If you know anything about Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, then you know about a strong community that signifies pride, a culture that instills hope in its youth and that famous drumline that could even get the most unwilling in a dancing mood. All were present when the Denver Nuggets officially introduced Paul Millsap to the organization at Montbello Rec Center in northeast Denver. For Millsap, this was more than a press conference. It was a homecoming.
“Paul Millsap was more raised in Denver, Colorado than he was in Louisiana” said his mother, Bettye Millsap, as she sat calmly recalling exactly when it was that she left a place she once called home.
It was three decades ago that Bettye left an abusive marriage and landed in Colorado with her four young boys, often times not knowing how she would make ends meet, but always finding a way.
“When I came to Denver in 1988, I cried all the way in shame with my head down,” Bettye said. “When I came back to town this time, I cried tears of joy and I could hold my head up.” She kept the family in Montbello until Paul turned 12, then the family moved to Ruston, Louisiana for his high school and college years, however, Paul said he kept Denver in his heart the entire time. This was the sole reason he decided against having a traditional private introductory press conference at Pepsi Center like so many any other players that have worn a Nuggets jersey. Millsap instead chose the Montbello Rec center.
“This community helped mold me into the person I am today,” he said. “We have had so many memories here but words cannot explain what the city of Denver meant to me and my family and we’re grateful to be back, on these terms.”
The new power forward said how excited he was to be back in the city of Denver, but it’s Denver that’s also excited to embrace him with open arms as his three-year, $90 million contract makes him the highest-paid athlete (annual salary) in a rich history of Colorado professional sports. The Denver Nuggets have swung at big free agent after big free agent, sometimes getting very close, but this time they’ve finally landed their top target.
The 6-foot-8, 246-pound power forward and four-time All Star is coming off of a year where he averaged a career-best 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for the Atlanta Hawks while still playing the hard-nosed defense that he’s displayed throughout his career. His versatility makes him one of the best two-way players in the league, and now he’ll be alongside one of the best big men in the league, Nikola Jokic.
“If you look at it, we have two of the most diverse and underrated big men in the league, Nikola Jokic and [now] Paul Millsap,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “It’s not only that we got a yes, but we got the right yes.”
With other teams pursuing Millsap, the question was asked, “Why Denver?” He retorted quickly, “Why not Denver?”
After a pause, Millsap continued.
“It felt like it was unfinished business here, being here years ago and leaving under the circumstances we left under. Being able to help this community out, that played a big factor.”
Paul Millsap is excited to be a part of the Denver Nuggets, excited to be back in Colorado, but really, Paul Millsap seems most excited to be back home… in Montbello.
Featured Image Credit: Aniello Piro