Gary Harris was here when almost no one else was.
In the early days of the Nikola Jokic era, the Nuggets rarely played in front of sell-out crowds. Ball Arena, or Pepsi Center back then, only got to capacity when the Warriors or Lakers came to town. On some nights, you could hear a pin drop. Few in this city thought the Nuggets were interesting or even worth covering. How times have changed.
But during those formative years, there were always signs that the Nuggets could one day become what they are now. One reason why was Harris, who Denver drafted in 2014 and developed into one of the best two-way shooting guards in the NBA. He was a fan favorite for his stout defense and even-keel mindset. He was a central figure in the Nuggets’ first playoff series win of the Jokic era vs. the Spurs. He was also the first Nuggets player to develop a real chemistry and synergy with the now back-to-back MVP.
The Harris-Jokic dribble hand-off was the Nuggets’ best action for years. It was the Nuggets’ go-to set when they really needed a bucket. Denver always got a good look out of it. There was a special on-court rhythm between those two.
Jokic still has an appreciation for what Harris brought to the table.
“He was the reason why I made a huge impact when we were starting,” Jokic said of Harris. “Me and him were kind of a two-man game. We were playing really good. Both of us. Back cuts, he was shooting the 3s. Then he was giving me the pocket pass. Me and him had a really good connection.”
Harris played his first 6 1/2 NBA seasons in Denver before he was dealt to Orlando at the 2021 trade deadline in a package for Aaron Gordon. He was back in town Sunday and logged 21 minutes in the Nuggets’ 119-116 win over the Magic.
DNVR caught up with Harris in the visitors locker room at Ball Arena after the game.
How does it feel being in the visitor’s locker room here?
It’s different. But it’s my third time coming back here. It’s always fun to come back though and see everybody.
But it was your first time playing against Jamal.
That was fun! That’s my dog, man. I’m happy to see him out there healthy, just making plays, doing what he do. The team looks good, man. It was fun.
Do you miss being here?
I definitely have a lot of memories, especially being here for almost seven years. I just have great memories every time I walk in, come into the city, come into this arena. Back when it was Pepsi Center, now it’s Ball Arena. But, good times. I’ll always remember those memories.
What memories come to mind?
Everything. Just being a team that wasn’t making the playoffs. Then losing, Russell Westbrook hitting that crazy shot to get that triple-double record in 2017. Then losing to Minnesota in the last game of the regular season. Then finally making the playoffs. 3-1, coming back from down 3-1 twice. Memories, man. We did a lot of fun stuff and it’s good to see everybody’s still rolling.
Do you know that you’re still a fan favorite here?
That’s good to know. That’s what’s up. I have nothing but love for my people in Denver. The organization, the coaching staff, the fans. It’s like my second home. I grew up here. I came here as a 19-year-old, and I learned a lot. I grew up in life. I learned a lot of things. I’ve got nothing but love and appreciation for everyone here.
How closely do you keep tabs on the Nuggets now?
I always keep up with them. Of course, Jamal. What Nikola is doing is fucking insane, but we’ve been seeing it the whole time. He’s balling. Just to see Mike getting back healthy. The new additions. I mean, the team is rolling, No. 1 in the West right now.
Do you keep in contact with anyone?
Me and Jamal stay in contact, especially when he has a good game. I’ll see his highlights and I always check in on box scores and see how he’s doing, see how Nikola’s doing. These are my guys. These are my brothers. We went through a lot of stuff. We’ve been through a lot of crazy times together. We all grew up together. I’ve got nothing but love for all of them.
What do you think of Nikolas’s run and back-to-back MVPs these last couple of years?
He might as well keep it going, you know what I’m saying? That’s what he does. The game is so simple to him. That step-back was crazy today. But I’ve seen that shit plenty of times. When he first brought out the one-footer…
The Sombor Shuffle
Yeah, the Sombor Shuffle.
Do you think they have what it takes to go all the way this season?
I feel like they have the right pieces, and you know how it goes. You’ve just got to keep fighting. It’s a long season, but the way they’re playing right now, it’s going to be tough for anybody to beat them in a seven-game series. I pray that everybody stays healthy, and they keep rolling. Shit, they’re well on their way. You know how this NBA stuff goes. You never know what’s going to happen, but they definitely put themselves in position to compete for a championship.
You were here for the beginning of this thing. Does any part of you wish you were here to see it through?
Umm, there are a lot of mixed emotions. That’s a tough question to answer just because that’s just how the league goes. I love the team I’m on now. We’ve got a great group of guys here. I’m happy for them. You never know. In this league, anything can happen. You just take it one day at a time. But it was fun today. I’ve been keeping up with them and playoffs are coming soon. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out for them.
After I asked Harris that last question, he paused for a couple of seconds before answering. You could tell there was something else there. The wheels were spinning. Sure he’s happy where is right now. I genuinely believe that. He enjoys being in Orlando and is content with his situation. But I got the sense that truthfully, he does wish he could have seen through what he started here in Denver.
Finishing the job with Harris in a Nuggets uniform would be sweet. It would feel right. That’s not usually how it goes in the NBA, however. It rarely works out how you think it will. The perfect timeline rarely comes to fruition.
But there’s no doubt that Harris looks back fondly on his Nuggets years. He’s grateful for his time here and is proud of the foundation that he helped lay. Come playoff time, he’ll be rooting for his “brothers.”