Denver Nuggets: A Formal Apology to Will Barton

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

‘The Thrill’ has been an underrecognized cornerstone for the Denver Nuggets. Will Barton deserves an apology from us. NuggLove issues a formal one.

Like many basketball fans I’ve found myself seeking other things to occupy my time in the last month plus. I’ve thrown myself into other passions in the absence of basketball. That said, I still miss basketball and I can’t wait for its return. The highs and lows of basketball fandom are thrilling and frustrating. Denver Nuggets fans specifically have experienced many highs and lows over time. I personally have been a real fan since the Melo years and I know there are plenty out there who have been fans as long as they’ve been old enough to watch.

We have a real connection to the team we root for because it’s our team no matter what the situation. I think at times this gives fans a sense of entitlement even over that of the players.

We sometimes feel like the team belongs to us more than it does the players because they can up and leave as soon as their contract is up. For this reason it can sometimes be easy to turn on our team’s players for poor play.

I’m thinking now specifically of game 2 of the Spurs series last year. It was a year and about a week ago that Will Barton missed a corner three only to be followed down the court by an echo of boos in Pepsi Center.

I was there that night and while my memory of that moment is clouded by emotions I believe I participated in the booing. I was overwhelmed by frustration and Will Barton became the target of those frustrations.

I was reminded of this moment this week as I was reading Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s chronicle of the Warriors superteam, The Victory Machine. In it he dedicates a chapter to the mercurial nature of Kevin Durant.

He describes numerous instances of Durant paying very close attention to the things the media and fans say about him. He describes an insecure man, very aware of what the world thinks of him.

A man would let the things people said about him wound him and stick with him for long periods of time. He posits the popular theory that Durant never felt like he was truly embraced by Warrior fans and for this reason sought out another situation.

Reading that reminded me of something that happened last offseason when I, a simple Nuggets fans with fewer than 300 followers on twitter, posted a thread predicting the statlines of Nuggets rotation players.

Fortunately, I was fair and generally positive about it, because Monte Morris liked it. I hadn’t tagged him and there’s little reason to think that he should have found the tweet in any way other than just searching for his name.

Whether out of insecurity or just curiosity, players do see what we have to say about them. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if the people who were supposed to be cheering for me did nothing but trash my game in public.

As much as we’d like to think NBA fans are above the pettiness of twitter they really aren’t. They are people just like us and do see the things that are said about them; I’d imagine it’s difficult to avoid.

I’m sure it’s easy enough to shrug off a negative tweet here or there, especially if it comes after a particularly bad game. However repeated abuse on social media or an entire arena of home fans booing you has gotta stick with you.

We often get caught up in cheering for our favorite players and teams as if they were merely an animatronic DisneyLand ride made for our entertainment instead of the people that they are.

These players are under immense pressure to succeed and have been since they were in high school. They are playing a game they love, but the better they gate the higher the stakes and the greater the pressure.

We saw this with the Denver Nuggets. In 2017-18 they were the fun, young team with a ton of potential and good shot at a playoff berth. The fans embraced their underdog status and cheered them through the good and the bad. The stakes were much lower for that team and you could see that in the way the team played and in the way fans responded.

That Nuggets team clearly had a blast every time they went out there to play. The ball was popping and everyone seemed to be playing with pure joy.

That joy seems to have been missing the last couple of season of Denver Nuggets basketball. It seems the pressure to succeed has sucked a lot of the fun out of the game for Nuggets players.

It also seems to have sucked some of the fun out of the game for the fans and we’ve become a bit more cynical about winning and losing.

Will Barton’s injury in the 2018-19 season and his difficult recovery had to have been one of the most difficult points in his life. He couldn’t play the game he loved for a long time and when he came back he couldn’t play it at the level he was used to.

Instead of responding with human emotion, Denver Nuggets fans responded by hurling boos at him at one of his lowest points.

I’m not saying that fans can’t be critical of players or expect more from them, but that criticism should come from a place of respect or really just human decency.

It’s our responsibility as fans to remember that these players are people with real feelings. We need to realize that what we see is only a small fraction of the person that they are and treat them with respect even in our criticism.

There’s a quote from The Victory Machine that I loved and think really applies to this Denver Nuggets team. “Joy might not be the reason for victory, but it sustains the will to maintain a victorious operation.”

Things were easy for Nuggets players and fans when there were no expectations. The players played with joy and the fans were the happiest they had been in many years, but that changed these last two seasons.

I’m not entirely sure what it is that caused the joy to fade from the Nuggets players or fans, but I feel pretty confident in saying that it did indeed fade.

Thanks to social media fans have more influence on players and coaches than ever before. The things we say find their way to those we’re talking about. That gives fans a greater responsibility than we’ve ever had.

That’s why I wanted to write this article on behalf of the fans and sincerely apologize to Will Barton for the boos and general lack of support we gave him through his injury and recovery. He is clearly a good person who has worked incredibly hard to get where he is and he’s done more than enough for the team to earn our support even through the tough times.

I know I’m better than that brief moment when my frustrations overwhelmed me and a boo came out (or at least wanted to). I’d like to think that Nuggets fans, in general, are better than that too.

When basketball finally returns I have to imagine the joy of the game will return with it. Fans have been starved of it and players will have gone so long without competitive games.

I’m committing to embracing that joy and encourage others to so as well. I’m committing to maintaining respect for both the players and other fans even in my criticism. I’m committing to holding other fans accountable to this as well and if you feel I’ve crossed a line, call me on it as well.

Denver Nuggets fandom should be constructive, not destructive. We should be able to feel all the same emotions and even vent our frustrations without disrespecting anyone. We’ll be a better fan base because of it, and maybe just maybe the joy we bring to our fandom will spread to the team as well.