Former Jayhawk, BVNW alum looking to join historic group in NBA Finals

Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA second-round...
Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA second-round basketball series Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)(David Zalubowski | AP)
Published: May. 28, 2023 at 3:27 PM CDT
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DENVER (KCTV) - When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night, Denver Nuggets rookie wing Christian Braun will be looking to join a historic group.

The former Kansas Jayhawk who won a national championship in the crimson and blue last year could become just the fifth person in basketball history to win the NBA Finals in the immediate year after winning a national title in the NCAA.

“This is what every player wants to do,” said Braun, who was a 2019 graduate of Blue Valley Northwest. “Competing at the highest level and winning is obviously more fun for everybody, so just going from the situation in Kansas and winning a lot and then winning last year and coming straight here and getting in a situation that, one, is a good fit, and two, then we get to win right away, I couldn’t imagine a better spot to be.

“I’m blessed to have two years in a row playing at the highest level and winning at the highest level.”

Among the four players to have ever won the NCAA Championship and NBA Finals in back-to-back years are Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.

Braun averaged 15.5 minutes per game this season after being selected by Denver with the 21st overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

“They don’t ask too much of me,” Braun, who has been the eighth player in the Nuggets’ rotation and appeared in 14 of 15 playoff games said. “Coach (Mike Malone) has allowed me to do what I do. My teammates, all the players have allowed me to be me, and it’s just made the transition so much easier. I don’t have to come in and try to do anything I’m not good at.”

Winning has been all that Braun’s known for nearly a decade.

He closed out his high school career with three consecutive 6A state championships in Kansas from 2017-19, averaging nearly 28 points per game for BVNW en route to Mr. Kansas Basketball and Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year honors.

In AAU, Braun won the Peach Jam with MOKAN Elite and at Kansas he was a part of teams that won two Big 12 regular season titles, a Big 12 tournament title, and a national championship.

COVID abruptly ended Braun’s freshman season at KU, in which he was the Jayhawks’ leader in bench minutes. That year, KU concluded the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

“Every system I’ve went into -- whether it was AAU or it was up to the NBA -- was a winning culture and was a team that demanded certain things of you,” Braun said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it was me coming in and changing anything. It was me coming in and adapting to what was already set up before I got there.

“KU had a culture set up when I got there, and I was just really easily able to adapt to that, and I think I would say the same thing for here.”

With the NBA Finals still to come, Braun was willing to point out obvious differences between this championship run and the title-winning stretch with the Jayhawks.

“College is one-game elimination and this is obviously a series,” he said. “There’s a lot of differences. This, you have to be more keyed in on personnel and with players’ tendencies. In college, you’re more set on sets and things like that. There’s a lot of differences... but it’s all the same thing.

“Every time you go out there, we are just trying to win.”

For whatever amount of time Braun plays in the Finals, he said he’ll look for ways to contribute.

“The biggest takeaway from the Conference Finals itself, for me, was whether you get two minutes or 20 minutes, you have to make an impact in those minutes,” he said.