Nikola Jokic alternated his gaze between the flashy ring on his left hand and the new championship banner heading toward the rafters.
Both put a big grin on the big man’s face.
Jokic and the Denver Nuggets went through a festive pregame ceremony Tuesday night to celebrate the franchise’s first NBA title in front of a capacity crowd. The Nuggets tipped off the season against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers with their new title — defending champions.
It certainly had a nice ring to it. A long time coming, too — 47 NBA seasons in the making.
“Last year was amazing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said to the fans. “We got one ring. Who wants another? Let’s go get it.”
On hand for the festivities was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. So, too, was Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Nuggets and Josh Kroenke, the team’s president. Josh Kroenke brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy to midcourt to begin the party.
The Nuggets went 16-4 in the playoffs last season, including a sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Perhaps it was fitting that James and the Lakers were in the building for the opener and to hear the celebration.
“It’s only right since last season ended in Denver, makes sense that this season starts in Denver, too,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “Thank you for coming out and supporting tonight and all season long on our road to repeat.”
Player by player, the Nuggets stepped onto the court to receive rings that were created in collaboration with Jason of Beverly Hills, which designs championship rings that help tell the story. The rings that Jokic, Jamal Murray and the rest of the players received had one side with “World Champions” written on it, along with the Nuggets retro logo and the regular-season record (53-29). On the other side was the player’s name, number and the Nuggets’ mantra of “Bring it on.”
The rings also included the elevation of the Mile High City (5280) and the postseason record on the inside. At the center of the ring is “Nuggets” inscribed in yellow diamonds along with their iconic pickaxes. There’s also a hidden retractable ring that features the championship banner.
No wonder Jokic couldn’t take his eyes off it. He and his teammates also came out in new warmups with “World Champions” written on the back.
The path to a repeat may go through the Lakers in the West. Or Phoenix. Or Memphis. Or Golden State. Or Dallas. Or the Clippers.
“The thing we spoke about going into training camp was understanding that there is a bullseye on our back every night,” Malone said. “You get up for playing the world champs.
“The parity in the NBA is probably at an all-time high. The depth of each conference is tremendous. So you couple the parity with the fact that you’re a defending champion or reigning champion, you’re going to get everybody’s best every night. … With our success comes a responsibility to go out there and play to a standard of excellence every single night.”