“I have a lot of history. I’ve been through a lot of stuff — good stuff, bad stuff — in this city and basically, I think of this city as my mom’s home,” Nene said, “Because I grew up here.”
Colorado will always be home for Nene, no matter where his professional basketball career takes him. He married a woman from Fort Collins and bought a dream home in the Denver suburbs in the summer of 2011 to put down roots. Until the Denver Nuggets traded him to the Wizards in March in a three-team deal that yielded JaVale McGee, Nene had always assumed that he would end his career with the Nuggets.
“When you play that long in one team, yes, you think you’re going to retire because I thought everything was okay, everything was fine,” Nene said. “But I understand this job. You’re not going to be there forever some place. Sometimes you think, but you don’t know your future.”
Passionate and spiritual, Nene knows that he will be overcome with emotion on Friday when he faces his former team for the first time, wearing No. 42 instead of the No. 31 that he wore while helping the Nuggets make eight straight playoff appearances, including the Western Conference finals in 2009. But he hopes that it will subside after the opening tip and he can settle into focusing on helping the Wizards (7-29) get their second road win of the season.
“Definitely going to be emotion. Play here almost 10 years. For sure,” said Nene, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in 91
2 years with the Nuggets. “I’m going to try to have fun, enjoy the game and play hard.”
Nene was understandably hurt when he got traded to Washington and compared the confusion and disappointment to when the New York Knicks traded him to Denver after taking him eighth overall in the 2002 NBA draft. Nene’s only recollection of Denver at the time was struggling through his workout with the team.
“I wasn’t excited. The altitude. I remember when I did the test, I couldn’t breathe, like, ‘How am I going to play over there?’ But God has plan. When he has plan for your life, things can change,” Nene said. “I was scared before, when I got traded. I didn’t know how I was going to be on another side. But I’m fine. The team has been taking care of me. Just need to win. We need to win. That’s the thing. We lost a lot of lot of games that we’re supposed to win, that’s the only frustration.”
Before joining the Wizards, Nene had only been a part of one other lottery team — his rookie year in Denver, as the Nuggets won just 17 games and earned the right to draft Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets (24-17) haven’t looked back since, even after the departure of Anthony — or Nene — but the 6-foot-11 big man believes better days ahead for Washington.