Lafayette “Fat” Lever knew practice would receive a jolt of energy when legendary coach Doug Moe turned to the “beep-beep” drill.
Following one or two passes during a possession, a shot needed to go up. If more than five seconds ticked off the shot clock, it was a turnover.
That fast-paced, high-scoring Denver Nuggets’ style in the 1980s perfectly fit Lever’s versatile skill set. And following a six-year stint peppered with triple-doubles, all-star appearances and playoff berths, Lever will receive the ultimate individual accolade when his number is retired during Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“That freedom to be able to go out there and play,” Lever said by phone earlier this week, “as opposed to being in the controlled type of environment, was the release that I needed to show my abilities. And that was in Denver.”
Lever will become the sixth Nugget to have his jersey retired, joining Byron Beck’s No. 40, Alex English’s No. 2, Dan Issel’s No. 44, Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 and David Thompson’s No. 33. Moe and his 432 career victories are also hanging from the rafters.
Lever averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game during his Nuggets career from 1984-90. A two-time all-star, Lever ranks first all-time in franchise history in steals (1,167), second in assists (3,566), seventh in points (8,081) and eighth in rebounds (3,621). The 6-foot-3 point guard totaled 46 triple-doubles with the Nuggets, leading the NBA in that category with 16 in 1986-87. Lever advanced to the playoffs all six of his seasons in Denver and reached the Western Conference Finals in 1985.
But when asked about his most memorable moments from his time in with the Nuggets, Lever immediately focused on the bonds built. Teammates spontaneously gathered at restaurants during an era without constant smartphone communication. One time during a rare televised game, Issel faked an injury so legendary trailer Robert “Chopper” Travaglini could get some screen time.
“That was the light atmosphere that opened me up to being in Denver,” Lever said.
Lever learned the Nuggets would retire his jersey when president Josh Kroenke pulled him onto the floor during shootaround prior to Denver’s final preseason game in early October. The gesture immediately “shocked” Lever. Now as the ceremony nears, his excitement is brewing.
His family and godparents will join him at the celebration. So will a group of students from his high school in Tucson, Ariz., who will be documenting the day for the newspaper and yearbook. A slew of former coaches and teammates, including English, are expected to attend.
Lever anticipates some playful ribbing from those loved ones during Saturday’s ceremony. But they also recognize the magnitude of witnessing Lever’s jersey being raised into the rafters.
“It’s the ultimate legacy that you can leave here,” Lever said.