Nikola Jokic was never the biggest baseball fan. He always thought the game was too slow and a bit dull.

But on the first night of Nuggets training camp last September in San Diego, Jokic was at Petco Park for a Padres-Dodgers Tuesday night affair. And his opinion of the sport changed.

“I thought it was boring before, but we were in the first row,” Jokic said. “It was a little bit different.”

The company he was with may have helped. Sitting four wide in row 1 were Jokic, DeAndre Jordan, Ish Smith, and Jeff Green. Throughout the game, the three veterans brought Jokic up to speed on America’s pastime. In exchange, Jokic talked horseracing and filled the group in on his standardbreds back home in Sombor.

“Jeff Green gave us his credit card,” Jordan told DNVR about how the outing came together. “And we made it happen.”

It was a night of team bonding and good vibes, and it set the tone for the week that the Nuggets spent together in Southern California. Many more group outings and team meals followed as members of the Nuggets’ returning roster meshed with the eight new players that joined Denver last offseason. Michael Malone remarked that it was by far the most that he had seen one of his teams hang out together off the court during a training camp since he arrived in Denver. It was all player-initiated too and led by Jordan and Green.

“It’s kind of like a college vibe. We’re going back to the hotel. It’s kind of like dorms. We’re spending a lot of time with each other,” Jordan told DNVR. “Being back in Denver, we’d be going back to our families. Now, we’re forced to hang out with each other. That brings that brotherhood and that bond that we’re going to need this year.”

The Nuggets have felt extremely connected all season, and many within the organization look back on training camp in San Diego as where this team first began to harvest the chemistry and camaraderie that’s been central in Denver reaching the Finals for the first time. Contrary to a lot of teams in the NBA — some of which Denver has faced in these playoffs — the Nuggets operate as one unit.

They’re a team, not just a group of individuals. The Nuggets play together. They trust one another. They play for their teammates. They’re always on a string. Most of this team has been pushing in the same direction since training camp. Now, they’re four wins away from an NBA championship.

“I could tell from Day 1 of training camp in San Diego that this group was going to be special,” said Malone.

Of course, the Nuggets’ talent has been the driving factor in Denver getting to this unprecedented moment in its history. Jokic played his best season of basketball this year and then somehow raised his game to an even higher level in the postseason. Jamal Murray returned from his ACL injury and grew into a more well-rounded and complete player than he was in the bubble. Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon improved their weaknesses and bought into their roles.

But the intangibles still matter. How the personalities of a roster fit together still plays an enormous role in how high a team’s ceiling ultimately is.

It’s an aspect of team-building that general manager Calvin Booth was laser-focused on when piecing together the Nuggets’ roster last offseason and deciding which veterans he was going to add to give Denver the championship DNA that it needed. Booth wanted the Nuggets’ locker room to have a diversity of personalities. He envisioned a team filled with both charismatic, outspoken figures and focused, reserved leaders.

It’s mostly why Jordan is on the Nuggets right now. Entering the season, there wasn’t an expectation from the Nuggets’ front office that Jordan was going to play that many important minutes this season. He might be able to help if called upon, but Jordan’s leadership and locker room presence were always going to be more important than anything that he did on the court. Jordan is a veteran who’s always heard. He’s not afraid to call Jokic, Murray, or anyone on the Nuggets’ roster out. The Nuggets’ dynamic duo respects Jordan’s opinion too. The entire locker room does.

“He’s got an assertive personality,” Booth told DNVR about Jordan. “He’s willing to engage guys and talk to guys. I think it’s helped take pressure off of Joker and Jamal because they’re more lead-by-example types.”

Still, Jokic and others haven’t been afraid to use their voices. In Game 3 against the Lakers, Jokic took over the huddle during a fourth-quarter timeout and directed Denver into a two-man game with Murray that ultimately secured the Nuggets’ win. Before a game in Houston earlier this season, Jokic called out his teammates after he deemed their pregame warmup too lackadaisical.

Denver’s leadership has been rock solid all year.

In August, Green organized a players-only Nuggets minicamp in Miami. Prior to training camp in San Diego, Gordon hosted a team practice at his basketball fantasy factory in Denver. Afterward, the Nuggets played paintball together.

“It’s my favorite team I’ve ever been on,” Gordon said.

The Nuggets’ togetherness has been this team’s driving X-factor all year. It’s the secret sauce that’s elevated Denver above the rest of its competition. It didn’t stop after the Nuggets’ week in San Diego either. The team meals continued. The team outings kept going throughout the year. After wrapping up the regular season and clinching the first No. 1 seed in franchise history, the Nuggets had dinner together, watched the play-in games, and got an early scout on their eventual first-round opponent.

With Game 7 between the Celtics and Heat that will determine the Nuggets’ Finals opponent on tap for tonight, another team dinner may be in order.

“A lot of these guys that have won championships, and we have one on our team in KCP, they believe that the guys that eat together, win together,” Booth told DNVR.


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. Hear him every day on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind