Back in 2001, a grownup person – like a real, human, grownup person – thought it’d be a good idea to dress up three professional basketball players as chefs in order to sell cookbooks. Shortly after, this same grownup person convinced other grown people to turn his dream into a reality. The result: the greatest cookbook of our generation, “Denver Nuggets: Cooking with Altitude,” a culinary masterpiece that would go on to sell more than 18 copies in the Rocky Mountain area.
Thirteen years later, the book is more popular than ever, which is to say that it’s still not that popular… which is sad. But it’s time for this collector’s item to get its due! So for this The700Level exclusive, I got the scoop firsthand from the people who took part in this groundbreaking project. What was it like on set? Who invited Raef LaFrentz? And why did all proceeds go to the Denver Nuggets Wives Organization? Seriously, why would they need any money? They are literally all married to millionaires. All of them. Will someone please explain this to me? I can’t imagine this fundraiser helped at all. Whatever, let’s get on with it.
Merv Darvison, Creator of the Cookbook: The idea first came to me in Vegas. I was watching a hooker eat a sandwich and thought, “Hmmm, that would make for a great calendar.” Then this drunk guy turned to me and said, “What if instead of a calendar it was a cookbook and instead of hookers it was the Denver Nuggets?” and I was like yeah that’s a much better idea let’s go with that.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: When Merv first told us about the project, we were all like, “CORKBOOK? WHO THE HELL IS GONNA READ A CORKBOOK?” and then he explained that no, it was actually a cookbook, and we thought that idea was kinda lame too, but whatever he seemed to really be excited about it so we made it happen.
Merv Darvison, Creator: After Mr. Kroenke gave me the go-ahead, the first step was finding the right photographer. Luckily, I knew a guy who had a camera. A Nikon, I think.
Sally Slorkin, HR Manager: He died. The guy who had the camera died. In a horrible, disgusting accident. So we had to find a different guy.
Merv Darvison, Creator: The second guy we found also had a camera, and he was alive. So that was a plus.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: I have been on hundreds of photo shoots over the years – maybe even thousands – and to this day I have never, EVER, met anyone happier to get his picture taken than Antonio McDyess.
Nick Van Exel: Mannnn, Dice was lovin’ that shoot. He was truly enjoying hisself. Kept askin’ me to pass him the salt. Like over and over again. “Pass the salt, Quick! Pass the salt!” and then he’d take the salt and slam dunk it in the trashcan. He broke like nine saltshakers.
Merv Darvison, Creator: The ones he didn’t break we had to fish out of the garbage. It was disgusting.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: Antonio was literally having more fun than anyone has ever had doing anything. All he wanted was for Nick Van Exel to hook him up with a no-look saltshaker pass. When Nick finally passed it to him, he hit a lady right in the eye.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: That lady was Raef LaFrentz.
Nick Van Exel: He was a nice lady.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: Raef ended up being fine. The makeup girl – cute little Colombian number – had to put a little touch up on him to cover up the bruise, but it all worked out. I later had sex with her because I am a billionaire.
Antonio McDyess: That day was so fun! We got to wear hats, and use tongs, and have you ever used tongs?! They help you clamp stuff!
Raef LaFrentz: Antonio was clamping everything. All day long, just clamping and clamping and clamping. And he kept asking people if they wanted spaghetti. “Who wants spaghetti? Who wants spaghetti?” he would ask. There wasn’t even any spaghetti on set. Those chafing dishes were empty. Completely empty. He must’ve asked me 15 times if we could order spaghetti. Can you even order spaghetti?
Antonio McDyess: I order spaghetti!
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: He ordered spaghetti.
Nick Van Exel: Mannnn, Dice got like 15 orders of spaghetti. I didn’t even know you could order spaghetti. I ate a lot of spaghetti that day, though. A lot of spaghetti.
Despite the fact that he ate a lot of spaghetti, Nick Van Exel proved to be quite difficult on set (just like he did at many of his six NBA stops). Van Exel balked at the 11am shoot time (claiming he never got out of bed before 4), had little interest in wearing a hat, and seemed to have absolutely no idea how to hold a knife.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: I figured we’d put Nick in the middle, because you know, point guard. Plus we felt like it would balance out the shot as far as their heights were concerned. Then we gave him a loaf of bread and a knife, but what happened after that was a total disaster.
