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From the archives: The original Denver Nuggets

Before the Denver Nuggets there was the Denver Nuggets. Nope, not a typo, and no, not the Rockets, the name of the team when they were part of the American Basketball Association, but the Nuggets, the two-season basketball team that first major professional sports franchise in Denver.

Advertisement in the Intermountain Jewish News for tickets for the 1949-1950 Denver Nuggets season.

Anyone remember them? Maybe possibly attended one of their games? The youngest you could be is 75, and even then you’d have been an infant or one-year-old, because the two years the first iteration of the Denver Nuggets existed was 1948-1950, for its first season as part of the National Basketball League and for the second part of the NBA’s inaugural season. And the team was covered regularly in the Intermountain Jewish News.

Was it because many of the key players in making professional sports happen in this town were Jewish?

June 5, 1947, Page 2: “Harry Rosenthal, Emil Berkowitz, Roberts, sponsor Denver Nuggets,” reads the headline. Who did these Jewish gentleman pick up the helm from? Another member of the Jewish community, Jay Ambrose, or as he was known, “Mr. Basketball,” described in a 1945 IJN as a “genial sportsman.” In fact a rummage through the IJN is a quick arcane basketball history lesson. Ambrose was behind the previous iteration of the Nuggets, the Denver Ambrose Jellymakers who were par of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). We won’t give much more of the history away as we don’t want to spoil the fun for you diehard fans out there, but suffice it to say that the likes of the great Vince Boryla and Jimmy Darden make an appearance. And even if that Jewish involvement quieted once the team went fully pro, it left legions of Jewish basketball fans who to this day revel in Nuggets fandom. And speaking of . . .

We can confirm that the illness affectionately called NuggLife has been there from the start. The team finished its (first) existence with an 11-51 record. That the best seats (at least for that first amateur year) in the house cost only $2.80, which even in today’s money is only $38.65, may have helped ease the pain.

Do you remember that 1947-1948 season? Or the two professional ones from 1948-1950? We’d love to hear your — or even your parents’ handed-down — memories!

This online feature explores the IJN’s new digital archive, discovering the news of the week, years ago.

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