Hop aboard the Denver Nuggets Bandwagon!

In 1976, the Denver Nuggets of the American Basketball Association were one of only four ABA teams admitted into the National Basketball Association.   In the 47 years since their admission into the NBA, the Denver Nuggets have been seen but not heard from.  Prior to this season, the Nuggets had never advanced into the Western Division Finals or, of course, won an NBA title.

That is all about to change very soon!

At the time of this post, the Denver Nuggets are leading the Los Angeles Lakers 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference final series.  After taking Game 3 in LaLaLand on Saturday night, Denver is on the verge of finally breaking through and making history in the next week.

If you like to root for the underdog teams as much as I do, please join me as we now jump aboard the Denver Nuggets bandwagon!

Denver’s professional basketball franchise was one of the original members of the American Basketball Association.  A businessman from California named James Trindle paid $350,000 ($3.2 million in 2023) for the franchise rights in 1967.  Though the Nuggets have been sold several times, Denver’s pro basketball team is worth about $2.15 billion today.

In 1967, the Denver ABA team initially chose the nickname Rockets.  Though the city of Denver was not considered a hub of rocketry or space exploration, the owner said that he simply liked the name.

By the mid-1970’s, both the ABA and NBA were on shaky financial ground.  At the time, both pro basketball leagues were plagued by faltering attendance and numerous drug-related issues among its players.

Unlike most of the ABA teams, Denver was a relatively stable franchise with solid home attendance.  However, the initial owner was (rightfully) fearful that the ABA would not survive.  He sold the majority interest in the team to a new owner who firmly believed the NBA would add Denver to the league at some point in the coming years.

In 1973, the team held a public vote to determine a new nickname.  Since the NBA already had a team with the Rockets nickname in Houston, Denver wanted its own unique team identity.

The Denver Nuggets were born in 1974.

The team hired a new young head coach in former ABA player, Larry Brown.  Coach Brown instituted a fast-break style of offense which engaged more fans.  With the opening of the city’s new 17,000 seat McNichols Arena, the Nuggets averaged more than 13,000 fans per game.  That was the fourth highest attendance in either the NBA or ABA at the time.

The Nuggets signed North Carolina State All-American guard David Thompson in 1975.  If you remember Dr. J (Julius Erving) with the ABA’s red-white-and blue basketball in his hands, David “Skywalker” Thompson played the game in a similar high-flying offensive style.

Unfortunately, David Thompson fell prey to drug issues (cocaine) after a few years in pro basketball.  Though he would later admit to having made a big personal mistake, the 6’4” Thompson’s play helped boost the Denver Nuggets on the court and with local attendance.

Perhaps the most famous Denver Nuggets player in franchise history was 6’9” forward Dan Issel.  A former University of Kentucky All-American, Issel scored more than 33 points per game in college.  He became an ABA legend with the Kentucky Colonels as he led them to an ABA championship in 1975.  The following year, he was traded to Denver for one final ABA year prior to the Nuggets being admitted into the NBA in 1976.

Dan Issel would continue playing for the Denver Nuggets through 1985.  At the time Issel retired, he was the fourth leading scorer in the history of pro basketball.  He entered the basketball Hall-of-Fame in 1993.

The 1980’s version of the Denver Nuggets was led by another future Hall-of-Famer named Alex English.  Coming out of the University of South Carolina, the 6’7” English was a scoring machine.  He averaged more than 23 points per game for ten straight NBA seasons in Denver.  He went virtually unnoticed by many NBA fans, though.

Alex English played during the period dominated by the championship teams of Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Larry Bird of the Celtics.  Alex English finished his NBA career in 1991 with nearly 26,000 points scored on teams which rarely made it past the first round of the playoffs.

During the 1990’s, Denver’s entertaining 7’2” center Dikembe Motumbo became the NBA’s second leading shot blocker of all time (behind Hakeem Olajuwon).

An eight-time NBA All-Star and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Motumbo’s trademarked finger wagging after blocking a shot made him a national fan favorite.

The Denver Nuggets developed a great fan base with decades of sell-out crowds and exciting teams.  Unfortunately, none of those Hall-of-Famers were able to lead the Denver Nuggets into the NBA Western Division championship round.

Until this year.

The 2023 Denver Nuggets are soaring in the Rockies’ mile high altitude.  The Nuggets currently sport a 3-0 series lead over LeBron James and his hand-chosen Los Angeles Lakers coach and teammates.  Once the Lakers are eliminated, the Nuggets and the city of Denver will finally get a chance to experience their first-ever NBA Finals appearance.

Unlike Denver Nuggets teams in the past, this year’s squad is filled with talent, depth, and role players capable of carrying the team on any given night.  After finishing with the NBA Western division’s best regular season record (53-29), the 2023 playoff Nuggets are currently 11-3 entering Monday night’s Game 4 in Los Angeles.  The second highest scoring team in the NBA this year at 117 points per game, this team has been on a season-long roll.

Let’s now meet the history-making Denver Nuggets!

Starting at center, the 6’11” Nikola Jokic has already accumulated two NBA MVP awards.

This year, he averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists per game.  Jokic’s game resembles a taller version of Larry Bird.  He has an uncanny ability to pass the ball to the open man or get his shots away under significant defensive pressure.  Nikola Jokic plays “old school” basketball with his unique ability to score from the three point line, off the dribble, and with a wicked assortment of shots he makes around the basket.

At guard, Denver’s other All-Star is Jamal Murray.  The 6’4” former University of Kentucky guard averages 20 points per game.  He is a very streaky shooter who can create shots for himself off the dribble or with his smooth outside shot.   Murray scored 30 points in just the first half of a recent playoff game against the Lakers.

The other starting guard for the Denver Nuggets is another former Kentucky Wildcats player.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is now in his tenth year in the NBA.  The 6’5” guard averages 11 points per game and is quite effective when driving the basketball to the hoop.

Denver’s two forwards each average about 17 points and six rebounds per game.  Both 6’10” Michael Porter, Jr. and 6’8” Aaron Gordon are frequently targeted for passes from their talented man in the middle, Nikola Jokic.

Coming off Denver’s bench is one of the most exciting players in this year’s NBA playoffs.  Guard Bruce Brown is like a jolt of electricity after he enters the game for the Nuggets.  Averaging 11 points nightly during the regular season, the 6’4” Brown is scoring nearly 15 per game in the NBA playoffs.  A former second round pick, Bruce Brown’s hustle on offense and defense usually revs the high-scoring Nuggets into another gear.

The architect of the Denver Nuggets game plans is head coach Michael Malone.  Like so many NBA coaches, Malone worked his way up the coaching ladder for a dozen seasons.  He was an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets, and Golden State Warriors.

In 2012, the NBA General Managers named Michael Malone as the league’s best assistant coach while he was a part of the Golden State Warriors’ championship team.

Denver hired Malone to become their head coach in 2015.  Now in his eighth season with the Nuggets, his teams have made the NBA playoffs five years in a row.

Within a matter of days, the Denver Nuggets will play the Miami Heat (also up by a 3 games to none margin over the slumping Boston Celtics) in this year’s NBA Finals.  In 149 previous NBA playoff series, no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit.

Sure, ABC sales executives are likely crying over the loss of two nationally recognized teams like the Lakers and Celtics playing in another championship match-up.  However, America will soon have a chance to watch the Denver Nuggets playing in their first-ever NBA Finals.

After 47 years in the NBA, it’s about time!

Let’s Geaux Nuggets!