As I wind down my top 20 Nuggets of all time list we get into the Nuggets players who made the biggest marks on this franchise. And at number six I come to probably the best all-around player in Nuggets History and maybe the smallest rebounding machine in NBA history, Lafayette “Fat” Lever.
Lever did not start his career with the Nuggets as he was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers with the 11th pick in the 1982 NBA Entry Draft out of Arizona State. Lever was part of a terrific backcourt at ASU teaming with future NBA star Byron Scott for the Sun Devils from 1980- 1982. He was sent to the Nuggets in a trade that produced several of the greatest Nuggets on this list, the Kiki Vandewege deal in 1984. He came to Denver along with Calvin Natt and Wayne Cooper and helped form the nucleus of the 1984 team that took the Lakers to the brink of elimination and the NBA Finals that year. Lever spent 6 full seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks after the 1989-1990 season. He played parts of 3 seasons with the Mavericks before retiring to front office and broadcasting positions in the NBA in 1994. He is one of only 3 players in NBA history to have at least 15 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single playoff game in the 1988-1989 playoffs. The other two players to accomplish the feat are Jason Kidd and Wilt Chamberlain.
Lever was always a durable player as he played in at least 71 games in each of his 6 seasons with the Nuggets. And as is noted above, he was an extremely versatile player as well as he led the Nuggets in rebounding in 4 of his 6 seasons in Denver. He was only 6′ 3″ tall but had a knack for the ball on the defensive backboards averaging 8.9 rebounds in 1986-1987, 8.1 in 1987-1988, and career high 9.3 rebounds per game in the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons. He was also a stellar defensive player and is the Nuggets all time leader in total steals and steals per game played. Over a 4 year span with the Nuggets from 1986-1990 Lever averaged over 18 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 2.5 steals a game. He is also the Nuggets career leader in triple doubles with 36 such feats and is 6th on the all time NBA triple doubles list with 43. Lever is on the top 10 list in Nuggets history in 13 statistical categories and these are listed below:
7th in minutes played with 16,687
7th in field goals made with 3,304
7th in field goals attempted with 7,280
8th in offensive rebounds with 1,119
8th in defensive rebounds with 2,502
8th in total rebounds with 3,621
2nd in assists (behind only Alex English) with 3,566
1st in steals with 1,167
8th in turnovers with 1,075
7th in points scored with 8,081
7th in minutes played per game with an average of 35.6
2nd in assists per game with 7.5
1st in steals per game with 2.5
That is an impressive list of accomplishments for a 6′ 3″ point guard.
Lever was bestowed with a few awards during his time in Denver as well. He was an NBA All star is 1988 and 1990 as a member of the Nuggets. He was named to the All-NBA second team in 1987 and the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1988 as well. If John Stockton and Magic Johnson weren’t in the league during most of Lever’s career in the Western Conference, you could be sure that he would have made several more all star games and named to many more all NBA teams.
I have a lot of great memories of “Fat” during his tenure with the Nuggets. I just remember marveling at how a guy 6′ 3″ tall could grab 10-15 rebounds in a game in spite of most of the other players on the floor being considerably bigger than him. He ran Doug Moe’s offense with precision and I think that the passing game was set up perfectly for Lever’s skills because the guards ended up under the basket quite a bit on offense and Lever had such a nose for the ball that he would come up with rebounds and give the Nuggets additional possessions. Lever wasn’t a great shooter but he was an amazingly clutch shooter whether from the field or the free throw line. There was many a game in that 1984 playoff run that came down to making free throws late and because Lever almost always had the ball in his hands he was the one taking the shots. He was good on them most of the time. Lever injured his knee late in his Nuggets career and that is why the Nuggets ended up trading him to the Mavericks after the 1990 season. He only played in 4 games in the 1990-1991 season for the Mavericks, 31 in 1991-1992, did not play in 1992-1993 and played in 81 games in 1993-1994 before being released by the Mavericks after the season, effectively ending his career.
But “Fat” was a great Nugget and that is why I have christened him the 6th greatest Denver Nugget of all time, the one and only, Lafayette “Fat” Lever! Photos courtesy denverstiffs.com.