You thought you knew Doug Moe, but you didn’t. You will now, however, after seeing “Moe,” a beautifully-crafted documentary by Altitude Sports that weaves through the fascinating life of the winningest – and most colorful -- coach in Nuggets history.
“He’s bilingual,” former broadcaster Irv Brown quipped. “He spoke English and profanity very well.”
Emphasis on very well.
Moe was fun. This much, anyone who watched Nuggets basketball in the 1980s, was well aware of. And some of the lightest, most laugh-out-loud moments of the documentary come right where you knew they would – from the stories of his Nuggets teams. Moe yelling incessantly at Bill Hanzlik. Moe yelling incessantly at Kiki Vandeweghe. Moe laughing about how fiercely he jumped on both players during games.
And then there were moments most probably forgot or never knew, like the time Moe told his team to stop playing defense in a game against Portland. Literally telling them to stop, since they weren’t playing any defense that game anyway, he reasoned.
Moe was an offensive genius. He emphasized running and passing 30 years before the style took over as the main way basketball is played across the globe. There are many players in the documentary that laughed, or smiled, while insisting Moe “didn’t care” about defense. But the majority of tales told about Moe’s eruptions during games had everything to do with his irritation that effort on defense and on the glass wasn’t up to par.
And, for anyone who thought teaching a fast-breaking style was easy? Some of the game’s greatest coaches – San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, former Lakers coach Pat Riley and former Denver and college coach Larry Brown are there to let you know it’s not.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Popovich said. “And it works.”
“Doug was one of the great coaches in the history of the NBA,” Riley said.
Moe coached the Nuggets from 1980-1991, taking over for fired friend Donnie Walsh, and finishing as the all-time franchise leader in coaching victories with 432. His teams went to the playoffs in every one of his nine full seasons at the helm. They won at least 50 games twice, reached the Western Conference Finals in 1985, and Moe was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1988.
Moe was a personality-forward person. It shone brightly in everything from games to interviews to his day-to-day dealings with everyone he touched. “Moe” keeps that thread throughout the movie, and relationships with Larry Brown, the late Nuggets trainer, Chopper Travaglini, and Hanzlik are flashpoints.
But the biggest, best and most touching relationship that runs almost from start to finish is of that between Doug and his wife, Jane. They laugh through the story of how Moe proposed to her. They jab at each other. They share an emotional moment when recounting the day the Nuggets announced Moe was being let go from the organization. In a light-hearted moment, Moe discussed retirement and how some of his friends kept working because, while they loved their wives, they “didn’t like them.”
But there is like and love and respect and reverence between Doug and Jane. They were the runaway hit of documentary and are, by themselves, worth watching. There is a lifetime of ups and downs and support and memories, and they navigate through all of them with the grace and style so many have come to associate with them over the years.
Whether you lived through the Moe years or not. Whether you are a Nuggets fan or just a fan of basketball and fun, intriguing individuals, “Moe” is a must-watch. It premieres on Sunday, March 11 on Altitude Sports.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter