In 2019, Junam Lee began posting about her father, Jung Soo Lee, on a Denver Nuggets fan page on Reddit, often with comments about how excited he was for an upcoming game. Nuggets fans quickly became enamored with him because of how stoic and sometimes hilarious he looked while watching the games.
Then Junam posted a picture of her father watching a game while wearing a travel neck pillow. Reddit users loved the photo so much that they started calling him “Nuggdad.” Since then, each picture of Jung Soo, 69, has been treated with nearly the same excitement as a Nikola Jokic triple-double or an important Nuggets win.
“Nuggdad has become a unifying symbol for our community,” said Alec Gwin, who has been part of the moderation team for the Reddit page since 2014. He added: “I wouldn’t say that Reddit fans love him as much as the players, but that we have all adopted him as our collective dad.”
Three years ago, one user created a popular illustration of Jung Soo in his signature relaxed position with his arms folded while wearing his neck pillow. His son, Juhyun Lee, had somehow been unaware of his father’s online fame until his friends showed him a picture after the Nuggets beat the Lakers in the Western Conference finals this year.
“They’re like, dude, this is your dad, isn’t it?” Juhyun, 39, said while laughing. “And I was like yeah, this is wild.”
Hey everyone– most of y’all probably aren’t aware of Nuggdad, so here’s a short thread!🧵
Over the years his daughter has shared pictures of him on Nuggets Reddit enjoying his team and we all love him. If you have a few bucks to spare, we’re trying to send him to the finals! https://t.co/0WYT1d3vd2 pic.twitter.com/Vp570dZKIR
— Alec Gwin (@alecgwin) May 31, 2023
The Lee family is originally from South Korea and moved to Colorado in 1999. But Jung Soo did not become a Nuggets fan until 2019. He had dealt with many health issues since coming to the United States, including oral cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. During his cancer treatment in 2016, his wife, In Sook Lee, died after having a stroke. In 2019, he moved in with his daughter, who turned him into a Nuggets fan because of how passionate she was about the team.
While Jung Soo supported the team largely because of Junam, 36, when Nuggets guard Jamal Murray returned from a knee tear this season he started to feel a deeper connection with the team. Jung Soo’s many health issues often make him feel depressed and unsure of how he will move forward, he said, but the way Murray has bounced back from his injury has inspired him.
“It almost felt like a reflection of my life,” Jung Soo said in Korean during an interview translated by Juhyun. “When I was coming back from my surgeries and recovering from my illness and pain, it gave me that extra motivation, so that’s why I wear the Murray jersey.”
After Juhyun found out about his father’s popularity on Reddit, he created a GoFundMe page in the hopes of raising enough to money to send his father to Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals with him and his sister. The donations rolled in until they reached their goal of $2,345.
And there Nuggdad was at what was the biggest game in Nuggets history to that point, wearing his Murray jersey. (The only thing missing was his neck pillow.) He’ll be watching Game 5 on Monday from home — the tickets for this game were far too expensive — but he’ll be there in spirit and rooting for Murray to win a championship.
“That’s motivating for me to continue to get healthy and find victories throughout my life, in whatever they may look like,” Jung Soo said.