This photo was taken in the instant just before the incident of the falling gold.
After Nuggets big man Chris Andersen hobbled to the locker room with a bad ankle halfway through the fourth quarter of Denver's win over Portland, the biggest question in the arena was: Will he be OK?
Now that we know X-rays were negative, we can turn to the second-biggest mystery of that moment: What was that little gold thing?
Before he went to the locker room, Andersen lay on the court in pain, surrounded by concerned onlookers. In the midst of his writhing, the TV camera plainly caught a small gold item tumbling from somewhere above, as if it had been dislodged from the breast pocket of a trainer leaning over. The mysterious nugget bounced off the injured Nugget's chest and -- bulls eye! -- into his mouth. Somebody off-camera (as TV viewers, our view was of Andersen on the floor, and everyone else from knee-down) saw it and said -- audible on the broadcast -- oh "s---!"
Eyes clenched in agony, and surely wondering what kind of treatment this was, Andersen had the presence of mind to turn his head and spit the little gold chunk to the hardwood and off camera for good.
You can see the whole mysterious episode here. Consider yourself warned about that one colorful word in the audio.
Anyone's knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that a small gold thing on the loose would have to be a ring. It was about the right size, and it looked like a ring in real time. For another: What the hell else could it have been? What other small, round, gold things are part of our daily lives? It's a ring, you see -- or it's something really hard to explain.
An immediate frame-by-frame review of the video, however, revealed that it simply could not be a ring -- not one that would accommodate a finger anyway. As it danced on Andersen's lip, before he could coordinate the spit, at super slow speed this thing was blatantly solid.
It's a gold coin, token or medallion, perhaps.
As a side note, I have been guilty of having a Twitter account that I did not take seriously. It had automated links to TrueHoop posts, but very few actual, you know, Tweets. I made a pledge recently to become a more serious Tweeter, and if ever there was a topic built for Twitter, this thing was gold. I tweeted about it mid-game and instantly there was speculation. Many clung to the ring theory, with its comfortable sense of reality. A Chuck E. Cheese token? Some kind of jewelry medallion?
So what was it? In the photo above, that's head athletic trainer Jim Gillen wearing the vest. On TV, his arrival at Andersen's side seems to time up nicely with the falling gold. Every conceivable theory is far-fetched:
Just as Mikhail Prokhorov invests in gold, as a hedge against the dollar, so may have some Denver player. On some teams, trainers (often the team employee most trusted by the players) hold on to this or that valuables while they're on the court. This is far-fetched, but so is whatever really happened, you know?
In the photo -- what's that round goldish thing on the breast of Gillen's vest? Could it have been that?
There are some parking lots in this world that require a token to exit.
Perhaps Gillen is a skee-ball addict, who travels ready to get a quick fix at any Chuck E. Cheese he may pass.
UPDATE: A strong suggestion that it may have been a Sacagawea dollar.
I'm trying to get to the bottom of all this, and will report back.