What’s in a number?
Depending on your background and where you came from, a number could mean a lot. If you are triskaidekaphobic, the number 13 might give you palpitations, while Neil Young and the Smashing Pumpkins each found it rather lucky. Numbers take on special meaning depending on which family, tribe, or group you are from. For instance, for Nuggets Nation, the number 2 will always only belong to one individual, while 23 players have worn number 30 for the team. But at the end of the day, which numbers are MOST identified with a specific player, and which are simply a blur of half-remembered names? Of the 51 numbers your Denver Nuggets have rolled out onto the hardwood, who wore each one best, and who simply kept it warm for somebody else? Yes, we did this four years back, but long enough ago as to see some changes. Starting from the bottom:
(two players - Anthony Cook, Darrell Arthur)
Darth, you killed that double aught, buddy.
(seven players - Orlando Woolridge, Taurean Green, Gary Forbes, DeMarre Carroll, Aaron Brooks, Emmanuel Mudiay, Isaiah Thomas)
It always looked like that zero on his back was an “O” for Orlando, anyway. The OG of 0,
(15 players - Kenny Higgs, Darwin Cook, Eddie Hughes, Corey Gaines, Mark Macon, Adonis Jordan, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Kiwane Garris, Donnell Harvey, Voshon Leonard, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups. Jordan Hamilton, Alonzo Gee, Jameer Nelson)
As great as both Abdul-Rauf and Smith were for the Nuggets, Mr. Big Shot had a torrid season and a half wearing number 1 up until he was traded, hanging 15.3 win shares in that timeframe. Interestingly enough, each of those three guards wore multiple numbers for this Nuggets team, so they may come back up again. J.R. wore 1 from 2007-2009 (13.2 WS over three seasons), and Abdul-Rauf had 10.5 over two seasons in Uno.
(one player - Alex English)
A number also hanging in the rafters, belonging to a true Nuggets legend. One of the easiest parts of the night, as many other numeric singlet defaults are far less warm and fuzzy.
(12 players - Carl Nicks, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dale Ellis, Harold Ellis, Monty Williams, Tracy Murray, Vincent Yarbrough, DerMarr Johnson, Allen Iverson, Ty Lawson, Mike Miller, Torrey Craig)
Lawson is the easy choice here, having primarily succeeded over his six season with the Nuggets, but Iverson is an interesting second possibility, blowing Lawson’s averages away in his just-less-than-two-seasons in Denver. Lawson wins the race in sheer longevity. Was Abdul-Rauf closer in number 3? Actually no, even Dale Ellis had higher overall production wearing 3. Do you wonder if they made Harold Ellis new jerseys, or simply laundered Dale’s? Could the NBA have actually had a hand-me-down?
(10 players - Darrell Walker, Darnell Mee, Tony Battie, Chauncey Billups, Pedrag Savović, Jeff Trepagnier, Anthony Carter, Kenyon Martin, Randy Foye, Paul Millsap)
Billups falls off of this list quickly, as he wore the 4 in his first stay in Denver, before he’d fully figured out the league, with teams giving him sporadic play to figure it out. And though Millsap is climbing these charts quickly, Kenyon Martin put in his best years in Denver wearing number 4.
(20 players - Robert Smith, David Burns, Mike Evans, Kenny Battle, Terry Mills, Roy Marble, Jalen Rose, Anthony Goldwire, Jeff McInnis, Tyson Wheeler, Ron Mercer, Voshon Leonard, Juwan Howard, Rodney White, Charles Smith, Yakhouba Diawara, J.R. Smith, Rudy Fernandez, Will Barton, Nate Robinson)
Mike Evans had some fine years in a Nuggets uniform, though J.R. Smith surprising matched his win shares total while wearing number 5 in just two seasons. But if that stays our blunt metric, Barton has run away from those two and the rest of a semi-tepid field in his time in Denver, and it’s not even close. Will, we appreciate the thrill.
(10 players - Walter Davis, Brooks Thompson, Avery Johnson, Junior Harrington, Kenyon Martin, Jason Hart, Arron Afflalo, Sean Kilpatrick, Axel Toupane, Brandon Goodwin)
K-Mart’s two seasons wearing 6 came when he got to Denver, and he didn’t switch numbers until a nasty injury ended his third season in Denver. Martin’s pair outshone the two-plus of Davis, the Greyhound. However... Afflalo’s best years in the league came in his first stint in Denver, and he had the largest contribution to the bottom line over that time.
