May 23, 2024

Paul George explains Nuggets' 'Mile High City' advantage

Paul George explains Nuggets
Associated Press/Jack Dempsey

The current Denver Nuggets logo features a snow-capped mountain and a pair of pickaxes. Denver's monicker is "Mile High City." The number 5280 is written right there on the court, right at the free throw line.

It's a declaration. It's a boast. It's a challenge. Can you play here? With us?

Denver is 5,280 feet, or exactly a mile high, above sea level. Readers take it for granted. There is an altitude difference and there is an altitude of a difference from say, Los Angeles.

But players like Los Angeles Clippers' Paul George and Houston Rockets' Jalen Green describe what it's like and how much more difficult it is as a visiting athlete to play in Colorado.

"Like bad, it's really bad," the Filipino-American Green said on George's show, Podcast P with Paul George, in a video posted on Tuesday.

"It's just that first five minutes. Once you get that first five minutes out of the way, it's good. But like that first five minutes is hell," he added.

"I'm not gonna lie, bro," George added, mimicking how they would gasp for air.

"Running back down the court, your lips are white," Green described.

"It's brutal," George noted. "It's an advantage, bro."

At 1.6 kilometers above sea level, the atmospheric pressure of Denver drops to 0.85 kilograms per square centimeter, according to the Smithsonian Institute.

This also means the amount of oxygen available to the lungs decreases from just over 3 psi at sea level to just over 2 psi, according to authors Kenneth Thomas and Harold McMann in their US Spacesuits book discussing elevation and pressure.

People in Denver have the need to breathe more deeply to get more oxygen in.

The theory is simple, as explained by World Athletics. Oxygen is inhaled and carried by red blood cells to help molecules in muscles perform their functions. The higher the altitude, the lower the atmospheric pressure, the harder for the body to transfer oxygen. In response, the brain triggers a hormone increase to help make more red blood cells to help better transport oxygen.

When the athlete returns to sea level, the increased level of red blood cells means their aerobic capacity will also be improved.

It's an advantage the Nuggets have welcomed, registering a 34-7 record at home this season, only second to the 35-6 Memphis Grizzlies.  

But George was quick to note, it's not the only thing that kept the Nuggets going this year as the Western Conference top seed, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers, and heading to their first-ever NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

For one, Serbian-born and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic has found himself with plenty of help in Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Bruce Brown, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

"I'm not gonna say it's the reason why they're good," George explained. "They're good because they're talented. But [Denver] has some advantage."

Will it be a factor in the NBA Finals? Whether the Nuggets face the Celtics, a team based in a shipping harbor, or the Heat, a squad staying in a place just two meters above sea level, acclimatization in Colorado is going to be a must.