As we move closer to the top spot of my 20 greatest all time Denver Nuggets we come to a player whose raw stats may not show him to be one of the Nuggets 20 greatest, but his impact on the team when he arrived and 2 debilitating injuries that shortened his career most certainly do. My pick for the 9th greatest Denver Nugget of all time…….Calvin Natt!
Although Natt only played parts of 5 seasons with the Nuggets he is a beloved former player because of the impact he had in the magical 1984-1985 season which saw the Nuggets make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals against a Laker team led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the rest of the “Showtime” crew. Natt was drafted with the 8th pick of the 1979 NBA Entry Draft out of the University of Louisiana Monroe by the New Jersey Nets who had traded for the pick with the Milwaukee Bucks. He only played one season in New Jersey before he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers where his career would take off. In Natt’s 5 years in Portland, he averaged a very respectable 17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game playing with the likes of former Nugget Point Guard “Fat” Lever and Wayne Cooper. The Blazers made the playoffs in each of Calvin’s 4 full seasons there but could never get by the Lakers in the playoff tournament. He became a large part of Nuggets history when on June 7th of 1984 Natt was traded to the Nuggets along with Wayne Cooper and “Fat” Lever along with 2 draft picks for Nuggets fan favorite Kiki Vandewege. The Nuggets had been a good team since the mid 70’s under coaches Larry Brown and Doug Moe but felt they needed more toughness to get by the Lakers in the playoffs so they pulled the trigger on the mega-deal with the Blazers.
Natt, Cooper and Lever were just the trifecta to give the Nuggets that toughness and Natt was the leader of the tough man brigade during his time in Denver. On many occasions Natt played through various maladies mostly to his knees and gave the Nuggets the scoring punch, interior toughness and rebounding that they so badly needed. Along with his sidekicks Cooper and Lever and remaining Nuggets stars Dan Issel and Alex English, that 1984-1985 team took the Lakers to the brink before finally bowing out in a hotly contested 6 game series with the eventual champs. One of the reasons the Nuggets were finally beaten by the Lakers that year was because Natt injured his knee again in Game 3 of the series in Denver, played on it in games 4 and 5 and lost much of his effectiveness and then finally succumbed to the injury and had to sit out the deciding 6th game at McNichols Arena. Natt had by far the best statistical season of his career in ’84-’85 as he average 23.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the season. He was only listed at 6′ 6″ but many who know better would tell you that 6′ 4″ would be generous. He played at 6′ 6″ or taller because of his tenacity under the boards and ability to score from anywhere inside of 18′.
For his Nuggets career Natt averaged 17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists but these numbers could have been much better had he not been so prone to leg injuries. Natt played in 69 of the Nuggets 82 games during the 1985-1986 season and saw his scoring average dip to 17.7 points per game and the Nuggets again made the playoffs and made some noise in the Western Conference. The following year is when disaster struck the Louisiana native. On opening night 1986 Natt went down in heap underneath the Nuggets basket after a layup attempt holding his right leg and did not play another minute for the Nuggets that season. He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL and a torn Achilles tendon. These injuries effectively ended the legitimate NBA career of Calvin Natt. He returned after his rehab in 1987 but only played in 27 games for the Nuggets and started the 1988-1989 season with the Nuggets before he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on January 26, 1989 along with Jay Vincent for David Greenwood and Darwin Cook. He only played in 10 games with the Spurs before he was released and then signed a 10 day Contract with the Indiana Pacers before retiring due to his weary knees in November of 1989.
My best memories of Calvin Natt are from that magical Playoff run in 1985 before he was injured. He was a dominant force under the basket and went head to head with some of the league’s best big men including Jabbar, Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz and Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets. Natt never backed down from anyone and along with Bill Hanzlik took to frustrating other teams star players with their tenacity and grit. Although he was a premier scorer before his injuries, his largest value to any team he played on was his desire, toughness and unbridled will to get the job done no matter the impact on his body. This style of play eventually ruined Natt’s career and cut short what should have been an amazing run in the NBA for the former ULAMO star.
So there’s my pick for the 9th greatest Denver Nugget of all time…….Calvin Leon Natt!
Let me know what you think about my pick for the ninth greatest Nugget of all time in the comments below and follow all of the great NuggLove writers like S.E. Shepherd, Mike Catalino, Joe McQuiston and Len Nunes here and on Twitter@Nugg_Love. Photo courtesy NBA Archives.