(13 players - Billy McKinney, Eldridge Recasner, Don MacLean, Cory Alexander, Juwan Howard, Rodney White, Greg Buckner, Jamal Sampson, Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington, J.J. Hickson, Alonzo Gee, Trey Lyles)
Isn’t it nice that we can all finally give Eldridge Recasner the credit he is due? Who? Yeah, that was the question I had to ask as well, as this list didn’t have much to offer in star power. Billups only spent 77 games in the 7 jersey in his last season in Denver, and Harrington got all of two seasons in. Amazingly, Billups contributed nearly twice as many win shares in a truncated season as Baby Al did in two.
(nine players - Bison Dele, Rasto Cvetković, Sarunas Marciulionis, Chris Herren, Earl Watson, Joe Smith, DerMarr Johnson, Danilo Gallinari, Jarred Vanderbilt)
Gallo. By a mile. By many miles. Many many many miles.
(seven players - Greg Grant, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Mark Bryant, Bryon Russell, Andre Iguodala, JaKarr Sampson, Johnny O’Bryant)
Sorry, all. See many miles quotes above, and apply them to our other A.I.
(19 players - Grant Simmons, Wayne Chapman, Al Smith, Donald Washington, Marvin Webster, Jim Bradley, Ralph Simpson, John Kuester, John Roche, Keith Edmonson, Willie White, Scott Hastings, Randy Woods, Tim Hardaway, Wesley Person, Howard Eisley, Julyan Stone, Nate Robinson, Arron Afflalo)
Tempted to call Hastings name just in terms of sheer contributions to the franchise, but Al Smith is the runaway win share star of this group)
(17 players - Bob Verga, Floyd Theard, Larry Brown, Chuck Williams, Jim Price, Charlie Scott, Maurice Martin, Joe Barry Carroll, Doug Overton, Kelly McCarty, Kenny Satterfield, Shammond Williams, Earl Boykins, Bobby Jones, Chris Andersen, Erick Green, Monte Morris)
OK, seriously. Who are a few of those folks? I’m sure there are a few deep-cut Nuggets fans that can intelligently discuss Bob Verga, but the Bird narrowly outpaces Boykins in this group. Give Morris a couple more seasons in that jersey, and there won’t be much question.
(16 players - Chuck Gardner, John Fairchild, Levern Tart, Stephen Wilson, Warren Jabali, Ted McClain, Fat Lever, Winston Garland, Robert Pack, Mark Macon, Chris Whitney, Chris Andersen, Luis Flores, Chucky Atkins, D.J. Augustin, Jarnell Stokes)
It’s nice to see Fat Lever’s jersey in the Pepsi Center rafters, as that only happened a couple years back. That closes this question for good, and rightfully so for one of the greatest players in Nuggets history.
(eight players - Julius Keye, Monte Town, Jimmy King, Mark Jackson, Bobby Jackson, Keon Clark, Sonny Weems, Corey Brewer)
I had to take a few moments to familiarize myself with Mr. Keye, who played in Denver from 1970-74, but going back to our opening paragraph, it would seem that 13 could sure be luckier for someone down the road.
(17 players - John Morrison, Jeffrey Congdon, Cliff Anderson, Arthur Becker, Dan Hester, David Bustion, Fatty Taylor, Brian Taylor, Michael Adams, Robert Pack, Melvin Booker, Elmer Bennett, Eric Murdock, Eric Washington, Devin Brown, Joey Graham, Gary Harris)
I make no secrets about my love of all things Gary Harris, and as of this writing, it’s still Adams by leaps and bounds. Harris can eventually catch up, but Mike was a terror in his Denver days.
(11 players - Patrick McFarland, Jimmy Foster, Jim Price, Eddie Hughes, Avery Johnson, Danny Fortson, Keon Clark, Chris Andersen, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Randolph, Nikola Jokic)
You want it to be Nikola Jokic. I want it to be Nikola Jokic. Hell, even Melo might want it to be Nikola Jokic. The only person who could care less is Nikola Jokic, and that’s why it’s ok that it’s still Melo for the moment. The Joker is coming for you,
(one player - Kostas Papanikolaou)
There are some weak spots in this adventure, I’ll give you that....
