Lafayette “Fat” Lever: Denver’s Forgotten Nugget of the 1980s

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When one stirs up a conversation about the greatest Denver Nuggets ever, they might mention the talented David Thompson, perhaps the 1980s’ top scorer in Alex English or maybe the all-offensive approach to the game that was Carmelo Anthony.

Even when you discuss the best point guard to play in the Rockies, contemporary NBA fans will mention Chauncey Billups all at once.

However, in all honesty, Nuggets fans can tell you one guy whose game easily surpassed Billups’: Fat Lever.

Lafayette “Fat” Lever was easily the most under-appreciated baller of the 1980s. Some of the statistics that the point guard put up were absolutely phenomenal.

Many have referred to the Arizona State product as the “Jason Kidd of the 80s.” However, in my humble opinion, Jason Kidd should be referred to as the “Fat Lever of the last 15 years.”

After being traded from Portland to Denver in 1984, he played alongside Alex English, Calvin Natt and Wayne Cooper. Now, you’d think it would be hard for Lever to score a lot of points, yet in four straight seasons, beginning in 1986, he averaged no less than 18 points per game.

He shot 44 percent from the field and 78 percent from the charity stripe throughout his career, so it’s not like he was aimlessly hucking up shots.

So that proves he had the scoring ability.

Additionally, Lever was a prototype passer, and while he did have a seemingly disposable plethora of scorers, he kept his assist numbers honestly consistent, averaging at least 7.5 in five of his six seasons playing in the Rockies.

Oh, and rebounding? Lever was among the best—in the entire league.

Not only did he routinely lead the Nuggets in rebounding, he did it as a 6’3″ point guard!

Lever averaged a 9.3 clip in two different seasons that he donned the ever-so-popular rainbow unis, better than 10 seven-foot centers did each campaign.

You might be thinking that, well, there’s clearly a defensive side to the game too. Lever excelled at that (yawn) too, and on a scoring-orientated club like Denver, he was still an imposing and fierce defensive presence. Although not one of the best, he still was selected to an All-Defensive team once.

Lever’s ability to pull all four aspects of his game together on any given night should stir you over.

In fact, Lever is the only (and I repeat, only) player since the ABA-NBA merger to have a 30-point, 20-assist and 15-rebound game.

Let’s say for a minute that you assume that, yes, that is a 20, 15 and 15 game. The only other players since 1986 to accomplish this feat are Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jason Kidd.

That’s elite company if I’ve ever seen it.

He was also a threat to average a triple-double, averaging 19.3 points, 7.9 assists and 9.3 rebounds during the 1988-89 season.

Another thing that was immensely forgotten about Lever was his tremendous ability to swipe the ball at will, something that led to him becoming second in Nuggets history in steals. He holds the NBA record for most steals in a quarter with eight swipes, a feat he accomplished in 1985.

Just imagine having eight steals in a quarter as a team. It is an amazing accomplishment. The fact that one player did it was unbelievable, a word that truly defined Lever’s days in Denver.

As a person, Lever was about as professional as it gets. He essentially had no ego and merely dismissed any individual effort as a team performance.

When spotted in public, Lever would deny the fact that he was the 6’3″, 155-pound All-Star everyone knew him as.

So why isn’t this guy more recognized among NBA pundits?

Perhaps it is because he “only” had two All-Star appearances, or maybe it’s because he “only” made one All-Defensive team. Lever’s blatant All-Star omissions grew to be so bad that team “star” Alex English offered to give him his spot on the roster, but ultimately the NBA wouldn’t allow it.

Maybe it was because his stigma was one of pure relentlessness rather than flashiness, like other top point guards.

It could be that he was selected All-NBA just once, and even then it was the second team in 1987.

Riddle me this for a second: Who were the two on the primary team? They were none other than Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the two best players to ever play the game at their respective positions!

Whatever it is that kept him from extreme relevance, this guy deserves to be considered the Nuggets’ best point guard ever.

With that said, when will they retire Fat Lever’s jersey?

Wait, who’s jersey?


 

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About Joseph Fafinski

21-year-old college student. Minnesotan.
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