Almost two years ago, ESPN ran a "Mount Rushmore" series asking fans within all 50 states to vote on who would be on the sports "Mount Rushmore" for their respective state. At the time, Colorado's "Mount Rushmore" was deemed to include John Elway, Goose Gossage, Joe Sakic and Todd Helton. My biggest issue was with the selection of Gossage, who was from Colorado but never played for a professional sports outfit in Colorado (in fact, ESPN's inconsistency of allowing natives of the states to be included made the entire project pretty stupid in the first place). I'd have replaced Gossage with Nuggets legend Alex English so that Colorado's four professional teams - the Broncos, Avalanche, Rockies and Nuggets - were equally represented.
Helton, a Hall of Fame player to be sure, may some day be replaced on Colorado's "Mount Rushmore" by the next greatest Rockie in Troy Tulowitzki. By signing a 10-year, $157.75 million contract last month, Tulo not only became the highest paid Rockie of all time but, according to Purple Row's Andrew Fisher, Tulo signed the eighth richest contract in Major League Baseball history. Entering his sixth season as a Rockie in 2011, the 26-year-old Tulo is already on pace to surpass Helton as the great Rockie ever and, should he find postseason success, has a shot of entering Elway territory as the most popular Colorado athlete ever.
Another 26-year-old star has the opportunity to join Tulo on Colorado's "Mount Rushmore" and get himself into Elway's hemisphere and that, of course, would be the Nuggets Carmelo Anthony. Long before the Rockies locked up Tulo with that generous 10-year contract extension, the Nuggets hoped that Melo would sign their three-year, $65 million extension offer (the most the Nuggets can offer Anthony according to the NBA's current collective bargaining rules). Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Melo doesn't appear to have any interest in cementing his legacy among the pantheon of Colorado sports legends. Alex English's spot on the state's "Mount Rushmore" might be safe, after all.
This is a shame.
As I wrote in my open letter to Anthony over the summer, Colorado is a terrific place for a professional athlete to be. There's a reason why Elway, Sakic, Alfred Williams, Dan Issel, Claudie Minor, Bill Hanzlik, Tom Graham, Scott Hastings, Karl Mecklenburg, Calvin Natt, Walter Davis and countless other current and former Broncos, Avalanche, Nuggets and Rockies - all of whom were imported from somewhere else - have made Colorado their permanent home. Even Nuggets head coach George Karl, a Colorado import himself, has stated that Denver is where he wants to be long term. Not only does Denver offer a bona fide urban setting on par with most great American cities, but Colorado is a terrific place to raise a family. Moreover, the sports media and the fans are fair and not particularly tough. What's not to love about playing pro ball in Colorado?
Convincing Melo on all of this, however, appears to be a tall order. Whether it's his wife's insistence on being in a bigger market, his own desire to move back east where he was raised, the influence of his "handlers" or all of the above, Melo is clearly reticent to make Denver his permanent home.
So instead of the Nuggets swinging a deal with the Newark (and yes, they will be Newark for two years) Nets for Melo and asking Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to persuade Melo to sign the contract extension there, perhaps the Nuggets should be reaching out to Elway and Tulo for an intervention with Melo.
Tulo himself already tried when he ran into Melo at a Denver restaurant the night before signing his extension with the Rockies. As reported by the Denver Post's Jim Armstrong at the time, Tulo said:
"If Carmelo re-signs with the Nuggets, tell him to send me the bills for all his dinners."
By re-signing with the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony could become the greatest Nugget of all time, supplanting English and possibly taking the Nuggets farther than they've ever gone in their NBA history. Melo could be doing all of this alongside Denver's other popular 26 year old sports star, Troy Tulowitzki. But thanks to Melo's (to date) refusal to remain in Denver beyond the 2010-11 NBA season, Tulo will have to take his place on Colorado's "Mount Rushmore" without Anthony by his side.
John Elway. Troy Tulowitzki. Joe Sakic. Carmelo Anthony. I'll put that "Mount Rushmore" up against any other state's "Mount Rushmore." More unfortunately for Colorado sports fans, it's probably never meant to be.