When Nuggets president Josh Kroenke informed Lafayette "Fat" Lever in October his No. 12 would be lifted to the rafters, Lever remained suspicious. "OK, did I get Punk'd?" Lever wondered. Twenty seven years passed since the 6-foot-3 triple-double machine last suited up for the Nuggets — enough time for Lever to wonder if it would ever happen.
On Saturday night, Lever stopped wondering. The Nuggets honored him in a halftime ceremony of an eventual 115-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. With his wife, children, grandchildren, godparents and high school coach by his side, Lever said a few words then watched his No. 12 join Byron Beck’s No. 40, David Thompson’s No. 33, Dan Issel’s No. 44, Alex English’s No. 2 and Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 in the Pepsi Center rafters.
"It’s great to be able to share the special times with family and for them to come out and see what the hard work has done," Lever said. "I was surprised when it first happened, and that’s still there. I’m still enjoying it."
Lever starred for the Nuggets from 1984-1990 — a six-season stretch highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1985. Those Nuggets became known for their run-and-gun brand of basketball as well as what they wore. During that era, Denver rocked the rainbow skyline jerseys you still see around town today.
"I think everybody was more concerned with the shorty shorts," Lever said. "I think it’s something that caught on, especially when you were winning. I think it’s one of the eye-catching logos of the past. I thought it was great, and I love see seeing them.”
Lever was a jack of all trades. He finished with 46 career triple-doubles. He still ranks eighth all-time in regular-season triple-doubles — ahead of legends such as Michael Jordan and John Havlicek.
“Fat Lever for his size had a huge heart and impacted the game in so many ways,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in October. "Scoring, rebounding, steals, defense. And he was here when they were good. He wasn’t putting those numbers up on bad teams."
Lever averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.46 steals per game with the Nuggets. He is Denver’s all-time leader in steals (1,167), second in assists (3,566), seventh in points (8,081) and eighth in rebounds (3,621). Lever once recorded eight steals in a single quarter, which remains an all-time record.
Lever watched closely last season as Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook chased the single-season triple-double record. Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson's 55-year-old record when he recorded his 42nd triple-double against the Nuggets in April. Westbrook hit the game-winning shot that day to officially end Denver's playoff hopes.
"There’s one that I look at and say, ‘I wish that was me.’ And that’s Russell," Lever said. "And I say that because of his strength.”
Westbrook is comfortably ahead of Lever on the regular-season triple-double list; he's already racked up 85. Lever said Saturday he's enjoying this era of basketball where the triple-double has become more prevalent — provided he doesn't move too far down the all-time leaderboard as the years go by.
“I’m going to enjoy this moment as long as I stay in the top 10," he said.