SAN DIEGO – Michael Porter Jr. knew the news was coming but was the last to see it drop.
As Porter pulled up to the airport Monday afternoon, only hours after the Nuggets concluded their unofficial media day and were about to depart for training camp, he got a call from his agent, Mark Bartelstein.
The news — Porter’s five-year, max contract extension worth as much as $207 million — was about to leak.
“I’m the last one on the airplane,” Porter recounted following the first day of training camp from the University of California San Diego gym.
“I walk on there and everybody, man, it just shows so much about this team and this culture because I walked in there, and everybody was just hyped. … They’d seen it before me. They’d seen it on their phone on Instagram and Twitter. Will (Barton) was like, ‘Mike!’”
The deal, which had been in the works for months, gave Porter and his teammates something to celebrate for the two-hour flight.
“It’s funny how quickly news breaks in the NBA,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Even before we took off from Denver to come out here, word was spreading throughout the airplane and guys were giving him the business.”
A day after Porter became the Nuggets’ third max contract player on the roster, locking in a potential championship trio for the foreseeable future, the 23-year-old appeared unimpressed with his accomplishment. Humble and sheepish, Porter said he was at a loss for words.
“In my opinion, it’s like, I don’t deserve this,” he said. “There’s people that are just as talented as me in other fields of life. Say you’re a professional ping-pong player. You’re not making that many millions of dollars …”
Porter hasn’t earmarked his windfall for anything in particular, he said, but he did plan to take care of certain people who helped him reach Monday’s landmark deal.
It was only three years ago when there was a question whether Porter would ever play basketball again following his second back surgery. Porter recalled training camp 2018 in San Diego, when he, Jarred Vanderbilt and Isaiah Thomas hobbled around the court, unable to contribute to the title quest.
To be back in San Diego on Tuesday, having secured his future in Denver for the next six years, became somewhat of a pinch-me moment for Porter.
“I think it’s a lot more gratifying,” Porter said. “I’m one of those dudes, that even growing up, I didn’t think of it like, ‘Dang, I’m going to be making millions of dollars when I go to the NBA.’ I thought of it as, ‘Dang, I’m going to get to play against LeBron, KD.’ It was never about the money for me.
“… The road that I took made it so much more gratifying,” he said.
Porter said he hoped his story, one rife with setbacks and adversity, would serve as an example for players whose path wasn’t as traditional.
As the team made its way to San Diego on Monday afternoon, Porter talked with Jamal Murray, another max-contract player whose experiencing his own set of hurdles in the form of his ACL rehab. On Tuesday, he texted with Nikola Jokic, who wasn’t at training camp while awaiting the birth of his first child.
Together, those three comprise the core of the Nuggets’ future and represent the optimism Porter couldn’t contain.
“We’re good to go,” he said. “Us three right there, when you’ve got (Aaron Gordon), you’ve got Will (Barton), Monte (Morris), we’re locked in. We know we’re going to be good. We know we’re going to be nice for years to come. … They didn’t pay us all this money to not win a championship.”