It’s a couple days after the Denver Nuggets won their first championship in franchise history, a time period that has extended 47 years. The championship parade is tomorrow, and the Nuggets will be celebrating with Nuggets fans in the city of Denver. The Nuggets are the first Western Conference team outside of California or Texas to win an NBA championship since 1979.

Here are the Western Conference teams to win a championship in that time:

  • Los Angeles Lakers – 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2020
  • Houston Rockets – 1994, 1995
  • San Antonio Spurs – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014
  • Dallas Mavericks – 2011
  • Golden State Warriors – 2015, 2017, 2018, 2022

23 championships for the West and 20 for the East. Five franchises in the West and seven in the East. The NBA is frequently referred to as a dynasty league with an emphasis on the premier teams. Winning often breeds more winning, and stars that win in one city often remain there for additional time as a result.

A point of comparison: the NFL has had 17 different franchises win a championship in the same timespan with the New England Patriots and Tom Brady winning the most (six championships) of any franchise. Over 50% of the league’s current collection of teams have won, compared to 40% of the NBA franchises.

At least, until the Nuggets in 2023.

Many teams face immense championship pressure on a path similar to Denver’s, especially teams that are built around a winning. It’s no surprise that a team like the Lakers might be disappointed in how they lost to the Nuggets this year given an extensive history of winning rings. During the last 40+ years, the Lakers have won 25% of all championships, an incredible run of consistency and excellence.

The Nuggets never had that experience to anchor their expectations. It was clear that the Nuggets had enough talent and a strong enough fit to be considered an inner circle championship contender at the beginning of the season. Still, with no previous experience to speak of, the Nuggets and the Nuggets fan base were mostly flying blind, experiencing the pressures and turbulence of serious expectations for the first time. Those ups and downs led to some panic in November when the Nuggets were struggling and especially in March when the Nuggets took their foot off the gas. Ultimately, the team would be fine, but how could the franchise and fan base possibly know that for sure without experiencing it before?

That lack of experience made it important for the Nuggets to rely on their veterans. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knew what it took to win a championship because he had been there before with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 bubble. He emphasized throughout the year how important defense and communication were along Denver’s path to basketball immortality. Ultimately, it was Denver’s defense that won them Game 5, a 94-89 slugfest where the smallest mistakes could have been the difference.

Instead, the Nuggets thrived on that end.

Players like Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, and Ish Smith have played for several franchises ranging from rebuilding situations to on the doorstep of contention, filling a variety of roles throughout each of their NBA careers. Green played consistently and made a lot of important plays on Denver’s run. Jordan even got on the court in Game 5 and did a solid job protecting the rim for a couple minutes. Their most important contributions were off the court, helping the entire team to stay in the moment, focus on the job at hand, and imparting valuable experience all the way through. Seeing that trio holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the night was very, very cool.

Michael Porter Jr. recovered from three back surgeries to stand on that stage and celebrate in that locker room with his Nuggets teammates. He was a pivotal member of the team and helped the Nuggets position themselves to win a championship. His story is incredible, and it’s certainly not done. Porter’s turning 25 years old later this month, and though there are medical reasons why his career may not last for another 15 years, he’s still learning and growing on the job.

Porter’s relationship with head coach Michael Malone is a big reason why the Nuggets achieved what they did. Malone challenged Porter in ways that were exceptionally difficult and at times unfair, but holding him to an incredibly high standard helped mold Porter into a championship caliber player. The vast majority of the credit for MPJ’s growth throughout this process goes to the player himself, but being in a situations where excellence, teamwork, and details were demanded of him brought out the best of a player many never believed could reach this point.

Malone, officially the greatest coach in Denver Nuggets history, deserves a ton of credit, too.

There are so many others to credit, notably Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. There’s plenty of time throughout the offseason to discuss their impact, including why they’ve established themselves as legends in the game. There’s time to discuss Aaron Gordon as the missing piece, time to discuss Bruce Brown as the most important free agency signing in franchise history, time to discuss Calvin Booth as the incredible architect he is, taking over for Tim Connelly and holding up his end of the bargain.

Right now though, it’s important to discuss why the Nuggets themselves matter.

For so long, the Nuggets franchise has been told they don’t matter. Whether it be directly or in the actions of folks outside of the organization, the fan base, the players, and many others have been told that the Nuggets aren’t interesting or compelling, don’t drive ratings, and much more.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The NBA has an obligation to make money, yes, but they also have an obligation to tell the story of the league. For 46 years, that story didn’t have to include the Nuggets, primarily because they hadn’t won a championship. Carmelo Anthony made the NBA’s 75th anniversary team and is mostly identified as a member of the New York Knicks despite playing for the Nuggets for eight seasons. Alex English, the leading scorer of the 1980s DECADE almost exclusively with the Nuggets, wasn’t deemed worthy to be part of that history. Nikola Jokić, a winner of the 2021 MVP award, wasn’t deemed important enough to include in a historic list.

Jokić then won an additional MVP the following season and a Finals MVP the season after that, so the NBA’s likely kicking itself now for not having the foresight to include him.

The past three seasons of Nuggets basketball have put the franchise back on the map with a begrudging Nikola Jokić leading the way. The franchise and its fans have felt somewhat invisible for a long time, and some (Jokić) may not have realized the true impact of what they’ve just done. There will now be more national television games, stories, media, and overall fanfare surrounding the Nuggets than there’s ever been before.

Because the Nuggets have finally joined the championship club, and that’s a story worth telling.