One of the most colorful franchises – both literally and figuratively – in all of sports, the Denver Nuggets recently turned in their 40th year in the National Basketball Association. Seems like a great time to take a look back, identifying some of the organization’s most-colorful characters.
Editor’s Note: Many of the players that follow crossed timeframes. Rather than including those players in multiple eras, the staff at Mile High Sports voted as to which era they were most associated. Send your thoughts (and criticisms) to [email protected].
2006 – Present
With Carmelo Anthony and George Karl at the helm, the Nuggets were suddenly the talk of the NBA. Pepsi Center was packed and the playoffs were the norm. The current Nuggets have been charged with bringing back those days.
6’10” | Center-Power Forward
There has never been a more colorful character to don a Nuggets uniform than “Birdman.” With his full-body tattoos and a mohawk that climbed almost as high as his vertical leap, Andersen was a fan favorite thanks to high high-energy play and outgoing personality. His 624 blocks are tied with Alex English for fifth in franchise history.
6’8” | Small Forward
No player had a greater impact on the Denver Nuggets, in terms of team success, than “Melo.” Denver reached the postseason every year during Anthony’s tenure. He ranks in the top 10 in most every major offensive statistical category (except assists), including third all-time in points. As a Nugget he earned NBA All-Rookie first team status and appeared in four NBA All-Star Games.
6’3” | Point Guard-Shooting Guard
It might surprise some fans that Denver’s hometown hero, Billups, played less than 260 games in a Nuggets uniform – that’s how big his impact was, especially during his second stint in Denver. Following a trade in 2008, Billups helped lead the team to the Western Conference Finals and set a then-franchise record of 54 regular season wins. A three-time All-Star with the Nuggets, “Mr. Big Shot” never one the big one in Denver (he did in Detroit) but he remains one of the city’s most beloved sports figures.
6’8” | Power Forward
In five seasons in Denver, “Manimal” has become one of the most efficient Nuggets in team history. His field goal percentage ranks third in team history and his rebounds per game rank seventh. He’s just two offensive boards away from tying Fat Lever for eighth all-time. Faried earned NBA All-Rookie first team honors in 2012 and a gold medal in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
6’10” | Small Forward
Despite a Nuggets career that has been hampered by injury, Gallinari just passed Carmelo Anthony for sixth on the team’s all-time 3-pointers list. By the end of this season, he could rank fourth. Before an ankle injury cut short the 2015-16 campaign, he was averaging a career-best 19.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
6’ | Shooting Guard
“The Answer” played just one full season and parts of two others in Denver, but he racked up some impressive numbers in a Nuggets uniform. His 42 minutes per game are a franchise best and he ranks just behind Alex English (25.9) with 25.6 points per game. He also ranks in the top 10 in both steals and assists per game.
5’11” | Point Guard
Although his time in Denver came to a rocky end, Lawson played a major role in some of Denver’s best seasons, including the record-setting 57-win season in 2012-13. He ranks fourth all-time in assists and eighth in 3-pointers. In 2013-14 he led the team in points, assists and steals and his 720 assists in 2014-15 are a franchise record.
6’9” | Power Forward
Denver was a tough place to play in the 2000s, and not just because of the mile-high altitude. Martin was the face of an edgy Nuggets team that wasn’t afraid to talk a whole lot of trash and back it up with physical play. Martin had a tumultuous tenure with head coach George Karl, but together they won 50+ games four times and never won less than 44 in a season.
6’11” | Center-Power Forward
The Brazilian big man is still considered one of the greatest Nuggets ever, despite a four-year span in which he missed significant time due to a slew of injuries and a bout with cancer. Named to the NBA All-Rookie first team in 2003, Nene ultimately finished his career among the top-10 in franchise history in games, minutes, rebounds, steals, blocks and points.
6’6” | Shooting Guard
The running joke that “J.R. Swish” never met a shot he wouldn’t take is probably because there was rarely a shot Smith thought he couldn’t make. His 768 career 3-pointers in Denver are a franchise best, as are his 2010 attempts. His long-range accuracy was just a part of his game, though; Smith was also one of the most athletic players in Nuggets history, wowing fans with sensational dunks.
The 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year boasts 423 wins as the headman in Denver, just nine shy of the franchise record. Were it not for the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, he’d very likely have more wins than Doug Moe. Karl’s .622 winning percentage is third in team history. His teams never missed the playoffs and twice they tied or set the franchise NBA record for regular season wins. A cancer survivor twice over while coach of the Nuggets, Karl became a voice for treatment and awareness through his own fights and that of his son, Coby, who also battled the disease.
Perhaps the most colorful of the colorful, Doug Moe became the face of the 1980s Nuggets, arguably more so than any player. His sideline antics were unmistakable, as he regularly offered tirades while visibly berating his beloved players. But it wasn’t just his antics or his notably frumpy fashion sense that set him apart – his style of play did that. While Moe was the coach, teams around the NBA loathed the idea of coming to Denver, where Moe’s teams ran and ran and then ran some more. Denver had an incredible home court advantage under Moe, as evidenced by his 432 regular season wins and dominant 295-100 home record.