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5 things you may not know about the Denver Nuggets, including the original (unrelated) team that had the name

Nuggets history is full of twists, turns and interesting facts that you might have never heard.
Posted at 5:07 PM, May 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-22 19:07:24-04

DENVER – It’s been well documented that the Denver Nuggets are in search of their first NBA Finals berth in franchise history.

You’ve also likely heard about the team’s failure to ever defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in a postseason series.

But Nuggets history is full of twists, turns, and interesting facts that you might have never heard.

Here’s a look at five lesser-known facts about the Nuggets (and their predecessors):

How did the Nuggets get their name?

The franchise was founded as the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association – a professional basketball league that operated separately from the NBA from 1967-1976 before merging with the larger league.

They carried the Rockets nickname for eight seasons before changing their name to the Nuggets in anticipation of a move to the NBA, where the Houston Rockets already existed, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Nuggets moniker pays homage to the rich mining history in Colorado, which was home to a Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. It’s also a nod to…

…The original – but unrelated – Denver Nuggets

You may not know that the Denver Rockets who became today’s Denver Nuggets are actually not the first Denver Nuggets NBA franchise.

The original Denver Nuggets played one season in the NBA in 1949-50. It didn’t go particularly well for them, as they tallied a dreadful 11-53 record before locating. The original Nuggets played their home games at Denver Auditorium Arena.

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for the little-known Nuggets? The man credited with inventing the jump shot, Kenny Sailors, was on the roster and averaged a respectable 17 points and 4 assists.

Denver Nuggets Kenny Sailors poses in this 1950 photo. (AP Photo)

The Nuggets were denied entry to the NBA at first

A court order actually kept the Nuggets out of the NBA on their first attempt to join, necessitating a final perfunctory year in the ABA.

According to the New York Times archive, the Nuggets and New York Nets were the first teams to make a formal attempt to leave the ABA. The NBA Players Association, though, had been granted an injunction years earlier that prevented a merger of the leagues.

The Nuggets and Nets were both issued a $2 million penalty when the merger went through a year later.

Julius Erving, Dan Issel
Julius Erving of the New York Nets , right, manages to stuff the ball through the hoop past the outstretched arm of the Denver Nuggets' Dan Issel in the first period of the ABA game, Feb. 9, 1976 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Nikola Jokic isn’t the most impactful Nugget ever, by this advanced metric

Nikola Jokic is a bona fide superstar. He’s not just the best player on the Nuggets, but has a case for the best player in the world in 2023.

He’s a two-time MVP who could easily have three-peated this season and is averaging a triple-double in this postseason.

However, he is still not the most impactful player in franchise history – at least not by one advanced metric.

According to Basketball-Reference, Jokic is second in franchise history in Win Shares Generated, which is a complex calculation that measures a player’s productivity by equating it to a number of wins earned by his team.

Jokic has generated 94.5 Win Shares in his eight seasons in Denver. The all-time franchise leader? Hall of Famer Dan Issel, who compiled 94.8 Win Shares over 10 seasons with the Nuggets.

Disclaimer: Yes, Jokic averages more Win Shares per season, and, barring a catastrophic fall from grace, Jokic will pass Issel on this list before completing 10 full seasons. But this sports nut had to geek out about advanced stats for just a minute.

The Nuggets retired jersey No. 432

No one was ever going to – and wouldn’t even be allowed to – pick the jersey No. 432, so why retire it?

The No. 432 hangs in the rafters of Ball Arena alongside other retired jersey numbers in honor of Doug Moe, the legendary head coach who compiled 432 wins for the franchise from 1980-1990.

Moe won NBA Coach of the Year in 1987-88.

** FILE ** Former Denver Nuggets head coach Doug Moe pleads with his team during a timeout in the closing seconds of a game in Denver with the Houston Rockets in May 1986. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

The Nuggets have also retired jersey Nos. 2 (Alex English), 12 (Lafayette “Fat” Lever), 33 (David Thompson), 40 (Byron Beck), 44 (Issel), and 55 (Dikembe Mutombo). Bill Russell’s No. 6 jersey is retired throughout the league.