Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone used to think no NBA championship ring could top the two won by his late father, Brendan, with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990.
Malone would look at his father’s keepsakes from his days as Chuck Daly’s assistant coach and architect of the Bad Boys’ “Jordan Rules” defense and think those were the standard.
“My father’s got two of them from Detroit, so that was the ring I imagined,” Malone said last week following the Nuggets’ preseason game against the LA Clippers. “But that’s like just a regular ass school ring 1698244442.”
Malone would have loved nothing more than to show his father, whom he considered his best friend, his new championship ring. Brendan died on Oct. 10 at age 88.
“My father and I are the only father-son [coaching] duo in NBA history to both have world championship rings,” Malone said. “That kind of makes it even that much more meaningful to me and my family.”
Malone said his mother used to keep his father’s rings “in his underwear drawer” instead of a safety-deposit box.
“So that’s probably where mine will be as well,” Malone told reporters in Denver on Monday.
But Malone knows the rings handed out before Tuesday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers to commemorate Denver’s first NBA title will be hard to just tuck away in a drawer.
“What they do now is these things open up,” Malone said, “and they shoot beams out of them.”
Jason Arasheben, CEO of the Los Angeles-based jewelry house Jason of Beverly Hills, didn’t spring for beams but made sure the Nuggets’ new jewelry stood out unlike any other. Having made rings for other championship teams — the Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vegas Golden Knights and Las Vegas Aces — Arasheben knew he had to design something different for Denver.
“From what I’ve been hearing through the grapevine,” Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who owns a 2020 Lakers championship ring, told ESPN last week during a preseason game, “it’s better than any ring he’s done.”
Caldwell-Pope won’t be disappointed. The emerald-shaped ring has 16 carats of diamonds to represent Denver’s 16 postseason wins, the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the front with a diamond-encrusted “Nuggets” written across and a silhouette of Denver’s mountain peak and pickaxes logo.
But the Nuggets’ ring comes with two unique features, both firsts for Arasheben. It has a lever at the top that shifts from 1967, the year the Nuggets were formed in the ABA, to 2023, simultaneously changing the color of the background from white diamonds to blue sapphires. A retractable compartment on the left side of the ring unveils the 2023 Nuggets championship banner raised at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“This one is definitely one of my favorites, if not my favorite,” Arasheben told ESPN. “We’re the first ones to come up with the concept of the twist-off top to reveal, whether it be the inner bowl [of SoFi Stadium for the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI ring] or the retired jerseys with [the Lakers’ 2020 title ring].
“But [the Nuggets’ ring features] have never ever been done before on jewelry or championship rings.”
In addition to white and yellow diamonds and blue sapphires, there are 89 red rubies in honor of the number of points Denver’s defense held the Miami Heat to in the title-clinching Game 5 win.
Josh Kroenke, Nuggets president and governor, was involved with the design of the rings from start to finish. He has had some experience of late in this department since his father, Stan, heads Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Nuggets, the Rams and the Colorado Avalanche. The Rams and Avalanche both won championships in 2022.
“Fortunately we’ve been really blessed and very lucky over the last couple of seasons,” Josh Kroenke told ESPN. “I asked [Arasheben] what kind of special features could we put in from the Nuggets. I don’t want to do a screw-off top. I don’t want anything that’s been done before.
“We’re one of four franchises that was merged to the NBA from the ABA so we have that date on there as a nod to our ABA past, which I wanted to make sure we acknowledged. And all the players and coaches will, no matter where they go with that ring, always have the banner with them as well, which I think is a very special and unique feature.”
After Aaron Gordon celebrated the Nuggets’ championship-clinching win over Miami by walking through the Denver streets in just his basketball shorts, the power forward held a postgame party. Arasheben, who attended the game and counts Gordon as a client, fitted Nuggets players for their ring sizes at the party and asked for input on features for the ring.
With Kroenke’s blessing, Arasheben went to the summer league in Las Vegas in July to consult again with Nuggets players including Caldwell-Pope, Gordon, Deandre Jordan and Jeff Green. Arasheben said Green, now with the Houston Rockets, was among the most vocal with ideas for the design after playing 15 seasons before winning a title.
“We’ve kind of set a standard of how big we can go on these rings,” Arasheben said. “Any bigger than this and it’s going to be the size of a plate. They still wanted big, they still wanted flashy. The first thing the players always say to me is, ‘Make sure that s— is shining.’
“But what I have noticed is that they are taking into consideration the actual design in addition to the flash now. And this year’s Nuggets, they were really big on having a lot of colors and not letting it be just drowned out by only white diamonds.”
None of them knew about the two special features. “I hope it’s big and full of rocks,” Gordon told ESPN last week following the Nuggets’ preseason game with the Clippers.
Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, meanwhile, now will have to keep track of two rings he doesn’t want to lose. Just don’t expect Jokic to tie this ring onto the laces of his shoe for every game like he does with his wedding band.
“It is definitely going to be a hazard to anyone’s health if that thing is bouncing around on his shoes,” Kroenke said. “This ring is way too big and way too heavy.”
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