, who know no State Lines.) And those of you who are Knick fans may want to be warned that Carmelo Anthony, who chose to abandon Denver's loyal fans for the spotlight of New York, could get the heck booed out of him.
Unlike the Avalanche with Jake Schroeder, the Nuggets do not have a regular National Anthem singer, instead accepting auditions. Sometimes, the Nuggets will wear throwback uniforms, including tributes to the old Rockets, and their Tetris-like (but long preceding that game) skyscraper-foreground, mountain-background logo. Like several other teams, the Nuggets received a team-specific version of the group Power Surge's song "Roll With It" for use as a fight song.
The Nuggets' mascot is Rocky the Mountain Lion, named for the mountain range and one of the indigenous beasts thereof. Like Go the Gorilla in Phoenix and Hugo the Hornet in Charlotte, he is known for performing trick dunks.
Across Chopper Circle from the arena is Brooklyn's at the Pepsi Center, a typical sports bar. If you want something a little more substantial, a Panda Express is on the other side of the arena, across Elitch Circle.
LoDo is loaded with bars that will be open after the game, including Scruffy Murphy's at Larimer & 20th, and an outlet of the Fado Irish Pub chain at Wynkoop & 19th. The Sports Column, at 1930 Blake Street, 2 blocks from the ballpark, was rated as the best sports bar in Colorado in a recent Thrillist article. The only baseball-named place I can find anywhere near Coors is Sandlot Brewery, at 22nd & Blake, outside the park's right-field corner.
Perhaps the most famous sports-themed restaurant near Denver is Elway's Cherry Creek, a steakhouse at 2500 E. 1st Avenue in the southern suburb of Cherry Creek. Bus 83L. It's owned by the same guy who owns John Elway Chevrolet in another southern suburb, Englewood.
About a mile southeast of Coors Field, at 538 E. 17th Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood (not sure why a southern, rather than northern, neighborhood is called "Uptown"), is The Tavern, home of the local New York Giants fan club. Jet fans gather at Chopper’s Sports Grill, possibly named for Chopper Travaglini, at 80 S. Madison Street at Bayaud Avenue, 3 miles southeast of downtown, in the Pulaski Park neighborhood. Bus 83, then a mile’s walk.
If your visit to Denver is during the European soccer season (which is now winding down), your best bet for watching your favorite club is at The Three Lions (named for the crest on the jerseys of the England national team), 2239 E. Colfax Avenue, about 2 miles east of downtown. Number 15 bus.
Sidelights. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly Invesco Field at Mile High, has been the home of the NFL's Denver Broncos since 2001. Everyone just gives it the same name as the old facility: "Mile High Stadium." It includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
It was built on the site of the McNichols Sports Arena, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets from 1975 to 1999, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche from 1995 to 1999, and the first major league team called the Colorado Rockies, the NHL team that became the Devils, from 1976 to 1982. The Denver Dynamite played there from 1987 to 1991, made the Arena Football League Playoffs every season, and won the 1st ArenaBowl in 1987. But the cost of running the team was too high, and it folded.
The Rockies they're wishing good luck are the baseball team,
not the hockey team that used to play there and became the Devils.
It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1990, with UNLV (the University of Nevada at Las Vegas) clobbering Duke. (The University of Colorado, in Boulder, made the Final Four in 1942 and 1955, although it wasn't yet called the Final Four. No other Colorado-based school has made it, and none has won a National Championship -- not in basketball, anyway.)
When the time came to play the final concert at McNichols, the act that played the first concert there was brought back: ZZ Top. This fact was mentioned on a Monday Night Football broadcast, leading Dan Dierdorf to note the alphabetic distinction of the long red-bearded men, and say, “The first one should have been ABBA.” Which would have been possible, as they were nearly big in the U.S. at the time. However, the fact that the arena only lasted 24 years, making it not that hard for the act that played the first concert there to also play the last, says something about America's disposable culture.
