Tarps, Goggles, and a Dozen Magnums of Moët: Behind the Scenes with the NBA’s Championship Champagne Squad


Here’s what it takes to turn a locker room into party central. Back in Denver, several nervous moments pass, as a half-dozen league and team staffers watch the Nuggets build a thin lead again—a Bruce Brown putback, a couple free throws from Caldwell-Pope—and now the Heat are starting to unravel. “That’s just not the shot,” ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy remarks on TV as Jimmy Butler misfires a tough 3-pointer with 24.7 seconds left, with Miami down by three. Now the locker-room conversion can begin in earnest.

Nuggets staffers start wheeling away all the players’ chairs, to a back room. At 8:59 p.m., an NBA staffer arrives with a huge duffel bag packed with championship gear. The Heat miss their last shot, a Kyle Lowry 3-pointer, with 12.5 seconds left. Caldwell-Pope grabs the rebound, and the final buzzer sounds at 9:01 p.m. Things are about to get hectic.

Staffers quickly line a table with a dozen magnum-size bottles of Moet, along with a half-dozen customized, 750-liter Michelob Ultra bottles, an array of black championship towels and pennants, and two different types of branded goggles (Moet for some players, Nike for others, depending on their personal sponsorships). Pop-up banners, featuring Michelob Ultra and the Finals logo, are quickly mounted on collapsible stands. Packing is affixed to the backs of pennants and banners.

At 9:04 p.m., a group of workers rush in with four big ladders. Their mission: Install floor-to-ceiling pressure rods, to hold up all the plastic tarping needed to protect lockers, personal belongings and the high-definition TV. Everyone is barking directions. “Go down a little bit! Now go up! Watch out for the sprinkler heads!” The room is filled with clanging, squeaking, the ripping of tape, the banging of bottles, the squawking of CB radios. “You guys work fast!” someone exclaims. “Bobby says we need more plastic!” someone else announces.

At 9:06, the first wave of league-employed photographers and videographers arrive. The small task force of a half-dozen has ballooned to 25. The first Nuggets team official to pop in? Mike Penberthy, a front-office consultant and shooting coach, who won his first two rings as a role player alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in the early 2000s. A massive black banner—embossed with Nuggets and Finals logos, inscriptions reading “22-23 NBA Champions” and the team’s slogan, “Bring It In”—is laid across the floor, Amid all the bustle and frantic note-taking, I nearly get sealed behind a wall of plastic.

Not everything is going smoothly. Some of those tarps aren’t in place yet. Can that one cover that wall? Probably, a worker says. “I’d like to turn that probably into a most definitely,” his co-worker replies. Someone loses their grip in the process. “Pole coming down!”

By 9:20, there are 30 people in the room, including NBA photographer Nathaniel Butler, who’s been shooting the Finals since 1986. (“Until you actually see it or experience it, you don’t really grasp the magnitude and the scope,” Butler had told me earlier. “I’ve ruined a few cameras over the years. Shaq got me one time really good. Just a total dump of champagne on me while we’re taking the pictures.”)

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Tarps, Goggles, and a Dozen Magnums of Moët: Behind the Scenes with the NBA’s Championship Champagne Squad

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