Nuggets send athletic trainer Jim Gillen out in style

Twenty-three run ends as Denver wraps up season in style
by Aaron Lopez

It was sweater weather inside Pepsi Center.

More accurately, sweater-vest weather.

In a show of appreciation for longtime athletic trainer Jim Gillen, the Nuggets coaching staff and several members of the organization donned sweater vests for Denver’s season finale against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.

“That was the coolest thing,” Gillen said. “There were more sweater vests in the arena than a JC Penny warehouse.”

The vests became a signature part of Gillen’s game-night wardrobe during his 23 years with the team. He is retiring after more than two decades of prepping ice packs, taping ankles, pulling luggage from the cargo hold and countless other duties.

Since joining the Nuggets in 1991, he never missed a game or a practice. He also supported Colorado high schools by establishing the Excellence in Athletic Training awards in 2003.

“He’s meant a great deal to all the players who have come through here,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “As a first-year head coach, I‘ve had to rely on him in so many different situations with his experience and knowledge and know-how.

“I’m appreciative of him and I’m sad because it’s only going to be one year that I’m working with him. At the same time, I’m happy for him because when you’ve done it for as long as he has and done it as well as he has, you deserve to leave on your own accord. He’s a Nuggets legend, whether he likes it or not.”

Never one to seek the spotlight, Gillen graciously accepted compliments and tributes throughout the night.

Nuggets guard Nate Robinson introduced him to the crowd before the game, and team president Josh Kroenke, general manager Tim Connelly and vice president of basketball administration Lisa Johnson presented him with a commemorative jersey and an all-expenses-paid trip to a future NASCAR event.

The Nuggets also named the athletic training room in Gillen’s honor.

“I didn’t expect that at all,” he said.

Gillen then took his usual spot next to Shaw on Denver’s bench and went to work logging personal fouls and timeouts. He accompanied forward Kenneth Faried to the locker room in the third quarter to re-tape his ankle.

“Jim left a great legacy,” Faried said. “Last year before the playoffs when I got hurt, he was there for me. I wish he would’ve stayed to win a championship, but when it’s time, it’s time. I thank him for the three years he was here with me and for putting up with me in the training room.”

Gillen made sure to enjoy every moment of his final NBA game, but he was able to keep his emotions in check throughout the night.

“I kind of made sure I stayed away from the situation where I would cry,” he said. “Thank God I didn’t have to say anything to the crowd.”

Having reached the postseason 12 times in 23 years, there was only one thing Gillen would have changed.

“It would’ve been nicer going through the playoffs one more time,” he said.

Then again, Gillen knows as well as anyone ... some seasons are just gooder than others.