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The Denver Nuggets are easy to root for as basketball players and as human beings

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It’s been a long time since the Nuggets roster was made up of talented, fun and genuinely good dudes

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic sat at his locker, still taking in his first ever triple double. Between his legs sat the game ball, and on it was the signature of every teammate who helped him get there. At twenty-one years of age (soon to be twenty-two this Sunday) the Denver Nuggets star center is beginning to take the NBA world by storm. Quickly every pundit in the NBA from Reggie Miller to Marc Stein went from not talking about him at all to singing his praises, and through it all he remains humble and consistent in his message: team first, winning is the only thing that matters. He’d follow up that first career triple double with a forty point performance in Madison Square Garden, and then follow that up with his second career triple double just two games later against the defending Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors. There was no game ball for the second career triple double, but the character of this kid was still on full display right after the game.

For Nuggets fans, this is a bit of something new. Ever since Carmelo Anthony left the fans haven’t had someone to call a star, someone to put their hope behind as having true potential to be the leader of a roster with championship aspirations. Jokic gives that to us now, but he also gives something that Melo and countless other Nuggets heroes never did: reasons to genuinely like him as a human being. Anyone who argues that Melo wasn’t supremely talented is foolish, but with that talent came selfish play, motivations driven by branding instead of winning, fights in MSG, cameo’s in stop snitching videos and on and on and on. Even Melo’s game was at times rightfully lacking in admiration. He didn’t make his teammates better, he didn’t play defense, he rebounded with lackluster effort. He’s not alone in the pantheon of Nuggets players when it comes to his short comings as far as being likable.

Melo’s teammates weren’t exactly great guys to root for either. You had Kenyon Martin who threatened to not return from injury because he was upset about an ill advised prank performed by J.R. Smith, a player with less than redeeming qualities in his own right. You had Allen Iverson who, for as great as he was, was often times seemingly more interested in night life than winning games for Denver. Post Melo, the 57 win team of 2012-2013 certainly felt like a team worth rooting for until the hard facts of Andre Iguodala clearly showing his preference to be a Warrior despite still wearing a Nuggets jersey and Ty Lawson’s poor judgement and willingness to endanger others with multiple DUIs came to light. Then there was Andre Miller refusing to play for coach Brian Shaw when he was upset about minutes, Kenneth Faried and Lawson quitting on that same coach, the infamous “1-2-3 six weeks” chant. Before Melo isn’t a great history either, Tim Hardaway chucking TV Monitors, Dale Ellis chucking every shot he could for his own personal gain. Heck even renowned humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo had a reputation for often times being cold and callous with the fans. For one reason or another, the Nuggets have a long history of rosters filled with talented but churlish players.

That’s not to say there weren’t players worth rooting for during those times. Eduardo Najera was the consummate professional on those Melo teams and for as distant as Mutombo could be, Laphonso Ellis was equally as genuine. Yet through all of that time there was never a player, or group of players who are as equally talented and harmonious as this current Nuggets squad. Take any Jokic soundbite you want and you’ll get the true character of a genuinely likable person, and he’s not alone either. When Juancho Hernangomez broke out in that same Warriors game that rendered Jokic his second triple double all his teammates could talk about was the work the Spaniard puts in, how even after a game you can find him in the practice gym perfecting his craft. Rookie Jamal Murray is known as a complete basketball junkie and his work ethic is undeniable around the facility. Malik Beasley is nothing if not a polite (he even once called me sir, to which I kindly asked him to refrain from such monikers), family orientated and genuine young man. Emmanuel Mudiay is a well spoken, honest and well rounded person who never shies away from a tough press conference or admitting he didn’t have his best game when he struggles. Behind this eminently likable young core is a group of veterans who believes in them, supports them and teaches them.

While Faried isn’t the most forth coming with the media and had his issues with Denver’s former coach, he has been one of the most vocal through social media about his support for his teammates and by all accounts has done everything right since the Shaw fallout. Wilson Chandler may have voiced some concerns about consistency in his role with Denver, but its far too early to forget the letter he wrote to the city of Denver, something completely unprovoked and clearly spoken from the heart. Danilo Gallinari and Darrell Arthur have never been shy about their love for this city while simultaneously representing in the best of manner either. Even Jameer Nelson, who told me on media day that he was no guidance counselor, seems to be embracing the role of mentor, alongside Mike Miller, for this young team, particularly with Murray. Perhaps the only player on the roster to start this season who could be seen as not a team guy was Jusuf Nurkic (and even then, I think Juka’s a good dude too, he just didn’t deal well with a tough hand that was dealt to him) and now in his place arrives Mason Plumlee, a player who was beloved by his teammates in Portland for his drive and his genuine caring for the success of all of those around him. In fact Damian Lillard went as far as to say Plumlee is the best teammate he’s ever had.

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At the center of it all is Jokic, the 21 year old goofball from Serbia who is more than happy to talk about the one thing he cares about, winning, while in the same breath joke about how his coach is a coach because he was never any good at actually playing the game. He’s endearing to everyone around him. Never was that more evident than when he went down against the Phoenix Suns with a strained hip and his whole team rushed to his side to make sure he was ok. As Coach Malone put it that night “Nikola is truly loved by all his teammates, he has no ego, he’s a young kid, he likes to have fun, he’s a little goofy...and with all the success he’s having he’s still the same kid and that’s why everybody cares about him and respects him.” So maybe this team isn’t a championship contender, maybe they are only headed towards the best case scenario of a first round sweep at the hand of the Warriors, but you know what? I’m still damn happy to give them my time, my fandom and my passion because they’re a ton of fun to watch and it’s all the sweeter because they’re also a group of genuinely likable people.