Up close and personal with the Nuggets

While Chauncey Billups played blackjack, an eager fan stood by, hoping the Nuggets star would agree to sign the vintage Wheaties box he was carrying around in a Ziploc bag.

Billups obliged – such encounters were the theme for Big Night at Big Game, a fundraiser held earlier this month in downtown Denver.

The event, sponsored by Kia Motors, was designed to give fans the chance to mix with Nuggets players, coaches, alumni, dancers, and SuperMascot Rocky to raise money for youth programs supported by Kroenke Sports Charities.

The aspect of giving back to the community hits home with Nuggets guard and hometown player Chauncey Billups.

“It’s a big deal to me. I take it as a responsibility,” Billups said. “I feel like I owe it to the community because when I was a kid people gave back to me.”

Nuggets forward Gary Forbes also said he appreciates the importance of philanthropy.

“We want to be recognized in the community as giving back and creating camaraderie with the fans and our season ticket holders who come and support us,” Forbes said. “We just want to give back to them. Most of the kids look up to players like us, and it’s good for them to see, then interact with us.”

The Nuggets team participates in fundraising events to support Kroenke Sports Charities, which distributed $300,000 in grants and donations last year. More than $75,000 was raised at the January fundraiser.

The Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche raised nearly $100,000 for youth basketball and hockey programs during the 2009-2010 season. Kroenke Sports Charities also help support education, sports and fitness, and outreach programs.

This is the first time the fundraiser was hosted at the Big Game Restaurant. Voted 5280 magazine’s Top of the Town Sports Bar, Big Game features a 30-foot HDTV screen, game consoles and 20 other HDTVs. The 6,000-square-foot event space accommodated the 300 guests.

The night’s interactive festivities included video games, blackjack and roulette tables, and a photo booth. Fans mingled around the restaurant with nightclub music playing and ate watermelon tartare hors d’oeuvres and entrées of elk and prime rib.

Big Game partner Zach Chodorow said the pairing was a great fit.

“We can re-program the space because we have a pretty flexible seating plan, especially toward the center of the restaurant and the front of the main dining room,” Chodorow said. “We were able to set up the game tables, and that makes for a pretty fun event.”

Attendees Tony and Christine Clapp said they are Denver Nuggets fanatics.

“This is our first time, but we hear great things about it. It’s a great cause, and it is a lot of fun,” Christine Clapp said.

Billups also thinks it is a good cause, but he commented on the NBA Cares program, the NBA’s community outreach program, as being just once a year. Billups said he likes to spend most of his time having long-lasting effects on kids.

“I think you really reap the benefits when you get the chance to really touch somebody’s life and be with them through their different circumstances,” Billups said. “Those are the kind of things I like to do.”

Nuggets Head Coach George Karl and assistant head coaches Adrian Dantley and Chad Iske spent some of their time at the event being interviewed by radio stations. Other Nuggets players in attendance included Arron Afflalo, Chris Andersen, Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Melvin Ely, Al Harrington, Ty Lawson, Kenyon Martin, Nené, J.R. Smith, and Shelden Williams.
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