If you think the NBA’s schedule is intense, just wait until you hear what rising Denver Nuggets star Gary Harris’ summer looked like. Between June and July, the gifted shooting guard visited China, France, Italy and Serbia. Some of the trips were for vacations. Others were goodwill efforts for the game he loves. All were eye-opening experiences the 24-year-old Indiana native will never forget.
Now, Harris is comfortably back in the Mile High City, preparing for an encore to an impressive 2017-18 campaign where he was second on the Nuggets in scoring (17.5 points a game) but led them in gorgeous floaters in the paint (too many to count). We recently grabbed some one-on-one time with Harris to learn more about his European jaunts, Denver’s charms and favorite cities to visit during the NBA season.
It’s been a long journey from suburban Indianapolis to Michigan State University and, finally, to the Denver Nuggets. Tell me a little bit about that road.
It all started at a young age. I’ve been playing basketball for a while now. Growing up, I’ve always been around it because, you know, my mom [Joy Holmes-Harris] played in the WNBA. I fell in love with the game early, and I just continued to progress and get better.
Then, come senior year of high school, I’m a McDonald’s All-American. Once you’ve got a McDonald’s All-American tag, it’s like the NBA [becomes realistic]. So, I went to college at Michigan State. After the first year, I had the opportunity to go into the [NBA], but I wasn’t ready. I came back my second year ready to go, and I had a good season and was able to get drafted in the first round.
It’s just been a grind, stepping in the league and just trying to work my way up and, you know, continue to keep getting better.
Tell me about that leap you took last season. What made you take that next step?
It’s just continuing to put in the work, getting more comfortable. It’s a fast-paced league. When you come in this young, it’s hard to get your rhythm and have confidence.
[Now] my confidence just continues to grow. It’s just getting back, trying to go out there and do what I’ve been doing my whole life.
You were one game from making the playoffs last year. Talk to the Denver fans and let them know what’s going to be different about the postseason this time.
Just being that close to making it into the playoffs, we all have a little chip on our shoulders. We’re hungry for those playoffs, and I feel like it’s a realistic opportunity for us to not just sneak into the playoffs but fight for home-court advantage.
We’re just going to try to show teams that we’re for real. We put the league on notice last year, but now it’s time to really go out there and solidify ourselves.
Beyond great sports fans, what makes the city of Denver so special?
It’s a cool and laid-back city. I feel like it has more of a younger vibe. It’s a city that’s growing — a lot of people are moving in — so there’s an excitement around it. And then, when you throw in the [NFL’s Denver] Broncos, the Nuggets, [Major League Baseball’s Colorado] Rockies, the [NHL’s Colorado] Avalanche, it’s a great sports town full of people who love to watch sports.
For us, we kinda saw a growth last year, once we started winning games, especially at home. The fans, they love [a competitive team]. They came out and it was great. The support was great. And it’s a fun atmosphere.
If you had family or friends coming to Denver, what are a few things you’d show them around town?
My family and friends kind of get disappointed because I usually don’t leave the house. I stay low-key. If I’m not playing basketball, I’m at home listening to music, playing a game.
But there’s so much stuff to do. There are lots of cool spots you can head [to downtown]. You can go for a hike in the mountains or go sightseeing.
Are you more of a homebody because you don’t want to be attacked by fans or do you just dislike being out?
I’ve always been a homebody. I’m a simple guy, man. Just go to the gym, get your work in, take it easy. It’s such a long and demanding season, so I’m not really trying to be out. I’m just trying to get my rest and make sure I’m ready, especially once those games start rolling around. They start coming back fast.
You had a pretty active summer, with visits to places like China and Serbia. What were those experiences like?
The traveling aspect is great. Just to be able to experience different cultures and see things that you normally don’t see. And it gives you a better understanding of things going on around the world. I loved it. I had a great time in Serbia, [specifically] Belgrade and Sombor. I was all around.
China was the same thing. I always recommend people just travel and go and see things you don’t really get a chance to see, especially in the offseason.
Did this past summer ignite the international travel spark in you?
Oh, yeah. For sure. I want to continue to travel the world. I can’t make any more trips now because the season is just right around the corner, but next summer I definitely have a few places circled on the map that I need to hit.
Going to Serbia, or even during the NBA season, what are a few things that you always travel with?
As long as I have my headphones, I’m good. When I get on that flight, I can sleep like a baby. Some of my best sleep is on a plane.
What kind of music are you listening to?
I’m a hip-hop guy. Hip-hop, R&B. I have a lot of diverse stuff. I can listen to anything, honestly.
Are there a few cities, besides L.A. and New York, that you look forward to visiting during the NBA season?
Anywhere on the West Coast is pretty cool. I love playing in, like you said, L.A. You go to San Francisco and Phoenix. Portland is always a fun atmosphere to play in. I love traveling just to go to different arenas, because most places we go to the vibe and the energy are great.
Are there a few cities where the food stands out more than others?
You can always go to Memphis and get some soul food. You go down to New Orleans, you always can eat good there. And then the major cities, man, you’ve always got the great restaurants. It’s always good to eat in New York and L.A.