When NBA fans think back to the 1980s, names like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are sure to come up.
But a soft-spoken man from South Carolina scored more points than any other player in the league that decade: Alex English. The greatest Nuggets player in history still holds all-time team records across several categories, including points and assists.
English was an 8-time NBA All-Star who led Denver to nine straight playoff runs in the 1980s, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1985. He was the leading scorer on a high-flying Nuggets team, coached by Doug Moe, that led the NBA in scoring for much of that decade.
English was back in Denver earlier this week for Sunday’s game against Portland, as part of the team’s Skyline Nights series honoring former players. He talked to CPR sports reporter Vic Vela before the game to talk about his career and what he thinks of today’s Nuggets team.
On the high-scoring Nuggets teams of the 1980s and the team’s playoff runs that decade:
I can remember when the Houston Rockets would come in, they would have an extra tank of oxygen behind the bench for Hakeem Olajuwon, because he and Ralph Sampson felt like they couldn’t breathe. As we got further along in the playoffs, people were pumped up and we were sold out every game and the real loyalists, they came out to cheer us on. We had an exciting group of players and exciting crowds.
On why he was never a marquee name, like Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan:
I led with my play on the court. Unfortunately I was in a market that wasn’t a high-market television audience and back then the NBA didn’t have the type of exposure on TV and the Internet like they do now. What they did have, it was usually focused on Los Angeles and the East Coast, the Boston Celtics. They didn’t really focus on the middle of the country. But I was still happy with my body of work.
On what he thinks of this year’s Nuggets team:
This team today is probably more talented than we were … You got a lot of guys who are pretty well-rounded, like (Nikola) Jokic. We didn’t have a guy like that on our team; a big guy who could pass, who can shoot, who can run the floor and play defense. And Jamal Murray. We didn’t have a guard who can score like that. And I think Coach (Michael) Malone has done a great job of making them all fit. I predict they’ll be in the Western Conference Finals, like we were. And they could win the Western Conference and possibly win the NBA championship, if they continue to stay focused and continue to play like they’re playing now.
On his life outside the court, including a movie career and the SportsUnited program:
To me, that’s the most enlightening part of my life. I’ve gotten an opportunity to travel all over the world. I’ve gotten an opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela and the Pope John Paul, but I’ve also gotten an opportunity to do things for people that don’t have a voice, or are underprivileged. For me, it’s been more satisfying what I did off the floor. My basketball was my art, my art form and my way of expression. But basketball is basketball. When you can make other people’s lives easier, when you can make them feel better, to me that’s been the most enlightening part of my life and my career