(three players - Vincent Askew, Joe Wolf, Johnny Taylor)
I just can’t quit you, Joe Wolf.
(one player - Lonnie Lynn)
(13 players - Willis Thomas, Frank Card, Mack Calvin, Roger Brown, George Johnson, Dwight Anderson, Elston Turner, LaPhonso Ellis, Jeff Trepagnier, John Barry, Raymond Felton, Ian Clark, Tyler Lydon)
There is one shining standout in this crowd, who happens to be my favorite Nuggets player ever (though a couple of current players are giving him a run). Had LaPhonso Ellis’ knees not betrayed him, he’d be amongst the Nuggets upper pantheon, and no one else on this list even gives him a challenge.
(14 players - Chuck Williams, Claude Terry, Fatty Taylor, Anthony Roberts, Rob Williams, Elston Turner, Todd Lichti, Tom Hammonds, Dean Garrett, Carl Herrera, George McCloud, Adam Harrington, Eduardo Najera, Wilson Chandler)
The Meh is not-so-much-co when it comes to guys who wore 21 in Denver. Ill Will, you own this one.
(17 players - Julian Hammond, Mike Green, Gus Gerard, Geoff Crompton, Glen Gondrezick, Otis Smith, Dave Greenwood, Jim Farmer, Tim Legler, Craig Neal, Ricky Pierce, Johnny Newman, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Ruben Patterson, Von Wafer, Jamaal Franklin, Richard Jefferson)
Gondrezick is one of the better-known talents on this list, but Hammond had some impressive years with the Denver Rockets before returning to the Nuggets in his later years to work as a security guard. A wonderful and heartwarming story about the guy whose star shone in Denver before the NBA even got to town.
(10 players - Jeffrey Congdon, John Barnhill, Steve Mix, Steve Jones, T.R. Dunn, Bryant Stith, Marcus Camby, Shelden Williams, Jusuf Nurkic, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell)
I just knew this boiled down to a battle between Stith and undersung Nuggets stalwart Dunn, but in terms of sheer output for Denver in the 23 jersey, Camby is your man.
(12 players - Tom Hoover, Bill McGill, Spencer Haywood, Dwight Waller, John Trapp, Bobby Jones, Gary Garland, Bill Hanzlik, Antonio McDyess, Andre Miller, Jan Vesely, Mason Plumlee)
Andre Miller put up some big numbers and serious production for Denver, but keeping his ABA days in the mix, Mr. Jones is the runaway winner for the 24 jersey.
(10 players - Dave Robisch, Dan Issel, George Zidek, Roy Rogers, Zendon Hamilton, John Crotty, Steve Blake, Anthony Carter, Timofey Mozgov, Malik Beasley)
Keeping the ABA days in the mix, it’s Robisch by a lot.
(four players - Elmore Spencer, Mengke Bateer, Johan Petro, Jamal Murray)
I think Murray made a wise jersey choice here, personally. I’d not realized he was so strategic.
(two players - Robert Werdann, Jameer Nelson)
Jameer. For whatever that’s worth.
(two players - Calbert Cheaney, Mike Wilks)
Cheaney. Same statement.
(23 players - Ron Horn, Richard Moore, R.B. Lynam, Ken Wilburn, Tom Workman, Willie Long, George Irvine, Jacky Dorsey, Norm Cook, Darnell Hillman, George McGinnis, Anthony Roberts, Jay Vincent, Marcus Liberty, Kenny Smith, Priest Lauderdale, Mark Strickland, Carlos Arroyo, Mark Blount, Reggie Evans, Dahntay Jones, Malik Allen, Quincy Miller)
Just pick one. The longest list also has the least distinction in many ways. There are guys it isn’t but it’s a tossup between who is. Don’t wear 30 if you’re drafted in Denver.
(six players - Marv Roberts, Bo Ellis, Pete Williams, Andre Moore, Nick Van Exel, Nene Hilario)
Nene, by a lot.
(11 players - Larry Jones, Jan van Breda Kolff, Bob Wilkerson, Howard Carter, Mark Alarie, Eric Williams, Chris Gatling, Garth Joseph, Ryan Bowen, Julius Hodge, Renaldo Balkman)
Larry Jones had a few torrid years with the ABA Rockets, and is the easy leader on this one.
(five players - Donald Sidle, David Thompson, Kenny Denard, Calvin Natt, Greg Anderson)
I wish I would have seen David Thompson play in person. This debate is also settled, with Skywalker’s jersey in the rafters.
(13 players - Walter Piatkowski, Cedrick Hordges, Danny Schayes, Anthony Mason, Reggie Williams, Loren Meyer, Isaiah Rider, Jelani McCoy, Melvin Ely, JaVale McGee, Roy Hibbert, Devin Harris, Nick Young)
With apologies to the entire Hordges crew, we have a winner in the “names that make me laugh involuntarily” contest. In the who-wore-it-best competition, Schayes simply outdistances the other with his near-decade in number 34.
(11 players - Larry Cannon, Paul Silas, Kim Hughes, Richard Anderson, Michael Brooks, Brad Wright, Jerome Lane, Reggie Slater, Darwin Ham, Cheikh Samb, Kenneth Faried)
You still got this one, Manimal.
(one player - Shawnelle Scott)
(one player - Byron Beck)
Another retired jersey, another one of a kind. Though Beck only got one of his many Denver seasons in the NBA, he’s a huge part of the reason you can still see a basketball game in the Mile High City, as a huge component of the ABA squads early successes.
(eight players - Tom Boswell, Arvid Kramer, Blair Rasmussen, LaSalle Thompson, James Posey, Mark Pope, Kosta Koufos, Juancho Hernangomez)
Posey outpaced Rasmussen in fewer seasons. Hopefully someday we’ll be talking about Juancho in this debate.
(nine players - Lonnie Wright, Willie Wise, Ronnie Valentine, Wayne Cooper, Mike Higgins, Joe Wolf, Mark Randall, Ryan Bowen, Scott Williams)
Lonnie Wright keeps pace for several of the early Nuggets squads, and still leads this list.
(five players - James Ray, Wayne Englestad, Kevin Brooks, Kevin Willis, Linas Kleiza)
Tell me you don’t still grin when you think of Linas Kleiza. The best to wear 43.
(five players - Willie Murrell, Willie Rogers, Ben Warley, Ralph Simpson, Dan Issel)
The end of this list made sure it wouldn’t be debated any further, with Issel joining English, Lever, and Beck in the Pepsi Center rafters.
(eight players - Tom LaGarde, Jawann Oldham, Tim Kempton, Anthony Cook, Gary Plummer, Raef LaFrentz, Steven Hunter, Thomas Welsh)
My heart gives this to Big Tom, the nicest guy in the league, according to most anyone who meets him. But the data gives it to LaFrentz, the only guy on the list to wear 45 for more than one season.
(nine players - Tommie Bowens, Charles Parks, Dwight Waller, Julius Keye, Joe Kopicki, Steve Scheffler, Matt Fish, Ervin Johnson, Dan McClintock)
Ervin Johnson wins a slow slow race.
(one player - Michael Doleac)
(four players - Larry Bunce, Julius Keye, Norm Cook, Terry Davis)
OK, how many numbers did Julius Keye wear? Why do each of these guys only wear 52 for one season, and suck in it? Is it haunted? Way to win another number, Mr. Keye.
(three players - Rich Kelley, Cliff Levingston, Jerome Allen)
Kelley wins this, and none of them cracked a 1.0 WS that year. This may have all been a horrible idea.
(four players - Wayne Hightower, Greg Wittman, Rodney Rogers, Popeye Jones)
Rogers, quite comfortably.
(four players - Phil Hicks, Kiki Vandeweghe, Dikembe Mutombo, Aaron Williams)
Deke’s jersey is the last player on this list in the rafters. He has stiff competition from Vandeweghe, but that jersey up high says it all. He’s also the last shining spot on this...
(one player - Francisco Elson)
(one player - Joffrey Lauvergne)
(one player - Evan Fournier)
But hey, at least there were a few (hopefully) interesting stops along the way.
What say you Nuggets Nation? Agree? Disagree? Was there someone I unfairly left lower on my list? How many more seasons before Jokic passes Melo for the best in the 15 jersey, or do I already have that one wrong?