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Look down at the bottom of the Denver Nuggets championship T-shirts and there, in small letters, are the words “Bring It In.”
This phrase is familiar to every coach and player on most sports teams, it is the coach calling the players to gather around him or her so that they may address the team. It is a unifying call and it is significant that the Nuggets would put that on their championship shirts.
The Nuggets had not won an NBA championship in their 47 year history, the longest drought of any NBA organization. Several years ago they were determined to change the culture. Although no one knew it at the time, their fortunes changed in 2014 when they drafted Nikola Jokic of Serbia with the 41st pick in the draft, one of the greatest steals in NBA history. A chubby 6’11” and 284 pounds, he would develop into one of the greatest players ever to play the game.
The next piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the hiring of Coach Michael Malone in 2015.
A longtime assistant in college and the NBA and the son of a coach, Malone set about to build the Nuggets into champions. Piece by piece, the Nuggets were constructed to win by the organization, the coaches, the trainers, and everyone involved with the team. Jokic, nicknamed The Joker, became a force in the NBA. Seldom had anyone seen a big man with the skills he possessed, handling the ball, rebounding, scoring, and, most remarkable of all, a passing game that reminded everyone of the redoubtable Magic Johnson.
In the 2016 draft they acquired fast and quick point guard Jamal Murray of Canada, and he would prove to be, along with Jokic, one of the most devastating one-two punches in the history of the league.
The wins were coming.
In the 2018-19 season they won 54 games, and in the subsequent Covid-shortened season, they would get to the Western Conference Finals only to fall to the LA Lakers. The philosophy of “Bring It In”, all-for-one and one-for-all, the commitment to “team” would come to fruition in the 2023 Playoffs.
In short order they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games, outlasted the tough Phoenix Suns with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, and then swept their arch-nemesis the Lakers and the mighty Lebron James in four straight games.
The Nuggets unselfish, pass the ball offense was reminiscent of the great teams of the past, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Bulls, the Warriors. The Miami Heat, the first eighth seed to reach the Finals in years, lay in wait. The Heat’s Jimmy Butler had just scored 53 points against the 76ers and was a formidable player. Bam Adebayo, a powerful 6’9″ forward was given the unenviable task of trying to guard The Joker.
The results were predictable: the Nuggets dispatched the Heat in five games with Jokic and Murray setting records all the way. Jokic led the playoffs in points, rebounds, and assists. He and Murray were the first duo in history to each score triple doubles in one game, it had never been done before.
In the Finals their teamwork was a thing of beauty, with Jokic and Murray working the pick-and-roll to perfection. The Heat had no answer for the waterbug-quick Murray and his interactions with his Center. Big giants Porter and Gordon cleared the boards and bullied the smaller Heat under the basket, and the waves of skilled subs that came on at just the right moments, Brown, Green, Caldwell-Pope, and White Boy Braun flying in for extra spark were too much for their opponents.
During the Finals, one of the courtside commentators looked across the floor at the Nuggets bench and said “Look at the coaches on the bench, they are all sons of coaches”. And behind them were ten more assistant coaches in black shirts.
There is high basketball IQ in Denver. You could see this victory coming. Year after year they were getting better, they were getting closer. In 2023 it all came together and for the first time in 47 years, the Denver Nuggets are NBA Champions.
They Brought It In.
Congratulations, Nuggets! Boys, you done good!