I recently put out an article in which I detailed the most underappreciated Denver Nuggets players of all time. It was brought to my attention by a collective of the most esteemed local Nuggets writers, a group that I truly admire and respect, that I overlooked not only one of the most underrated Nuggets of all time, but perhaps one of the most underrated players in NBA history, Lafayette “Fat” Lever.
Since I am a man of such character and conviction, I am here to admit my mistake and to pay homage to the man, the myth, the legend.
Admittedly, while born in the 80s, I am a child of the 90s, and therefore much of my firsthand experience with my beloved Nuggets begins there.
I cherish the Nuggets teams of the early 90s that grew together, and ultimately took the NBA world by storm to become the first No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. I struggled alongside the Nuggets teams of the late 90s and early 2000s, never wavering in my faith that they would overcome.
I was fully on board with the Carmelo Anthony-led Nuggets teams of the mid to late 2000s and was — and still am — the biggest Chauncey Billups fan alive. I couldn’t have been more excited when the Nuggets pushed the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink in the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
And now, I am here to support this collection of current Nuggets.
But the Nuggets teams of the 80s remain somewhat of a mystery to me. I attended a handful of games at McNichols Arena and saw Alex English, Michael Adams and Danny Schayes play. I witnessed what must have been thrilling games, often of the 116-112 variety. Yet, all that stands out in my memory was the flash and excitement offered by Adams.
I appreciated what he could do with his diminutive frame, and to a seven-year old, his athleticism was awe-inspiring. But what I failed to realize or appreciate at that time was the overall, subtle brilliance of Fat Lever.
For those of you, like me, who aren’t familiar with Lever, let me introduce you.
Born in Pine Bluff, Ark., Lever’s family moved to Tucson, Ariz. when he was in the fourth grade. He would go on to star at Arizona State before being taken with the 11th overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Lever was traded two season later, along with Calvin Natt and Wayne Cooper, to the Nuggets, where his career blossomed.
He spent six seasons in a Nuggets uniform, and during that time he became their all-time leader in steals (1,167), second in assists (3,566), fifth in rebounds (3,621) and sixth in scoring (8,081). He still holds those places in the Nuggets’ record book for steals and assists.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Lever’s game was his rebounding ability. Standing only 6-foot-3, he was consistently the leading rebounder for the Nuggets. Oh, and did I mention that he currently sits at sixth on the all-time list for most triple-doubles in a career (43) — and that doesn’t include the three he recorded in playoff games. He was a two-time All-Star (‘88 and ‘90) and a one-time All-NBA and All-Defensive team selection.
He has one of the most impressive single-game performances in NBA history, when he torched the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls for 31 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals in 1988.
Simply put, Lever was the most well-rounded player to have ever played for the Nuggets and should be part of the collective consciousness of this generation of NBA fans. He was the ultimate stat sheet filler. I was as guilty as anyone of neglecting his place in the history of the NBA, but if you talk to anyone who watched him play, they will provide you anecdote after anecdote about his dominance.
So I encourage everyone to go watch a YouTube video, Google his stats, even call your uncle who lives in Denver if you have to. Whatever it takes, Fat Lever deserves to be remembered and commemorated.