Woody Paige: Nuggets' 50th anniversary celebration misrepresents franchise history

Woody Paige: Nuggets' 50th anniversary celebration misrepresents franchise history
Posted at 12:17 PM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 14:17:45-04

The Nuggets are celebrating the 50th anniversary of this franchise.

However, significant quantification is being totally ignored in this year of commemoration.

*The 2017-18 season actually will be the 52nd of professional basketball in Denver.

*The Nuggets actually were established 85 years ago.

The Denver Nuggets joined the National Basketball Association in 1949, not 1976.

And the Nuggets have played in five leagues.

Nevertheless, you Nuggets go ahead with the 50th year logo, special promotions and a season-long observance, created by some young front office worker in a lame, lethargic attempt to attract crowds back to The Can.

At one time the most popular draws all of pro basketball, the Nuggets of the past two years have maintained the lowest attendance in the NBA.

Shameful. Not the Denver sports fans, but the Nuggets for being so bad so long, just like their fellow Avalanche.

Anyway, the Nuggets weren’t quite conceived 50 years ago this week, as they are claiming. The public relations machine has a cute way of saying "the franchise" was started on June 14, 1967 when the Ringsby trucking family put up a bond to own the rights to own the Denver team in the fledgling American Basketball Association, which would compete against the established NBA.

In reality, when the ABA originally was envisioned, there was no Denver team. Kansas City was an original franchise when Jack Trindle, a Los Angeles businessman, invested $25,000 on February 1. But when a suitable arena couldn’t be found, ABA commissioner George Mikan (the former first great center in the NBA) recommended Trindle shift the franchise to Denver (which had the Denver Coliseum and the downtown Auditorium Arena). Trindle backed out, and Bill Ringsby, owner of the trucking company that bore his name, wrote a check for $350,000 to take over. He assigned 30-year-old son Donald to run the organization.

The team was named Rockets, with the "rocket" logo of the "Ringsby Rocket" trucking lines and its Halloween colors of orange and black.

Donald didn’t know a truck tire from a point guard, so he hired Dick Eicher — who had been an All-American player at Eastern Washington, a veteran in World War II and a player in Denver for a highly-respected amateur team (and much later he would become a Coors executive) — as general manager.  Bob Bass, who had coached at Oklahoma Baptist for 15 seasons and ultimately led the school to the NAIA national title, was named Rockets head coach.

The team’s first draft pick was a guard from Southern Illinois. But Walt Frazier, maybe you’ve heard of him, chose the NBA, and the Rockets’ first signing was University of Denver center Byron Beck.

The Rockets won their first game, 110-105, over the Anaheim Amigos at the Auditorium Arena before an audience of 2,750 and would finish third in the Western Conference with a good 45-33 record, which, unfortunately, wasn’t good enough for the postseason.

I began covering the ABA in 1970, and saw my first Rockets game in Denver that season when they played the Memphis Pros.

Pro basketball had returned to Denver in 1967, and the team, whose name was changed in 1974 to Nuggets, joined in the merger with the NBA.

Basketball had been around the city, though, for decades.

The Denver Safeway Pigs were founded in 1932 as a local amateur team and became a member of the Missouri Valley Amateur League from 1935-1940. In 1939 the team’s nickname was changed, thankfully, to Nuggets. But the Nuggets moved to another league and became the, get this, Ambrose Jellymakers.

Meanwhile, the Basketball Association of America was born the same year I was – 1946.

The BAA’s opposition, the National Basketball League, awarded a team to Denver in 1948, and the Nuggets became the first professional team in the state and the first pro basketball team west of St. Louis.

The Nuggets were last in the West Division.

The following season the two leagues united to become the National Basketball Association of America (or NBA), and the Nuggets were included in the amalgamation. And, again, they were last in a league with three divisions.

The Nuggets became defunct.

And Denver became the No. 1 city in the country for amateur play and national tournaments.

Until 1967.

Now, the celebration of 50 years, just like the album "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’."  But the Beatles and the Nuggets existed before then.