Nuggets’ Christian Braun brings shiny hardware and championship parade to patient’s family

The Ranzenberger family's favorite player brings the Nuggets victory parade to them.
Oct. 24, 2023
Christian Braun of the Denver Nuggets, Tyler Ranzenberger, and dad Bryan experience a virtual-reality version of the Nuggets’ victory parade as mascot Rocky looks on. UCHealth photos by James Sawyer.
Christian Braun of the Denver Nuggets and Tyler Ranzenberger and his dad, Bryan, experience a virtual-reality version of the Nuggets’ victory parade as SuperMascot Rocky looks on. Photos by James Sawyer, UCHealth.

Tyler Ranzenberger and his dad took in the massive crowds lining Denver’s streets from a vantage point atop a fire truck. There they were, in the Denver Nuggets’ victory parade and hanging out with Christian Braun, no less – the Denver Nuggets’ rising star and Tyler’s favorite player. Rocky, the Nuggets SuperMascot, was right there, too.

But the parade had been on June 15, and this was October 20, just four days before the Nuggets’ title defense would commence at Ball Arena. The family wasn’t amid the 750,000 or so cheering fans at all.

Rather, they sat in a staff conference room just outside the doors of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. Tyler, 16, had spent two weeks in that STICU back in March, though he remembers little of it. The parade came via a virtual-reality headset of the sort UCHealth chemotherapy, burn, wound-care, and other patients regularly don for mental escape during infusions and procedures.

And yet: Right across the table, also wearing a VR headset, sat Christian Braun, all 6-foot-6 of him. Rocky, his plush noggin too big for a VR headset, sat between them.

“How many games did you think it was going to take us to win the finals?” Braun asked Tyler.

“I actually predicted, like, five games,” Tyler said. “There’s no way they could’ve made six” – “they” being the Miami Heat.

“OK, so, perfect,” said Braun, whose game-three heroics in particular had helped the Nuggets secure a 4-1 series victory. “I think we were a matchup problem for them.”

Meanwhile, taking advantage of the blindfolding nature of VR headsets, Cody Warren, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment security manager, quietly entered the room. In white-gloved hands, he lugged the supremely polished Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, which he placed on a high table. When Tyler and his dad, Bryan, removed the headsets, it shone before them.

“Are you kidding me?” Bryan said.

“Take all the pictures you want – anything but touch it. No kisses, either,” Warren said, to laughter.

Young Nuggets fan fights for his life after losing his mother in tragic accident

Tyler’s first experience at UCH, one he little remembers, began on March 14. His mom, Christy, was driving him to a late afternoon dermatology appointment not far from the Ranzenbergers’ home in southeast Aurora. They didn’t make it.

Back at the house, Byran had sat down for dinner with Tyler’s older brothers, Jaden and Ethan, when a knock sounded through the front door. Bryan opened it to find a police officer. Christy and Tyler had been in an accident. They were now at UCH, and he should get up there as soon as he could.

Rocky looks on patiently, his head too big for a VR headset.
Rocky looks on patiently, his head too big for a VR headset.

As Bryan and their sons drove north on Colorado E470, they passed the scene of a crash. Among the officers, first responders, and emergency vehicles rested the crumpled car Christy had been driving.

“It doesn’t look so good, Dad,” one of the young men said.

And it wasn’t. They arrived at UCH to learn that Christy hadn’t survived. UCHealth STICU Charge Nurse Jessica Kartz told them that Tyler was upstairs fighting for his life.

“Let’s go put our energy into helping him get better,” she told them.

Tyler had suffered a traumatic brain injury called diffuse axonal shear and was on a ventilator. With passing days, as his condition slowly improved, the UCHealth team learned more about him.

Tyler was a basketball player. The then-sophomore at Eaglecrest High School played guard and small forward for both his school and in AAU tournaments. They also learned that Tyler’s favorite basketball player was Christian Braun. He admired not only Braun’s prodigious athleticism but the intangibles he brings to the court: The hard work on defense. The energy. The commitment. The competitive drive. The Nuggets rookie had not become a three-time Kansas high school state champion and a 2022 NCAA champion with Kansas by chance.

The UCHealth team reached out to the Nuggets organization. A care package soon arrived, and so did a video message from Braun to Tyler. Looking into a cell phone camera, Braun said:

I just wanted to tell you to stay strong. We’re all fighting with you. We hope you get healthy soon. And that you get to watch all the games. So good luck in your recovery. Go Nuggets.

Emma Patrick, a UCHealth licensed clinical social worker, played the video for Tyler on an iPad shortly before his discharge from UCH in late March. It meant a lot to him and to his father.

“We were going through the most traumatic thing I’ve experienced in my life, obviously. But just a little thing like that made a big difference,” Bryan said.

Tyler transitioned to Craig Hospital, where he spent a month doing inpatient neurorehabilitation. Throughout the NBA playoffs, he, his brothers, and his dad watched as Braun came off the bench to guard the likes of superstars Lebron James and Jimmy Butler. They relished each win. Tyler had hoped to go to the victory parade, but his body wasn’t quite ready. So the parade would come to him.

Nuggets’ victory amplified by Christian Braun’s compassion: ‘It matters’

Braun’s visit marked Tyler’s and Bryan’s first time back at UCH since the weeks after the accident. Bryan brought a thank-you card for the staff who had helped his son so much. Despite the excitement of meeting Braun, the return to UCH evoked stark reminders of their losing Christy and uncertainty surrounding Tyler’s fate in the days after the accident, Bryan said.

Brian and Tyler Ranzenberger with Braun, Rocky, and the NBA championship trophy.
Brian and Tyler Ranzenberger with Braun, Rocky, and the NBA championship trophy.

“So yeah, it’s emotional,” Bryan said. “And it’s a good and a bad. It’s a weird mixture of emotions.”

Braun taking the time to do the video message for his son, much less to come out to UCH to meet Tyler personally, was clearly a big part of the good. For that matter, just having the Nuggets’ games to look forward to during Tyler’s recovery was important, too, Bryan said.

“It matters,” Bryan told Braun in the staff conference room, a Spalding basketball Braun had signed for Tyler serving as a centerpiece. “Watching the Nuggets, watching you guys win it all, it did make a difference. It just makes you feel, you know, good, positive energy.”

The three of them and Rocky posed for photos with the trophy, and then it was time for Braun to go. They’d be seeing him again, if at a distance, at the opening game against the Los Angeles Lakers in a couple of days, thanks to tickets organized by UCHealth and the Nuggets.

Braun’s visit hadn’t only been meaningful to Tyler and his dad.

“To hear that we helped you through something is awesome,” Braun said. “We do it for the fans, and we do it for, you know, moments like this. So to be able to talk to you guys in person obviously means a lot to me.”

About the author

Todd Neff has written hundreds of stories for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth. He covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and has taught narrative nonfiction at the University of Colorado, where he was a Ted Scripps Fellowship recipient in Environmental Journalism. He is author of “A Beard Cut Short,” a biography of a remarkable professor; “The Laser That’s Changing the World,” a history of lidar; and “From Jars to the Stars,” a history of Ball Aerospace.