Fat Lever got a surprise Tuesday morning. The Denver Nuggets legend thought he was in town just to spend some time around the franchise’s young players. Observe practice. Watch the preseason finale. Impart some wisdom. That kind of thing.
Instead, Lever learned that on Saturday, Dec. 2, prior to a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, he’ll become the sixth Nuggets player to have his jersey retired.
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke broke the news as shootaround wrapped up. Kroenke unfurled a rainbow skyline throwback with “Lever” and “12” stitched across the back of it as he told Lever it would soon be lifted to the rafters.
“I wasn’t expecting much but to spend some time and see some of the younger guys,” Lever said. “I get out on the court, and it happens that way. It’s like, ‘OK, did I get Punk’d?'”
Lever starred for the Nuggets from 1984-1990 — a six-season stretch highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1985. Lever stood only 6-foot-3, but he impacted the game everywhere. Lever recorded 46 career triple-doubles. He finished with more career triple-doubles than Michael Jordan, Nuggets coach Michael Malone pointed out.
“Fat Lever for his size had a huge heart and impacted the game in so many ways,” Malone said. “Scoring, rebounding, steals, defense. And he was here when they were good. He wasn’t putting those numbers up on bad teams.”
Lever averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.46 steals per game with the Nuggets. He is Denver’s all-time leader in steals (1,167), second in assists (3,566), seventh in points (8,081) and eighth in rebounds (3,621). Lever once recorded eight steals in a single quarter, which is still an all-time record.
The Nuggets played a run-and-gun style in the ’80s under former head coach Doug Moe. Their 1984-85 team featured Lever and Calvin Natt at the guard spots, Alex English at small forward and Dan Issel as a big man off the bench. They tried to use the altitude to their advantage.
“Playing that fast pace in that altitude was always a success,” Lever said. “I remember when we played the Lakers, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) would have that oxygen mask over there.”
This summer, Kroenke, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and Malone discussed the idea of retiring Lever’s number 12. Byron Beck’s 40, David Thompson’s 33, Dan Issel’s 44, Alex English’s 2 and Dikembe Mutombo’s 55 already hung in the rafters.
“We looked up at those plaques and we said, ‘How does Fat not have his jersey retired?'” Malone recalled.
In less than two months, Lever will join that exclusive club.
“I’m very very grateful and appreciative,” Lever said. “It came out of the blue. I had no idea. I’m still in shock.”
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