This Thursday I’ll be attending a championship parade celebrating our Denver Nuggets as the winners of the 2023 NBA Finals.

Championship parade? Denver Nuggets? Our Denver Nuggets?!

By now you’ve heard countless stories from lifelong Nuggets fans about their personal journey to witnessing this championship.

Mine begins the day I was born in October 1975, as the Nuggets were weeks away from kicking off their final season in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the hopes of merging into the National Basketball Association (NBA) at season’s end. My mother – a lifelong basketball fan – was in the maternity ward at Rose Hospital alongside the wife of Nuggets star shooting guard and small forward Ralph Simpson. One of the more underrated players in Nuggets history, Simpson appeared in five straight ABA All-Star Games from 1972 through 1976, and briefly rejoined the NBA Nuggets in 1978 for their first Western Conference Finals appearance with a team led by Hall of Famers David “Skywalker” Thompson and Dan Issel.

So the Nuggets have literally been a focal point of my life since birth, and much of my formative years as a young boy were spent at McNichols Arena cheering on the likes of Alex English, Fat Lever, T.R. Dunn, Bill Hanzlik, Danny Schayes and a cast of “Stiffs” as affectionally nicknamed by former Nuggets coach Doug Moe … who incidentally taught me every bad word in the English language as my parents seats were within earshot of the Nuggets bench.

As beloved as those 1980s Nuggets were – and despite appearing in nine consecutive playoff series under Moe – they were never really a championship contender in the wake of Magic Johnson’s dominant “Showtime” Lakers. The closest the 1980s Nuggets got to championship glory was a Western Conference Finals appearance versus the Lakers in 1985, only to have the amazing English succumb to a broken thumb in Game 4 and the series was over soon thereafter. English, Lever, and crew would deliver a thrilling second-round series versus the Houston Rockets in 1986 and another second-round appearance versus the Dallas Mavericks in 1988 (a season capped by the Nuggets winning a then-franchise record 54 games), but by 1990 the Moe Era was dismantled for good followed by two disastrous sub-25-win seasons under coach Paul Westhead.

Optimism for Nuggets fans would briefly resurface in 1994, when the young eighth-seeded, 42-win Nuggets pulled off the greatest upset (at the time) in NBA playoffs history by defeating the then-one seeded, 63-win Seattle Supersonics in five games. But again, that said optimism was fleeting, as the Nuggets star power forward LaPhonso Ellis blew out his knee in the offseason and the most inexplicable and (frankly) idiotic transactions in Nuggets history soon followed, including the inexcusable jettisoning of Dikembe Mutombo and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf by 1996 and the disastrous draft decisions in 1996, 1997 and 1998. It’s really hard to screw up three NBA Drafts in a row and miss on transformational players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, but the Nuggets made bad drafting an art form in the latter half of the 1990s.

In fact, the Nuggets were so bad between 1997 and 2003 that they won a total of 165 games, had three sub-20-win seasons and missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. The Nuggets ineptitude around the turn of the century made the Philadelphia 76ers “Process” look quaint. By comparison, in current head coach Michael Malone’s eight seasons at the helm the Nuggets have won 367 games, have appeared in five consecutive post seasons, two Western Conference Finals and have won an NBA Championship.

And old and young-ish Nuggets fans alike will of course remember the era of star forward Carmelo Anthony, head coach George Karl and the politically incorrect and inappropriately nicknamed “Thuggets” from Anthony’s arrival in 2003 through the post-Anthony teams of the early 2010s after he demanded a trade out of Denver in 2011. That era delivered 10 consecutive playoff appearances, but in only one season (2008-09) did the Nuggets move past the first round and in total, over 10 years that iteration of the Nuggets won just 22 playoff games. Again, by comparison, in Malone’s five playoff appearances the Nuggets have already won 37 games … oh, and a championship.

We are Stiffs no more.

