Lisa Johnson (BA psychology, communications ’80) came close to getting an NBA championship ring last year.
But the Denver Nuggets fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals during the 2008–09 season. Johnson wishes the team would have advanced to the finals, and she certainly would have liked a ring, but she says of the Nuggets: “I’m still so proud of my guys.”
That’s right — she can call them “her guys.” As director of basketball administration for the Denver Nuggets, Johnson talks to the players on a daily basis. She books their travel, sets up their public appearances and mends their schedules.
At times, she’s even gotten a little too close. For two years, Johnson’s office was in the Nuggets’ locker room.
“I was the only woman, and they had to put up curtains,” Johnson laughs. “It really wasn’t as fun as people might think it was.”
What is fun for her is scheduling the team members’ appearances in the community.
“Our guys are great with getting out in the community,” she says, “and it always just makes me feel so good.
“We’re involved closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and if taking a kid to a game or practice can help them and make them feel good, it’s all worthwhile, the long hours and everything.”
Johnson put together the Nuggets’ community appearance program and pitched it to the NBA, which now uses it as its model. The NBA requires each player to make 12 appearances each year.
“The people that I’ve met is absolutely my favorite part of the job,” she says.
Overall though, “it gets a little hectic, but it gets in my blood,” she says. Hectic as in 82-game seasons and long hours, nights and weekends during the season. Her favorite part is opening night.
“I get excited walking into the arena, seeing 19,000 people cheering for my team,” Johnson says. “If one day I walk out and I’m not excited then maybe that’s the time to move on, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Johnson began working for the Nuggets in the sales department (“I had never sold anything in my life,” she admits) after graduating from DU in 1980. She worked her way up slowly and found herself in the director position five years ago.
“I feel like a mother hen trying to get [the team] to do what they have to do,” she says. “You know, half the time I’m rolling my eyes at them … but they’re good guys.
“Chauncey [Billups] is as nice as can be,” she says of the 6-foot-3-inch point guard. And although center Chris “Birdman” Andersen is a showman on court, he’s actually quiet and reserved off-court, she says.
Former Nuggets coaches Doug Moe and Dan Issel are Johnson’s close friends, as is Nuggets Hall of Famer Alex English. “They’ve always been a big part of my life, and they continue to be, and that’s really nice.”
For the Nuggets, there’s always next year. And for Johnson, possibly quite a few more.
“They’re my family. The Denver Nuggets have been such a part of my life,” she says. “I don’t want to leave. I’ve got too much time invested in the team.”