Almost every Coloradan is a basketball fan these days. Even me.
I mean, how can anyone resist the incredible feats of Nikola Jokic — nailing three-pointers, snagging rebounds, firing passes, and always sharing the spotlight with his teammates. It’s beautiful.
So, it’s not surprising that total strangers are bonding and high-fiving in sports bars all around the state as the games get more exciting and inch closer to the coveted championship. (Go Nuggets!)
That’s how it started for my friend, who stopped in at Maverick’s Grille in Granby one recent night to watch the Nuggets play the Lakers.
It all seemed fine … until it wasn’t.
My friend (he asked me to withhold his name because he’d rather not have his face rearranged) was sitting at the bar drinking a beer, content to watch the game by himself, when two guys twice his size arrived and sat near him. They were chatty and friendly. They loved Jokic and thought LeBron James was just a big baby.
The game continued and the burly dudes bought my friend a beer. It was all good fun.
After a bit, my friend decided it was time to leave and went out to start his car, a Tesla, with his mobile phone app. Only then did he realize his phone battery was dead.
He returned to the bar and asked if anyone had a cable so he could charge his phone enough to start his car.
Suddenly he was no longer a mild-mannered guy, minding his own business in a sports bar. He was a Tesla owner.
The guys’ demeanors instantly went from calm and easy-going to boiling rage and they proceeded to bury my friend under a mountain of perceived grievances.
I bet you voted for Obama and Biden, they said.
He knows now that he should probably have just lied, but he admitted, yeah, he did.
How could you? they said. They’re trying to destroy the Constitution.
He responded that, actually, things were getting quite a bit better, with unemployment at historic low levels and the economy doing well.
He might as well have thrown a grenade right there in the middle of Maverick’s. Still, despite all the yelling, he tried to stay cool and hold his own.
I bet you’re against drilling for oil, the guys said.
Not in all cases was his reply.
The topic of guns also was high on the list. The guys said they had just been skeet-shooting and had their guns in the car. They asked my friend if he was against guns.
He told them of growing up in a house where a gun case was in the living room, and he routinely went hunting with his dad.
Not good enough.
They wanted to know if he owned a gun now, if he had one in his car, if he had served in the military, if he loved his country, if he was trying to destroy the Constitution.
My friend was trying to edge away from the conversation and the bartender was urging the burly guys to calm down, but there was no stopping the deluge of verbal abuse.
Go back to where you came from, they told him, which felt a little weird since he grew up in rural Iowa — hardly known for producing revolutionaries.
The guys never grabbed him, but my friend said their language was increasingly violent, especially when he told them he did not serve in the military. He was extremely uncomfortable. He said he felt threatened and unable to defuse the situation.
The yelling and berating continued.
Finally, he grabbed his phone and fled the bar, happy to have the Tesla, with its ludicrous, legendary torque, to blast him down the road quickly before the burly guys could catch him.
Maybe it was because he’d said he was a lawyer. Maybe it was that he’d expressed admiration for LeBron James. Clearly, it had something to do with the Tesla.
But my friend said there was nothing stopping the burly guys once they got going.
He told me he’s tried stepping into that mindset to understand what was going on in that mostly empty bar that night.
Our culture creates a hierarchy and people without a college education often feel they’re looked down on, he said.
Then, political opportunists fuel that resentment with cynical impunity. The positions harden. Hostilities remain barely beneath the surface, combustible, waiting for the slightest hint of a spark to ignite a raging conflict.
It happened right before his eyes. A relaxing evening in a sports bar turned into a nightmare.
Still, my friend won’t let the experience spoil his joy in the Nuggets’ success. He’ll keep watching, though in the future he might pick a less dangerous venue for enjoying the game.
Downtown Denver comes to mind.
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