Numbers all added up for popular Nuggets icon Doug Moe
He would take two random six-figure digits – say 269,457 and 381,623 – and multiply them in his head as a mental exercise. Basketball’s version of John Nash, if you will.
When longtime friend and newly named Denver Nuggets coach George Karl asked Moe to sit on the bench as his assistant in February 2005, he started doing the math.
“There were 28 or 29 games left,” Moe said during a recent visit to Denver. “I counted them a thousand times. I told (my wife) Jane that it wouldn’t kill me for 28 or 29 games. That’s how I ended up back on the bench.”
Moe, whose 432 career wins are the most in Nuggets history, was serving as a consultant for the team when Karl tracked him down in the media dining room in Charlotte, N.C., and asked him to come on board as an assistant. The plan was to stay on the bench for the remainder of the season and help make Karl’s transition smoother after his midseason hiring on Jan. 27, 2005.
“We weren’t going to put any serious demands on him other than being a communicator and a guy hanging around helping me understand what goes on in the Denver organization,” Karl said. “That’s what he does well. Doug is not an X-and-O guy. Doug’s more of a motivator and a communicator and loves the game and has a passion for the game.”
Whether real or imagined, the Moe Effect was unmistakable. The Nuggets were four games under .500 when he moved to the bench, but they went 25-4 after the All-Star break to secure the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
“That run was pretty incredible stuff,” Karl said. “One of the best decisions I made was convincing Doug to come back because he kind of unified the staff and the organization. Everybody kind of came together because Doug was part of the crew. We always had our fraternity of being North Carolina guys and he’s kind of been my mean big brother for many years, but it grew into even a better friendship in the next couple years after that.”
What started as a 29-game plan evolved into nearly 300 regular-season and playoff games. Moe returned to his consultant role after the 2007-08 season and has been enjoying full-fledged retirement since 2009.
Approaching his 73rd birthday (Sept. 21), Moe and Jane celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this summer. They travel, go to the movies and spend time with their grandchildren at their home in San Antonio. Moe also has plenty of free time to manage his fantasy baseball and football teams.
“I have to say I’ve been very fortunate in life,” Moe said. “Life’s always been good for me. I can’t really say which is better because I enjoyed what I was doing when I was doing it. I’m enjoying what I’m doing now and I couldn’t envision coaching. I’ve been lucky.”
Luck only gets you so far in the NBA. You don’t fall into 628 wins, 12 playoff appearances and a Coach of the Year award by accident.
After serving as an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown during Denver’s ABA years, Moe ushered the San Antonio Spurs into the NBA with a successful four-year stint as head coach from 1976-80. He then returned to Denver to help restore glory to the Nuggets.
Playing an uptempo style that became Moe’s signature for winning games at altitude, the Nuggets made nine playoff appearances over the next 10 seasons and his win total of 432 hangs in the Pepsi Center rafters.
“I was fortunate that I had players that I liked,” Moe said. “There were all types of personalities, but for the most part I liked my players, so it was enjoyable.”
Moe’s only lament was his verbal treatment of his players during games. Friendly and engaging off the court, he often turned into a screaming madman after the opening tip. All-Star forward Kiki Vandeweghe and hard-working reserve Bill Hanzlik were among his most frequent targets.
“I was irrational on the bench,” Moe said. “I’m pretty sure I never yelled at a player during practice. Then the game would start, and I’d basically lose it.”
Whether the Nuggets won or lost, Moe remembers feeling pangs of guilt while driving home with Jane after games.
“I yelled at guys who were my friends – guys I would never yell at any other time other than during the 48 minutes of a game,” Moe said. “It always bothered me when I realized that I had been yelling and screaming. I genuinely liked the guys.”
Based on his popularity among former players, his coaching colleagues and longtime Nuggets fans, there are no hard feelings. Moe received an outpouring of support after he had a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery in 2004. He also had surgery for prostate cancer in 2005 but is feeling strong and healthy in retirement.
“As far as I know my health is good, but I don’t like to know too much,” he said. “I had my big heart test a month or two ago. The doctor said, it’s the same as two years ago. It hasn’t changed. I don’t want to ask too many questions. He said everything’s doing good.”
In other words, no need for Moe to crunch the numbers.