Heritage, eras, and the new Nuggets skyline jerseys

The post-Carmelo Anthony era of the Denver Nuggets began, of course, on the day he was traded to New York. That day would mark a historic sea change in the Nuggets culture, and in its wake the newly assembled team handled what could have been a much rougher transition remarkably well, closing out the season with an 18-7 record that few would have thought possible. Despite continued success (relative to expectations around the league) in the following season, the NBA lockout and injuries deprived Denver of the full training camp, preseason and 82-game regular season they really needed to take the team to the next level.

That, as well as the replacement over the last seven months of Nene, Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington with JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala means that, in effect, the Nuggets have not yet had the opportunity for their roster of young players to fully congeal as a cohesive unit, become sufficiently well versed in George Karl’s system, and establish clear identities individually and as a team. So although it has been a year and a half in the making, the start of the 2012-13 season seems, more than the Melo trade itself, to truly mark the beginning of a new Denver Nuggets era.

As such, the media day launch of the new gold alternate jerseys featuring the reincarnated skyline motif comes at the perfect time. It symbolizes the new beginning currently underway in Denver, and by implication imprints on the franchise a bright yellow punctuation mark signifying that the Carmelo years are now firmly relegated to the history books.

But while the new design closes the book on that most recent chapter, it also harkens back nostalgically to a more distant golden age of the Nuggets. At the presentation of the new jerseys, Josh Kroenke made a point of emphasizing that the design is meant to symbolize heritage, both in terms of Colorado’s mining history and of course the heritage of the Denver Nuggets franchise itself.

Roundball Mining Company readers interested in delving deeper into state history will find HistoryColorado.org to be an excellent starting point (no snark here, I’ve used it myself). But we’re here for basketball, and for our purposes a brief overview of some milestones in the original Nuggets skyline era are in order.

  • The inaugural Denver skyline jersey got off to a fitting start in the 1982-83 season when Alex English wore it on his way to winning the league’s scoring title, the only time in NBA history a Nuggets player has accomplished that feat. English remains, and may forever remain, the Nuggets’ all-time leader in points, points per game, assists, and games and minutes played.
  • Kiki Vandeweghe was the second leading scorer that same season, and he and English led the Nuggets to become the highest scoring team. (In fact, Denver was the highest scoring team for 5 consecutive seasons during that time, from 1980-81 to 1984-85).
  • 1982 also marked the first of nine consecutive playoff appearances, the longest streak in Nuggets history (until, presumably, it is matched in 2013).
  • In 1983 the Nuggets wore the skyline when they lost to the Detroit Pistons in the highest scoring game in NBA history, 184-186.

  • The Nuggets introduced a new variation on the original skyline design in the 1984-85 season, changing to a lighter shade of blue for their road uniforms (see below).
  • This would be Dan Issel’s final season prior to his retirement. He holds franchise records in rebounds and free throws which are highly unlikely ever to be broken.

  • The summer prior to 84-85, Denver traded Vandeweghe to Portland and acquired, among others, Fat Lever, who would go on to become the Nuggets’ all-time steals leader, and second in assists (to English).
  • Wearing the new blue skyline, the Nuggets would claim two division titles in 1985 and 1988, and reach the conference finals the second of only three times in franchise history in 1985.
  • 1988 marked two more Nuggets milestones: Doug Moe won Coach of the Year, the only Nuggets coach to have done so. And Denver attained its (NBA) franchise best record, matched in 2008-09, of 54-28.
  • Three of the five Denver Nuggets whose numbers have been retired are inseparable from the skyline era: Alex English (2), Dan Issel (44) and Doug Moe (432). Perhaps this is the most telling marker of how much of a heyday in Nuggets history it really was.

  • Even as the success of the 1980s began to fade, prior to the retirement of the skyline after the 1993-94 season, it ushered in a new era of success with the 1991 drafting of Dikembe Mutombo as the team’s new franchise player.

 

Some NBA fans complain these days that rebranding has become too gratuitous, that half the teams do it every season, and maybe there’s something to their complaints. I would argue that the Nuggets, though, have done a very good job of synchronizing their image overhauls with meaningful changes in the roster and organization. You can’t separate the rainbow skyline from Alex English. You can’t separate the powder blue from Carmelo Anthony.

And it might just be time to retire that powder blue. It would be fitting if this new gold skyline redux alternate were a precursor to a more complete jersey overhaul next season, which would even more completely emblematize this new Denver Nuggets era.