The old stadium was just to the north of the new stadium/old arena. The current address is Mile High Stadium Circle, but the old intersection was W. 20th Avenue & Bryant St. (2755 W. 17th Avenue was the mailing address.) It was built in 1948 as Bears Stadium, an 18,000-seat ballpark.
When the American Football League was founded in 1960, it was expanded to 34,000 seats with the addition of outfield seating. The name was changed to Mile High Stadium in 1966, and by 1968 much of the stadium was triple-decked and seated 51,706. In 1977 – just in time for the Broncos to make their first Super Bowl run and start “Broncomania” – the former baseball park was transformed into a 76,273-seat horseshoe, whose east stands could be moved in to conform to the shape of a football field, or out to allow enough room for a regulation baseball field. The old-time ballpark had become, by the standards of the time, a modern football stadium.
The biggest complaint when the Rockies arrived in 1993 wasn’t the thin air, or the condition of the stadium (despite its age, it was not falling apart), but the positioning of the lights: Great for football fans, but terrible for outfielders tracking fly balls. But it was only meant to be a temporary ballpark for the Rockies, as a condition for Denver getting a team was a baseball-only stadium. What really led to the replacement of Mile High Stadium, and its demolition in 2002, was greed: The Broncos' desire for luxury-box revenue.
At Bears/Mile High Stadium, the Broncos won AFC Championships in 1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997 and 1998, winning the Super Bowl in the last 2 years after losing the first 4 in blowouts. (They've now won an AFC title at the new stadium, but not a Super Bowl.) The Denver Bears won Pennants while playing there in 1957 (as a Yankee farm team), 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1991 (winning the last one under the Denver Zephyrs name).
The U.S. national soccer team played a pair of games at Mile High Stadium in the 1990s, and beat Mexico at the new stadium in 2002 (the only game they've played there so far). While the 2008 Democratic Convention was held at the Pepsi Center, Senator Barack Obama gave his nomination acceptance speech outdoors in front of 80,000 people at New Mile High Stadium.
The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium. At McNichols, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976, and the Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup (albeit clinching in Miami). Elvis Presley sang at McNichols on April 23, 1976.
The new stadium, and the site of the old stadium and arena, are at Mile High Station on the light rail C-Line and E-Line.
Coors Field has been home to the Rockies since it opened in 1995. This past February, Coors Field hosted 2 hockey games. The University of Denver beat arch-rival Colorado College 4-1 in a game billed as the Battle On Blake. And as part of the NHL Stadium Series, the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps perversely celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the birth of their brief but nasty rivalry. The Wings won 5-3.
2001 Blake Street (hence the team's nickname, the Blake Street Bombers) at 20th Street, 3 blocks from Union Station, accessible by light rail.
The Nuggets, known as the Denver Rockets until 1974, played at the Denver Auditorium Arena, at 13th & Champa Streets, from their 1967 inception until McNichols opened in 1975. It was also the home of the original Nuggets, who played in the NBA from 1948 to 1950.
The Auditorium Arena hosted Led Zeppelin’s 1st American concert on December 26, 1968. It was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, a.k.a. the Denver Center. Theatre District/Convention Center Station on the light rail’s D-Line, F-Line and H-Line.
The Denver area's Major League Soccer team, the Colorado Rapids, plays at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. The U.S. national team has played there twice, winning both times. 6000 Victory Way. Number 48 bus to 60th Avenue & Dahlia Street, then Number 88 bus to 60th & Monaco. Then they make you walk 10 blocks on 60th to get to the stadium.
The Beatles played Red Rocks Amphitheatre in suburban Morrison on August 26, 1964. It is still in business, and a Colorado Music Hall of Fame is a short walk away. 18300 W. Alameda Parkway, 10 miles west of downtown. Sorry, no public transportation.
Elvis played 2 shows at the Denver Coliseum on April 8, 1956, and 1 each on November 17, 1970 and April 30, 1973. Built in 1951, it still stands, seating 10,500, and is best known for concerts and the National Western Stock Rodeo. 4600 Humbolt Street at E. 46th Avenue, off Interstate 70, 3 miles northeast of downtown. Apparently, no public transportation to there, either.
