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Determining the face of the Denver Nuggets

Like the Spurs, each era has a standout player...or two

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

If you are a casual reader of Pounding the Rock’s Open Thread, well you need to jump on more often. That said, earlier this summer I kicked off a series in which we as a group discuss the one player who defines or represents each NBA franchise. In some cases, like the Chicago Bulls or the Dallas Mavericks, the choice may seem clear. In other cases, like the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers, the longevity of the team makes the “face,” for some, vary by generation. And still, there are teams like the Hawks and Nets who have moved locations and perhaps a player has defined the location more than the overall arc of the franchise.

The Denver Nuggets kicked off their inaugural season with the NBA in 1949. The seventeen team league boasted two teams still in existence and in the same location- the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.

There were also some recognizable teams who relocated like the Minneapolis Lakers (you all didn’t think Los Angeles was really known for their lakes, did you?) and the Philadelphia Warriors.

There were also some random teams who didn’t survive like the Indianapolis Olympians and Sheboygan Red Skins...anybody?

I digress. Of seventeen teams, the Denver Nuggets came in dead last with an abysmal record of 11-51. That was the end of the Denver Nuggets, for seventeen years.

In 1967, the Denver Nuggets reemerged in the ABA. They were one of four ABA teams who were brought into the NBA in 1976 via a merger. To date, they have never won an NBA Championship in either the ABA or NBA.

They do have numbers retired for six players and one head coach. They are, in chronological order:

  • Byron Beck (1967-1977) was with the franchise for the first ten years. He is one of only six players to play each season of the ABA.
  • David Thompson (1975-1982), also known as “Skywalker,” was the 1979 All-Star Game MVP who retired averaging over 22 points per game over ten seasons.
  • Dan Issel (1976-1985) also transitioned to the NBA with the Nuggets. He is the 11th all-time scorer between Shaquille O’Neal and Carmelo Anthony. He is the second best scorer in ABA history behind Louie Dampier.
  • Alex English (1980-1990), the 23rd in all-time scoring, was an eight-time NBA All-Star and the 1983 scoring champion.
  • Fat Lever (1984-1990) was one of the best point guards of his time. He is also the Nuggets’ all-time leader in steals and 2nd in assists.
  • Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo (can you imagine that jersey) was fortunately known as formerly by the first two-sevenths of his name — Dikembe Mutombo. If Mutombo’s finger wag doesn’t do it for you, nothing will.
  • Finally, head coach Doug Moe has a retired number. The former Spurs coach owned the top honors in Denver throughout the 80s. His run-and-gun style was integral to the Nuggets offensive game. They made the playoffs each season when Moe was at the helm.

Other notable players who suited up for the Nuggets:

  • Kiki Vandeweghe, his name alone throws him into the mix.
  • Antonio MsDyess was the win-share leader for the team in two seasons where the aforementioned Dan Issel was the head coach.
  • Some passers-through who made an impact- Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Nenê, Kenneth Faried...not sure they could qualify for Mount Rushmore status of the Nuggets.

Eventually, this is all going to come down to Nikola Jokic, isn’t it?

He hasn’t had a long enough career to own the face of the franchise, but he sure is hinting at it. In six seasons he has become the face of the current franchise. This past season he also claimed the league Most Valuable Player award. In addition, the argument can be made that a healthy Jamal Murray would have sewn up Denver’s first NBA Championship.

If the Nuggets stay healthy this coming season, the conversation could be over.

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