Like many have said before this, my very first thought upon seeing the new alternates was, “Wow. That is really yellow.” But I had been hankering for the Nuggets to bring back the old design for a long time, and they grew on me fast. I’m fully on board; I really do love these new jerseys, both in design and in what they represent symbolically.

Since the jersey roll out was two weeks ago, we’ve all had time to get used to them, and let them grow on us – or not. Now that the dust has settled and the surprise has worn off, how do you really feel about the new gold color and the restoration of the skyline? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Basketball-Reference.com and SportsEncyclopedia.com were used as references for this post.

 

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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • dynamo.joe

    Am I gonna have to watch this game on the intertubes again today?

    As for the uni’s, as long as they win I will like them.

  • nuggz2

    They are really yellow. But I too love bringing back the skyline design while keeping it slightly different. Can’t wait for this new era to begin!

  • plaidical

    I really like the new unis, they are really yellow, but I think they went with the good shade of yellow, and the skyline being back is amazing no matter the color scheme.

    If the Nuggets go back to having the skyline on all of their uniforms next year that would be amazing. I’m not sure which shade of blue I would want them to do it with though.

  • Andrew K

    I would rather think of them as “gold” and not “yellow”. It makes the look seem more valuable than disgusting.

  • EWilson

    I loved them the moment I saw them, regardless of how yellow they are. The Nuggets have always had more colorful, inventive uniforms than the other teams in the league and this just continues that tradition. In fact, most of the league wears dull, studgy looking uniforms that look like they were designed by a machine. I prefer personality, myself.

    Of course, winning in them would be nice as well! ;-)

  • nugswin

    I love the new gold unis and have from the moment I saw them. Most of my NBA fan friends think they’re some combo of obnoxious and annoying. Gonna be tough for them watching the playoffs this year as Denver advances!

    I also argued with them the moment Cleveland stole the #1 pick in the Lebron draft about how much we got screwed that year. Our lineup was loaded with guys who were not NBA quality players other than James Posey and rookie Nene Hilario yet massively over achieved to 17 wins while Cleveland tanked with a much more talented lineup. Of course they essentially won the Lebron sweepstakes and we (luckily?) settled for ‘Melo who my buddies assured me was an awesome consolation prize.

    History continues to justify my disappointment as Lebron is in the process of crafting a legendary starter on the alll-time all-nba team career while ‘Melo is in the process of cementing his legend as master of the contested 20′ jumper who rode Chauncey Billups and GK to the WCF once. So pardon me if I’m not on board with the powder blue jersey era (though they were sharp).

    Thanks for posting the Fat Lever photo. My favorite Nugget ever.

  • EWilson

    I meant to add that the Nuggets uniforms also hark back to ABA, which was a much more colorful league than the staid old NBA. If teams like the Celtics can keep that ‘dull’ NBA legacy alive, I see no reason why the Nuggets shouldn’t keep the brighter ABA legacy alive.

  • Jeff

    I love the Melo era jerseys, especially when the blue was shinier. I also like the darker alternate road jerseys, probably more than the light blue ones. The only ones I didn’t like were the dark blue and gold McDyess era uniforms.
    I guess I just dig yellow jerseys because my favorites around the league are the new Nuggets skyline and the Warriors. I don’t like the Lakers though. I would like if the Nuggets completely switched to these bad boys, but maybe white for home and blue for the road would be better, but keeping the same design.

  • Erlingur

    Great write-up, Joel. The skyline design is absolutely unique and is inseparable from the unique image and history of the Denver Nuggets. It’s my favorite Nuggets jersey design ever, and probably always will be.

    Personally, I love the yellow/gold skyline and plan on getting myself a jersey as soon as I can scrape enough cash together for it. And I don’t think we should aspire to or even worry about fans of other teams liking our uniforms. What’s more important is that the represent something we can connect with in our team, which the skyline obviously does, and even better if it can serve as a distraction for opponents, which the color will undoubtedly do.

    And I’d love it if us fans could push management to switch to the skyline full-time, by bringing out white and blue main jerseys with the same design for next season.

  • JM

    “prior to the retirement of the skyline after the 1993-94 season”

    The Nuggets were wearing the Navy blue and gold uniforms when they upset the Sonics in 1994. That should be after the 1992-1993 season.

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