Denver has some renowned museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (their version of the Museum of Natural History) at 2001 Colorado Blvd. at Montview Blvd. (in City Park, Number 20 bus), and the Denver Art Museum (their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History), at 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway at Colfax Avenue (across I-25 from Mile High Stadium, Auraria West station on the C-Line and E-Line).
Denver’s history only goes back to a gold rush in 1859 – not to be confused with the 1849 one that turned San Francisco from a Spanish Catholic mission into the first modern city in the American West. The city isn’t exactly loaded with history.
There’s no Presidential Library – although Mamie Doud, the eventual Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, grew up there, and her house is now a historic site. Mamie and “Ike” were married there, their son John (a future General, Ambassador and military historian) was born there, and the Eisenhowers were staying there when Ike had his heart attack in 1955. The house is still in private ownership, and is not open to the public. However, if you’re a history buff, or if you just like Ike, and want to see it, it’s at 750 Lafayette Street, at 8th Avenue. The Number 6 bus will get you to 6th & Lafayette.
After his heart attack, Ike was treated at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in nearby Aurora, 12 years after Senator John Kerry, nearly elected President in 2004 and now Secretary of State, was born there. It’s not a Presidential Birthplace, because Kerry narrowly lost. It is now the University of Colorado Hospital. The Fitzsimmons Golf Course is across Montview Boulevard – it figures that Ike would be hospitalized next to a golf course! 16th Avenue & Quentin Street. Number 20 bus from downtown.
The University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts hosted a 2012 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. 2344 East Iliff Avenue, about 5 miles south of downtown. H Line light rail to University of Denver Station.
The University of Colorado is in Boulder, 30 miles to the northwest. At Market Street Station, 16th & Market, take the BV Bus to the Boulder Transit Center, which is on campus. The ride should take about an hour and 20 minutes. Colorado State University is in Fort Collins, 65 miles up Interstate 25 north, and forget about reaching it by public transportation. The U.S. Air Force Academy is outside Colorado Springs, 60 miles down I-25. As with Fort Collins, you'd need Greyhound. Unlike CSU, you might not be able to just go there: Some of the area is restricted. It is, after all, a military base.
A few TV shows have been set in Denver, but you won't find their filming locations there. The old-time Western Whispering Smith and the more recent one Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman were set in old Colorado, but filmed in Southern California.
Probably the most famous show set in Colorado is South Park, and that's a cartoon, so forget seeing anything from that. Not quite as cartoonish was Mork & Mindy, set in Boulder. The McConnell house actually is in Boulder, at 1619 Pine Street. But don't try to copy the opening-sequence scene with Robin Williams and Pam Dawber on the goalposts at the University of Colorado's Folsom Field. You could fall, and end up saying, "Shazbot!"
The most famous show ever set in Colorado was Dynasty, ABC's Excessive Eighties counterpart to CBS' Dallas, starring John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, an oilman and a thinly-veiled version of Marvin Davis, who nearly bought the Oakland Athletics from Charlie Finley in 1978 with the idea of moving them to Mile High Stadium, but the deal fell through. Right, you don't care about Blake, all you care about is the catfights between the 2nd and 1st Mrs. Carrington's: Krystle (Linda Evans) and Alexis (Joan Collins). The Carrington mansion seen in the opening credits is in Beverly Hills, but the building that stood in for the headquarters of Denver Carrington is at 621 17th Street, while the one that stood in for Colbyco is at 1801 California Street.
Movies set in Denver or its suburbs include The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the original Red Dawn, and, of course, Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead. Films involving skiing often take place in Colorado towns such as Aspen or Vail. City Slickers, a film with loads of baseball references, has a cattle drive that ends in Colorado, but there's no indication of how close it is to Denver. Flashback
takes place on the Pacific Coast, but Denver's Union Station stands in for a train station in San Francisco.
The Denver Nuggets debuted nearly half a century ago, and lived the funky ABA lifestyle before being accepted into the NBA 40 years ago. They've never been great, but have usually been good. A Knick or Net fan should be able to enjoy a visit.