Denver Nuggets head coach Michael (not Mike) Malone has taken quite a road to get to where he is today as the fifth-longest tenured NBA coach in the league, guiding the 2021-2022 Nuggets through their the trials and tribulations.
He started out as an unpaid NCAA Division II assistant, supplementing that volunteer work with a gig at Foot Locker. He’s paid his dues, and he’s now reaping his rewards in the form of three playoff series victories and a .641 winning percentage in the regular season over the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 campaigns.
Malone’s winning ways have not quite brightened the Queens native’s disposition. But they have, however, made him a lot more passionate, especially since his team started having success following their discovery of the biggest diamond in the rough ever in seven-foot, 285-pound Nikola Jokic. (Seriously, how did anyone miss him?)
Malone was ejected just once during his first three seasons as Nuggets head coach when the team was winning a lot less games. That lone outburst was arguably his most hilarious, however. In a game against the Lakers back in 2017, Jokic was pushed from behind after a missed layup.
As L.A. ran the ball up the floor on the fast break, Malone could be seen charging onto the court to confront the referee about the call. He was up in his face spewing all sorts of stuff and in the process brushed up against the official, which is a big no-no and resulted in a suspension. It was that fiery passion we’ve come to expect in recent years bubbling up for just a second… or maybe a few:
Now, with the Nuggets a bonafide contender in the West (not counting this season’s injury-plagued team), Denver’s leader on the bench has been told to kick rocks once in each of the past three campaigns (all of which ended with at least a playoff series win).
Michael Malone seems to believe that his team has more of a right to get tight calls now that they’re a force to be reckoned with, a notion that is far from unreasonable considering the league’s spotty officiating history.
Malone can be a funny lad though, like when he said he’d petitioned the league to start their 2020 Western Conference Final against the Lakers down 3-1 after having won their past two series following such a deficit. His deadpan sense of humor makes him one of the funniest coaches in the league without seemingly even trying.
But without a doubt, referees have become familiar with Mount Evans’ volcanic uncle, Mount Malone, who has been known to erupt once a season, though no one can predict when during the season that will be.
So, with the current undermanned Nuggets floundering, why don’t we lift our spirits by having a look and a laugh at Malone’s overly passionate antics during the trio of follies he’s had over the past three seasons. Hope you’re not mad at me, Michael.
Denver Nuggets 24 Jan. 2020: Michael Malone picks up the tech from across the court
Funnily enough, the Nuggets won two of the three games where Michael Malone was ejected since 2020, including back on 24 Jan. of that year, in a different, pre-COVID time that almost seems foreign now…
But I digress, the Nuggets were battling the New Orleans Pelicans in Lousiana and when Brandon Ingram got a soft foul call, Malone let his feelings on the matter be known to the closest official, who promptly responded with a T. After Ingram hit the first free throw, Malone started jawing to the official on the other side of the court, who joined the party and gave him a T too, resulting in a boot for our boy Malone.
Of course, in classic Malone fashion, he did not go quietly into the night (1:04) and neither did the Nuggets, who won the game 113-106:
Denver Nuggets 7 Apr. 2021: Michael Malone explodes after a no call
Despite being stuck in the bubble for nearly three months later that season, Malone never lost his cool in Orlando. It was over 14 months before Mount Malone erupted again, and boy, was something bubbling under the surface.
After Jokic didn’t get a clear foul on the offensive end (classic) in the first half, Malone walked onto the floor with a face as red as lava and exploded way on the other side of the court. He took his ejection like a true man, though: he picked up the game ball as he was being escorted off.
For a second Malone was thinking, “if I can’t play, nobody can, I’m taking my ball”. But he thought better of it, left the Spalding on the court, and the Big Honey and company got the job done anyway, earning a 106-96 win over the Spurs.
Denver Nuggets 18 Nov. 2021: Nikola Jokic has to restrain Michael Malone
The eventful 2021 calendar year for the Nuggets actually saw Malone get ejected twice. Mount Malone’s most recent eruption happened this past November, in a game the Nuggets were struggling to stay in and ultimately lost 103-89.
Midway through the third quarter, Jokic found Will Barton in the paint for an easy turnaround layup—except the refs did one of their favorite things and called the foul on the floor, negating the possibility of a three-point play with the Nuggets down 70-61.
The call was definitely not one of Malone’s favorite things, because he was irate with it, made his feelings known as only Malone can, and got tossed amid his barking. Malone, as he does, required several men to successfully shepherd him off the court, one of which was the seven-foot Jokic, who was able to stop Malone’s body in the scrum but certainly not his mouth.
As a little added bonus for us, we’re going to throw it back to another coach ejection that happened in a Nuggets game back in 2019 against the Spurs, but it wasn’t Malone getting the boot, it was the legend Gregg Popovich. And, as legends do, Popovich set a record in the process: fastest ejection in NBA history, picking up a pair of technicals just 63 seconds into the game. Now that’s what I call efficiency.
After the game, which Denver won 113-85, Malone was doing his postgame press conference when who else but Pop comes in to crash his colleague’s interview to bring some light comedy and congratulations.
Will Mount Malone break pattern and erupt twice in a season? With the players dropping like flies and neither the calls or the results going their way, I for one, would not be surprised. Sometimes you gotta let off some steam, you know?