Few athletes resonate on the Denver sports scene quite the way Chauncey Billups did. He’s as Colorado as it gets. Grew up in Park Hill. Attended George Washington High School. Starred at the University of Colorado.
And he had a profound impact on the Nuggets.
Getting there was a two-part experience. Billups’ first stint with the Nuggets was short and full of learning, being with the team for 58 games over two seasons in 1999 and 2000. The second stint? Well, that was plain magical.
Billups came back to Denver in 2008 a stronger, wiser, more polished player. He was a champion. He was an NBA Finals MVP. He was a winner in every sense of the word. And when he returned via trade with the Detroit Pistons, he lifted the Nuggets to heights they hadn’t seen in more than 20 years.
Reaching the Western Conference Finals.
Billups was an immediate extension of coach George Karl on the court. He was the final, authoritative piece that brought a talented, yet wild stallion-esque team and turned them into a finely-tuned machine. The Nuggets executed late. They became more solid in half court offense and more dogged on defense. Billups was a calming influence on the court and a leading voice in the locker room.
With him, the Nuggets had the look of a bonafide contender. And Billups enjoyed individual success along with the team’s success. He made the All-Star team in both 2009 and 2010 with the Nuggets, averaging a combined 18.6 points and 6.0 assists per game in those two seasons. More importantly, he performed best when the Nuggets needed it most. In 2008, there was a 24-point, 14-assist game against Toronto, a contest in which Billups hit 5-of-6 from the 3-point line. There was also a 28-point, 10-assist game against Houston in which Billups hit 4-of-9 from the 3-point line. He scored 24 or more points in seven of the Nuggets playoff games that season, helping get the team to the conference finals.
In all, Billups played in all or parts of five seasons in Denver. His 16.9 career points average with the Nuggets is his highest scoring average with any team in his career. He also added 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals.
Nicknames were apropos: Smooth, in high school and college; Mr. Big Shot, in the NBA. He was both. He was more than that. And in retirement, he is as loved today by fans as he ever was in a Nuggets’ uniform.