The 1975-76 Denver Nuggets Almost Beat Dr. J to Win a Championship

Simpson has been watching the games at home, and invites his grandchildren for a pizza party to watch with him. He didn’t get to play for Denver in its debut N.B.A. season because he was traded to Detroit, but the Pistons traded him back the next season. He stays in touch with A.B.A. and N.B.A. alumni by being active with the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

Denver’s 47-year drought before returning to the finals is perplexing to him.

“We’ve had some really good players,” said Simpson, who coached at a small school briefly and used to be a pastor in Denver. “I’m really surprised we haven’t won a title yet.”

To win the franchise’s first, this year’s Nuggets have tried to focus narrowly on the task before them. Much like how the A.B.A. Nuggets weren’t thinking about history, these Nuggets aren’t using the franchise’s long drought as inspiration.

“I don’t know much about it,” Denver’s Bruce Brown said. “Who was on that team?”

He said he tries not to think about what a championship would mean for the franchise and for the city of Denver.

“Then I’ll get too happy, too anxious,” Brown said. “I just try to stay in the moment.”

The 1975-76 team’s try at making history has been obscured by the years, but Brown and his teammates are on the verge of completing the journey they began.

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