LaPhonso Ellis excited about returning to Denver
He signed with the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent later that summer and played for two other teams before ending an 11-year NBA career.
In his heart, Ellis never left the Mile High City.
“I always knew I’d be a Denver Nugget, no matter what happened,” he said from his home in South Bend, Ind., this week.
Ellis, a power forward who spent six seasons with the Nuggets, will return to Denver to present the game ball before the team’s home-opening game against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 6.
“I’m very excited about the return,” he said. “I want to thank so many people internally with the Nuggets and in the community.”
Though slowed by injuries during his time in Denver, Ellis was a popular player who was a key member of the Nuggets team that upset the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1993-94 Western Conference playoffs.
He went on to average 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds in 343 games with Denver before signing with the Atlanta Hawks before the 1998-99 season.
Ellis retired in 2003 and now works as an ESPN college basketball analyst. In advance of his trip to Denver, he took a few minutes to answer some questions about his pending return.
Give me an idea how this all came about?
“I’m not fully sure. I’m still overwhelmed and feel that it’s undeserved. (Media relations director) Tim Gelt and (executive director of basketball administration) Lisa Johnson have been working on trying to have me come back in town. Tim shared that I was one of his favorite players when he was a young guy and I was a Nugget. Lisa Johnson, I’ve known her since she was Lisa Sloan. I feel overwhelmed, flattered. Just excited about the energy and effort they put in to making it possible. My wife, my youngest son Walter and I are really excited about taking it in.”
You were a very popular player during your time in Denver. Why do you say it’s undeserved?
“I never made an All-Star team. I was injured for most of my career there. I had a good first two years and it looked like I was ready to make the jump and possibly make an All-Star team over the next two years and then I lost my third season due to a knee injury. I lost half of my fourth season to a knee injury. And then when it looked like I was getting back to form in my fifth season, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. When you look down the roster of former Denver Nugget players, my name doesn’t jump out in terms of stats, in terms of wins and certainly not individual accolades, whether it be All-Star games or scoring titles. When Tim and Lisa told me what they were thinking, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I felt overwhelmed, yet with a great sense of gratitude as well.”
There’s still a great emotion attached to that 1993-94 team. Do you think the fans will remember the good times more than the injuries?
“I’m not so sure. I’ve been gone so long. That’s almost 20 years ago that I was drafted. It was 18 years since we made that great run. I’m not sure how I’ll be received. I can just tell you that I’m very excited about the return. Personally, I was hoping I would enjoy the privilege of being a guy who ended his career with same team he was drafted by. I had the opportunity to play in the NBA for 11 years. I was hoping all 11 years would be in a Denver Nuggets jersey. From then, I’ve always had aspirations of coaching. I thought all those things would happen in Denver. Obviously it didn’t go that way. Again, without the team stats during my time and the individual stats during my time, I felt there were other people more deserving than I am.”
When was the last time you were in Denver?
“The last time I was there was 2008. I was in for a day when Notre Dame played in the NCAA tournament. It was a quick trip for me.”
This season, the Nuggets are wearing an alternate third jersey that incorporates the skyline logo you wore as a rookie. What do you think of the gold uniforms?
“I haven’t seen those. Those are still my favorite. My youngest son was looking at one of the ones that I have down in my basement in a nice little box about two weeks ago. He was comparing the fabric of that jersey with the fabric of the current jerseys. Interestingly enough, for kids who like things very light these days, he actually liked the old ones better. I’m excited to see it.”
What are your thoughts about the Nuggets this season?
“I watched them against Phoenix the other night. I didn’t realize there’s so much size with (Timofey) Mozgov, Kosta Koufos and Danilo Gallinari. I’m really excited about the season for you guys. You’ve got some bigs inside, and I love Wilson Chandler, who can score from just about anywhere, plus Ty Lawson. And with JaVale McGee inside, I’m just real excited. Plus, we also picked up Andre Iguodala. We have some experience, some size and some athleticism out on the wings. I’m excited about how (coach) George (Karl) is going to put all these guys together.”