Chef Luigi Meecholini, Consultant: Nick refused to use his (natural) left hand when cutting that bread. REFUSED. He kept saying over and over, “Nah yo, that’s my money-maker. That’s my three-banger. That’s my chimmy-chang-chang-changger.” No one had any idea what he was talking about. Not a clue. We ended up allowing him to hold the knife with his right hand, but he just kinda limply held it with his index finger on top, Terry Bradshaw-style. He wouldn’t even hold the bread down for leverage. The bread fell off the table like nine times.
For anyone who didn’t get what “Terry Bradshaw-style” was.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: We weren’t even going to have a table at first. Just the three guys, standing there smiling, with their chefs hats on. But Antonio started popping off ideas left and right. “We should be cooking stuff! And serving it in chafing dishes.” I don’t even know where the chafing dishes came from. I think he mighta brought them.
Chef Luigi Meecholini, Consultant: You gotta hand it to, McDyess. He was totally committed to this proj. It’s a shame his knee literally blew out of his leg like twelve times.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: Next thing you know, Antonio’s setting up a whole buffet station. You can’t see it in the pic, but that table extends another 15 or so feet. And I’ve never seen anything like that tablecloth.
Nick, Intern: Ugh, that tablecloth.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: Don’t get me started on that tablecloth.
Merv Darvison, Creator: So we’re setting up the table, because we figure, “Hey, Dice has a table, let’s use it,” but it just wasn’t working out. The table was old, and a little rickety and stained, and then all of a sudden Dice yells out, “I GOT SOMETHIN!” and he runs out to his truck and brings back this tablecloth. Literally, the ugliest tablecloth you’ve ever seen in your life. I don’t even think it was a tablecloth. Do you want me to talk more about tablecloths?
Nick, Intern: After the final shot was set up, I realized that no one was actually cooking. They were just standing around, serving. So I suggested we call the book, “Serving with Altitude.” That’s when Stan slapped me across the face.
Chef Luigi Meecholini, Consultant: Honestly, how hard is it just to cut a piece of bread. Is it really that hard?
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: I think Van Exel might’ve had sex with the makeup girl, too. I traded him the next year.
Throughout the years, controversy surrounded the decision to include Raef LaFrentz on the cover. Some felt his French-sounding name would help to sell books. Others thought his boyish looks would go over big with the growing gay population in the Mile High area. Most argued there were better, more popular players on the Nuggets roster that should’ve been featured, like Robert Pack and Keon Clark. Either way, LaFrentz’s inclusion raised a lot of eyebrows.
Nick Van Exel: Mannnn, Packman was real pissed he wasn’t on the cover. For one, he was probably the most popular player the Nuggs ever had. Have you seen that YouTube vid of him ramming on everyone? This is literally the only reason I included this paragraph in the article, to embed this video. This is not Nick Van Exel talking now. This is The Evster. He literally dunks on everyone, including Shawn Bradley. He also elbows a European dude in the face. Robert Pack might’ve been a lunatic.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: We thought about puttin’ Rob on the cover. But Keon Clark was never an option. That man was an idiot.
Merv Darvison, Creator: Keon was actually our backup. I called him the night before and told him to be there by 10am. He literally had no idea what I was saying to him.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: I think it’s pretty clear why we chose Raef.
Nick Van Exel: Mannnnn, y’all know the reason Raef was picked.
Raef LaFrentz: I dunno. I try not to think about race when it comes to basketball. I think I was a pretty good player, and a good guy, and deserved to be part of that epic trio.
Antonio McDyess: Ralph was my teammate!
Merv Darvison, Creator: You know looking back, it’s hard to believe that was 16 years ago. And when I think back more, I realize it’s only been 13 years, because I’m terrible at math.
Carl Grorvdale, Photographer: I sort of feel like a calendar filled with hookers eating sandwiches would be amazing.
Stan Kroenke, Nuggets Owner: Let’s make it happen.