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Curry Kirkpatrick
March 29, 1976
But hardly a soul knows that David Thompson and his gaudy Denver teammates are leading the ABA
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March 29, 1976

They Run And They Gun-and They're A Mile High

But hardly a soul knows that David Thompson and his gaudy Denver teammates are leading the ABA

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Meanwhile Denver presses on toward its own playoffs. Brown and his assistant, Doug Moe, both out of New York and the University of North Carolina, are ABA originals. Likewise, men experienced in the delicate art of surviving mercy killings.

While not wishing to seem preoccupied with the NBA-ABA "thing," Brown finds little else to occupy his fertile mind as his team goes around blowing everybody off the court. With all due respect to the beatification accorded Golden State after that team won the NBA title employing free substitution and a togetherness motif, it has been forgotten that Brown used this very style three years ago with the old Carolina Cougars and has embellished it at Denver.

In unguarded moments the coach will vent his frustration, voicing an old ABA lament. "TV," Brown says caustically. "That's all we've ever needed. They talk about bad ABA defense. On Auerbach's halftime TV clinics he should show the standard NBA defense: one guy holding another guy's shirt. Why, we play the Nets some games so amazing not even Mendy and Sonny could describe them."

Julius Erving of the New York team holds similar feelings about the Nuggets. "Early on, I thought they weren't deep and Thompson would have stamina problems, and we would take them," says the Doctor. "But no. David came in here like a young gunslinger after me. At 26 I feel like an elder statesman. I don't go screaming in the night over this, but he does get me more involved, more up. He's helped make Denver the best."

It is quite a team Erving speaks of. In addition to the rookie, Thompson, the Nuggets are, in capsule:

Bobby Jones, 6'9" second-year man out of North Carolina. Best defensive forward in basketball. Shot 60.5% last year (only man other than Wilt Chamberlain ever over 60). Leading league again this season at 59% despite worst form and shortest range in history of mankind. Just never takes bad shot. Great leaper. Denver MVP, easy. Thrifty, devoted, straight arrow. Brown says that during pregame talks, while other players scratch, read, go to bathroom, Jones "stares at me and actually listens. He's scary." Bob Goldsholl, Nets TV announcer, says Jones is so clean that when he went to the movie Story of O, he walked out when he discovered it was not the life of Oscar Robertson.

Dan Issel, 6'9" center from Kentucky. Can shoot from anywhere and usually does. Deceptively unquick, except when catching own poodle, which sometimes wears red nail polish. Obtained from late, great Baltimore Claws. "Like reprieve from electric chair," said Issel. Had trouble adjusting to Nugget running game and free-lance offense after years of walking ball up at Kentucky. Then got in shape. Says game "fun again." Misses beloved quarter horses back home so frequents dog track with Coach Moe. Only place he's ever been a loser.

Ralph Simpson, 6'5" guard. Hardship out of Michigan State when about five years old. Long considered just a shooter, but now second in the league in assists, reaching perfection as complete player. Used to throw chicken bones from Colonel Sanders on motel room carpet. Says was "regressing as player before Larry came here to coach. He's such a great teacher, I seem to improve every game. It's like he's out there on court with me." Also changed eating habits. Now calls himself "fruititarian."

Chuck Williams, 6'3" guard. Local boy—Colorado U.—made good. Does dirty work. Sets team up, passes, guards toughest backcourt men. Says Nuggets' intense, 48-minute effort every night is result of "family atmosphere. They work hearts out for Larry and each other because of the kind of people they are." Exactly what others say of him.

The Bench. Byron Beck, 6'9" wizened cornerman, 31. Looks 51. Feels 71. First player signed by Nuggets, then called Rockets. Alltime stationary marksman, fourth-best field-goal percentage in league. Breaks fingers a lot.

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