When Carmelo Anthony - the Denver Nuggets star player and Denver sports' biggest star since Joe Sakic arrived on the scene in the mid-1990s - publicly declined to accept the Nuggets $65 million contract extension over a week ago (he has until June 30th, 2011 to sign it if he wants), the sports media world was abuzz comparing Denver to Cleveland, another mid-market city whose own superstar had bolted for a flashier locale just a few months ago.
Missing in all this hullabaloo is that Denver is not Cleveland. And rather than be a stepping stone city for today's modern sports stars, Denver should be considered by today's top athletes as a final destination just as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Miami often are.
It's tough to write a pro-Denver column comparing "The Mile High City" to "The Mistake on the Lake" without coming across as overwhelmingly anti-Cleveland. I suspect unlike most Colorado residents, I've actually spent some time in Cleveland and believe it's a fine city with good people and much to offer. Additionally, Cleveland as a city has taken it's unfair share of lumps all summer long, beginning with LeBron James's unconscionable "The Decision" in early July.
The Nuggets' Anthony is now facing a "Decision" of his own: sign the Nuggets' $65 million contract extension (which is really an $83.5 million extension if you factor in the final year of his current deal that he risks forgoing if he doesn't stay) or pack up his basketball and sneakers and play elsewhere, presumably in a city of his better liking than ours just east of the Rocky Mountains. And while I, as a fourth-generation Denverite, am obviously a little biased, I just don't see why Anthony wouldn't want to finish out his career here.
For starters, unlike Cleveland and several other cities in the NBA, Denver is a growth market. While the Cleveland metropolitan area has shrunk in population by almost 3 percent since the year 2000, Denver has grown by over 17 percent. Comparatively, Miami has grown by almost 11 percent, New York and Los Angeles by 4 percent and Chicago by about 5 percent.
There are a number of reasons why Denver is a happenin' place to be. Its 300 days of sunshine are more than that of San Diego or Miami (and certainly more than gloomy Cleveland, New York or Chicago and smog-filled Houston). Moreover, Denver's 200 parks rank it among the most of any major US city and Denver is considered to have one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in the US, as well, rivaled only by New York.
In regards to population, Denver is the highest-educated city in America, with most residents having a high school diploma and a college degree (this may not matter much to athletes who play just a year or two of college ball, but it should matter to their families). Denver is also routinely regarded as America's "thinnest city" and was voted by Forbes magazine as America's best city to be single in as recently as 2005 (now this I know matters to pro athletes). Rust belt cities like Cleveland simply cannot compete with data like this. Sorry, folks.
As far as sports are concerned, I'll proudly put the quality of Denver's professional sports organizations as one portfolio up against any other city's. The Broncos' six Super Bowl appearances ties them for the third most in NFL history. In just 17 years of Major League Baseball, the Colorado Rockies have a World Series appearance and three total postseason appearances to show for themselves ... in addition to one of the best downtown stadiums in all of baseball. The Avalanche have won two Stanley Cup Championships in addition to racking up a number of division titles. And even the Nuggets, the NBA's laughingstock from 1990 through 2003, are one of just three NBA teams to have appeared in every postseason for the past seven years. Granted, Denver teams have been front-runners lately, but each of Denver's four professional outfits are backed by passionate owners and general managers (at least the Nuggets will be in a week or so when they hire their next GM) who play to win and not just play for profit.
This hasn't gone unnoticed among Denver's athletes, either. The legendary John Elway, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, has decided to make Denver his permanent home, as have countless other former Broncos and Nuggets, and soon-to-be former Rockies and Avalanche stars.
Elway will forever be revered in Denver. As will Sakic. And Shannon Sharpe. And Chauncey Billups. And Terrell Davis. And Alex English. And Floyd Little. And Todd Helton. And Steve Atwater. And David Thompson. And Randy Gradishar. And Larry Walker. And Fat Lever. The list is endless and if they don't still live here, they certainly love coming back.
Beyond James, Cleveland has ... who? Bernie Kosar? Bob Feller? Jim Brown?
Again, I feel awful for the great sports fans of Cleveland who seem doomed to failure thanks to athletes who bail on them and sports franchises that are often in disarray. Combined with crappy weather, negative population growth and a nasty recession, Cleveland finds itself in a heartbreaking situation.
But that's not Denver's problem.
So if Carmelo Anthony does leave Denver for supposed greener pastures elsewhere, can we please refrain from comparing Denver to Cleveland? Denver is a great place to play, live and raise a family. And if Carmelo Anthony or any other Denver free-agent-to-be athlete doesn't realize it, maybe they're not deserving of our dollars and adoration in the first place.