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Family on 3 - The rare bond of these Denver Nuggets

Mike Olson Avatar
April 12, 2024

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
– Richard Bach

There’s a moment in most people’s young adulthood in which you’re deeply trying to establish your YOU. Your uniqueness, what makes you one of one. Those first forays into new territory can also come with a rejection of what got you there, as they did with me. I remember several years of feeling as if I had a closer bond with friends than family, as I’d PICKED those friends. I’d had no say in whatever shape my family had taken, I’d simply gotten stuck with what I’d gotten, even if that getting was very good.

A few decades later, I’m simply grateful for every last bit of what I was “stuck” with.

Moreover, I was glad for all I’d stuck myself with, as well. I tend more to the Richard Bach line of thought up top when it comes to family, and am so blessed that there are also a few people in my life external to my family tree that are still as much “kin” as anyone I share DNA with. How much luckier am I to have both. That concept, family. It’s one of the things that has stuck with me about the chant these Denver Nuggets wrap most practices and games with. Coach Mike Malone standing in the midst of his team, shouting:

“Family on three! One, two three…” “FAMILY”

Now, some of those teams chants are surely more enthusiastic than others, just like how so many people feel day over day about their family. But for the Nuggets, these aren’t just words. Family not only runs across the top of Denver basketball literally, but is one of the core tenets of the organization holistically. In the abstract, it sounds hokey, and maybe over the top. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, and tough decisions sometimes have to be made. There also have certainly been guys who have come and gone who have decidedly NOT felt a part of the family here, even during these idyllic days (koff, Bones Hyland). On the whole, the description is so apt, it’s clear this team has clearly internalized the concept, is living it, and that is a part of what makes them so utterly rare.

On Wednesday night, when the Nuggets were distancing themselves from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter, two of the vaunted five starters stayed seated on the bench, with second year stars Peyton Watson and Christian Braun playing so impressively as to warrant staying in the game. What made that even more impressive was the two players they were supplanting for that moment, Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. AG and KCP are the most-valued pieces in the defensive chain the Nuggets run their crunchtime D upon, and yet there they sat…

Well, maybe “sat” isn’t the right word…

There they celebrated. There they joined the rest of their team in the barbaric yawp that was P-Wat and CB feeling themselves.

You know who would not celebrate those plays as Gordon and Caldwell-Pope did? Selfish guys. Guys who are thinking about how they look or worrying about whether a DNP in the fourth quarter might reflect on their standing. Guys who aren’t a part of the family. A guy who’s shooting for First Team Defense like KCP could sure feel a certain sort of a way about the two kids playing out the string and also grabbing the defensive player of the game chains. Instead, Kenny was as thrilled as the rest.

The same feelings went a few games prior, when backup point guard Reggie Jackson had spent a few games in a bit of a slump, and was finally breaking out of that shell in a spectacular way, and in a needed fourth quarter run. The guy who told Malone to leave him in? Jamal Murray, who ceded his spot that night to let Reggie cook. When Jackson scored seven straight points to put the Nuggets out of reach at games end, Murray was one of the first to greet him off the floor, overjoyed and celebrating as much as if he’d been the one to sling those arrows.

Heck, even rarely used center Jay Huff is a part of this Nuggets family, loved to the as much as any of the rest. When the Nuggets had banked a recent game to the point of bringing the far end of the bench in, Huff came into the game. In his short time, Jay had a block and then a pair of offensive plays – a finger roll layup and a dunk – that brought the starters back to their feet and cheering. Hell, Moach was actually the first one running out. On a less cohesive team, those starters are discussing plans in their relative cliques as the nobodys salt the game with absolutely no one still watching. In Denver, it’s an event. Because here we celebrate the success of our family.

That feeling of family extends beyond the players having that uncommon bond, and their rejoicing in each other’s games. That feeling extends to Malone’s deep and concerted efforts to let a badly injured Jamal Murray know that the team would stick with him a couple years back. That extends to Gordon traveling halfway across the globe to hang with Nikola Jokic in his hometown. That extends to Jokic breaking his usual media silence to lift up the podcast of teammate Michael Porter, Jr., who himself has sacrificed ego in abundance for the greater good. To Caldwell-Pope and Murray both proclaiming in recent postgame interviews that they are Nuggets for life. To Malone telling the press he has “two daughters and 18 boys”. To a team that seems to have found harmony from top to bottom, this Denver Nuggets family has bought in.

It’s family. It is celebration, it’s true. Rejoicing and all the good stuff. But it is sacrifice as well. Hardship and frustrations and tears and blood and sweat and cohesion in moments that would test a lesser bond. It’s utter familiarity. It’s a subtraction of self for that greater good, and with that a bond that is so much harder to break than a “buddy”. What these Denver Nggets have already done together will be something that connects them for the rest of their lives. That they keep coming back to it every day willing to give of themselves, build those bonds even deeper and keep the larger goals in mind is something that only a family – of blood or bond – can do.

We are family. Get up everybody and sing!
-Sister Sledge


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