The Denver Nuggets’ victory in the NBA Finals after over four decades is a testament to the power of perseverance, teamwork, and a new method for building champions in the N.B.A.
For Nuggets fans, myself included, the decades of loyalty and unwavering support have finally paid off.
The best way to understand the current situation is to recognize the past. Their remarkable journey to the NBA Championship has not only brought joy to the team and its players but has united the passionate state of Colorado. The championship victory serves as a moment of celebration and pride for the city of Denver and its devoted community.
For those of you that rooted for the A.B.A. Larks in preseason (‘67), before quickly switching to Rockets fans at the start of that season, those of you that continued to root for your Rockets up until they joined the N.B.A. in 1974, and those who didn’t lose your team spirit for the then Denver Nuggets, and even those of you that just joined the winning team. This victory is for all basketball fans alike!
For years now the N.B.A. has been led by super teams and high-market teams. Super teams are the combination of 2-3 elite players taking up 80% to 90% of the team’s Salary CAP, which seemed to be working– even though basketball is a 5-on-5 team sport– Not to mention NBA teams normally keep about 15 players on their roster. Then how did the Nuggets win a championship?
High-market teams are what you may assume. The ‘Market’ refers to viewers and overall resident income, and a huge dash of championship pedigree. Teams like the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics combine for over 15 NBA championships. With movie stars and Grammy winners at the courtside, the Denver Nuggets reset the history books by sweeping the Lakers. This is after having their own history books reset for decades by the impending LA Lakers and their super teams and ‘super’ money.
These are teams normally owned by billionaires with expendable money to use in avoiding CAP space with things like signing bonuses and other contract negotiations. Denver and especially their N.B.A. team have never been either a super team or in a high-market location. So how did they do it?
Luck, maybe. They did draft the two-time MVP in the 2nd round, and his draft was dual-screened during a Taco Bell commercial.
Or is it true a team sport, that requires a team and not individuals? The Nuggets’ success was undoubtedly fueled by their star players. Led by a dynamic duo, both drafted by the Nuggets. The coach and GM worked hard to surround them with an unselfish and supporting cast which set the stage for their championship run. Adding players like 22-year-old Christian Braun who has won at the high school and college level (Kentucky). Then to balance the core and younger players, they added seasoned veterans. Veterans like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. The new blueprint for building champions was formed by the Nuggets.
Watching the Playoffs and Finals, it was difficult to not recall going to games in the late 90’s when they couldn’t give away enough tickets to fill the seats. Let alone enough seats to “fill the stands” by TV viewing standards. For example, during the 1997-98 season, they finished with a franchise low of 11(W) – 71(L). I felt myself often pacing the living room watching all of the playoffs and more so during the finals which thankfully were available for us non-cable or streaming source users. Seeing how all eyes are on the Denver Nuggets now, we might get some antenna-played games in the coming seasons.
Even knowing that they went into the playoffs as the number one seed, led by the two-time MVP and Blue Arrow, had still been forty-seven years. The Miami Heat also won their play-in game, and the eighth seed made it into the NBA finals. Skepticism has been difficult to suppress since December 2022 when they clinched the Western Conference 1st seed. Not to mention Jimmy Butler is really good, both as a player and a walking meme.
Since its establishment in 1976, the franchise has had its fair share of ups and downs. During the 2019-2020 season, we started to watch the backbone of the homegrown chemistry bond grow stronger. You started to see a team display this unique and exceptional amount of teamwork, unselfishness, and profound work ethic.
Even with the league back-to-back M.V.P. in Nikola Jokić, they continued to go under the radar for reasons including timezone, cable contracts and just playing to ‘win the game’. But the radar was beeping for Denver Nuggets fans as the cumulation of these past few seasons we could sense a memorable turnaround was looming. Now your 2023 Denver Nuggets have etched their names on the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy as well as forever in our hearts.
“Life is a weird thing because it puts roadblocks in front of you, sometimes you gotta go through it, sometimes you gotta go around it, sometimes you gotta take a pause and look back at what you’re gonna do, have a plan.” – Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets – PG)
As is tradition, the City of Denver celebrated with a parade as a community on June 15th, 2023. This is just after a year after celebrating the Avalanche Stanley Cup win. You could tell the city of Denver had learned and applied those lessons to the quick turnaround after only 11 months and 15 days from the last massive celebration. With my first experience going to a championship parade at the first Broncos Super Bowl, don’t tell my mom. To have the chance to experience the 2022 Avalanche parade and now the 2023 Nuggets parade, it is clear Denver has continued to become the city of Champions.
For me, I will remember a coach saying “I love these guys”, and the players consistently playing for each other. Not for a new shoe contract, not for individual records, or using the Nuggets to ‘get the bag’. I will remember watching a selfless team understanding the true goal of winning a championship. Forever etched in my memory will be being able to point to a winning team and say: that is how it should be done.
We should all remember having the chance to witness one of the greatest players of all time, Nikola Jokić, who after the championship game said: “It’s good. It’s good. The job is done. We can go home now” after winning it all followed up by “I want to be here” at the parade.
Featured image credit: Nikola Jokić 2023 Finals MVP – (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images – Denver Sports)