The most talked about story of the NBA summer has been LeBron James long drawn out decision to return home and re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James ceremonious homecoming prompted me to reminisce on the return of a Denver, Colorado hometown hero- Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups.
Billups was a three time Colorado Mr. Basketball and garnered four All-State selections while starting every year at George Washington High School in Denver. After two years at the University of Colorado, Big 12 First Team and All-American honors Billups entered the NBA.
In a failed rookie season a struggling Billups was traded 51 games into the schedule from the Boston Celtics to the Toronto Raptors. In his second season he landed a role in his old stomping ground, lacing up his sneakers for the Denver Nuggets. After playing in 58 games over two seasons Denver shipped its hometown hero to the Orlando Magic where he never played. Eventually he landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Billups was labeled a bust by his fourth NBA season.
After signing a six-year $35 million contract to play for the Detroit Pistons in 2002 Billups fortune changed. For the first time in his career, he had stability. Joe Dumars then Piston general manager begun to assemble a championship team, in Billups first season the Pistons reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1991.
In his second year, Billups helped put the final nail in the Lakers Millennium dynasty’s coffin, completing a gentleman’s sweep (4-1) in the NBA Finals. Mr. Big Shot, once prematurely labeled a draft bust early in his career, playig for four teams in five seasons, was now a NBA Finals MVP boasting a 21 point five assist Finals statistical line.
The Pistons would make it back to the Finals the following year anchored by Billups 18.7 points per game (ppg) and 6.5 assist per game (apg) playoff averages, however would lose to the San Antonio Spurs in a seven game series.
In his six seasons in Detroit Billups and the Pistons reached at least the Eastern Conference Finals every season, including the two above mentioned Finals appearances.
On November 3, 2008, Billups was to the Nuggets- again in a blockbuster trade that sent superstar Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons. However, Billups was at a different stage in his career when he arrived back in Denver. No longer was he Chauncey Billups a young journey man point guard unable to adapt to the NBA due to lack of consistency, but now an All-Star, All-Defensive player, champion and Finals MVP. Possibly the missing piece to a young collection of talent that continually failed to get of the first round of the playoffs.
Paying homage to legendary Hall of Famer and Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, Billups wore jersey number 7.
Billups homecoming resulted in the Denver Nuggets best season in franchise history. Billups averaged 17.9 ppg and 6.4 apg while running the show in Denver. The Nuggets totaled their best record to that date 54 wins and a second seed in the playoffs. The Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals during the 2008-2009 season and Billups had brought relevancy to his hometown team.
The following season Billups played in his only full season as a Nugget- a promising season derailed by the return of coach George Karl’s cancer. After a unhappy Carmelo Anthony decided not sign a three-year contract extension and all but forced his way out of Denver the Nuggets were forced to part ways with Billups who wanted to retire as a Nugget. According to a Fanhouse, article “Carmelo Tends to Garden of Good and Evil” via Wikipedia.org
“It was hard, hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Billups said. “I had to tell my girls that daddy was traded, that he was leaving to play across the country. I told them it wasn’t my choice, that nothing could be done about it. I had to go. It wasn’t a happy scene.”
All Statistics gathered through Basketball Reference