During the exceptional introductions for Game 5 of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena, the Nuggets video production team shared a video titled “Mile High History … Built on the Back of Legends” and proceeded to air clips of English, Thompson, Issel, Lever, and Mutombo (I was hoping for one clip of Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the 2009 squad … too soon?). It was a wonderful nod to the franchise’s colorful but not-quite-championship-caliber past, and it was the moment of Game 5 that fired me up the most. The remaining 48 minutes of game time were just excruciatingly stressful en route to the Nuggets first-ever NBA Championship.

But as has been detailed by national and local media alike with the benefit of hindsight, this Nuggets team – unlike its many predecessors – was the prohibitive favorite to win it all. Even if the so-called “experts” at ESPN, Fox Sports and other “legitimate” media sources were openly rooting for Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Jimmy Butler to prove otherwise along the way.

Prior to this week, to be a Nuggets fan, most regrettably, was to live with inherent pessimism and hopelessness. Whether it was Thompson’s drug issues that tragically cut his career short at 29 years old, or English’s injured thumb in Game 5 of the 1985 conference finals, or Phonz’s blown out knee in the summer of 1994, or Danilo Gallinari’s and Jamal Murray’s ACL tears on the cusp of the playoffs in the Aprils of 2013 and 2021, respectively, we diehard Nuggets fans have learned to embrace the pejorative #NuggLife for decades now. Decades. (Never mind the Nuggets power forward injury curse that befell the likes of Calvin Natt, Antonio McDyess, Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario.)

My own pessimism was so bad that I was convinced that even if the Nuggets ascended to their one and only NBA Finals, it would be during the 2020 Orlando Covid “Bubble” rendering my ability to attend in person an impossibility. And hey, those Nuggets tested me with just their (at the time) fourth Western Conference Finals appearance!

Simply put, this Nuggets team is nothing like its predecessors. With very few exceptions, NBA Championship teams have a top-three (if not top one) player on their team surrounded by complimentary stars and role players … and they stay healthy. And for the first time in Nuggets history, they have that top one player in Nikola Jokic, a complimentary should-be All-Star in Murray, complimentary stars in Michael Porter, Jr. and Aaron Gordon, terrific role players and they stayed remarkably healthy.

John F. Kennedy famously said that “Victory has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan” and there are certainly countless names to thank for delivering Colorado basketball fans their first-ever NBA Championship. It starts at the top with owners Stan and Josh Kroenke, who upon acquiring the Nuggets in the year 2000 have steered the franchise to 15 playoff appearances in 23 years and have hired terrific management personnel including Masai Ujiri (2010-2013), Tim Connelly (2013-2022) and now Calvin Booth. Booth’s fearlessness in tweaking an already great roster with the astute off-season additions of Bruce Brown, Christian Braun and Kantavious Caldwell-Pope may have been the difference between a first-ever NBA Finals appearance and just another Western Conference Finals appearance. And lest we forget the aforementioned Coach Malone who has undoubtedly cemented himself as the greatest head coach in Nuggets franchise history.

But while it has been fun during this historic season to reminisce about all of the “almost there” seasons that have littered Nuggets history since the franchise’s re-arrival in 1967 (I say re-arrival because there was a Denver Nuggets franchise that participated in one lone NBA season in 1949-50), this current band of Nuggets are unencumbered by the past. It’s evident in the brilliant Jokic and his teammates’ ability over the past five seasons to vanquish all of the obstacles from Nuggets playoffs past, like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trailblazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and, at long last, the Los Angeles Lakers. When you’re as good as this Nuggets team has been under the stewardship of Jokic, Murray and Malone, you beat everyone. (We’ll get you next season, Golden State Warriors.)

As Mile High Sports radio personality Sandy Clough said to me in our conversation earlier this week, “it’s strange to watch the Nuggets with such confidence.” And that notion not only applied to this magical championship run that we all just experienced, but may apply for years to come.

We are Stiffs no more.