Jamal Murray Is Your Favourite Player’s Favourite Player
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
— 13 June 2023

Jamal Murray Is Your Favourite Player’s Favourite Player

— 13 June 2023

The 2022-2023 NBA season concluded with the Denver Nuggets securing its first championship in the franchise’s 47-year history. Sealing the deal against the Miami Heat in Game 5 (94-89) at home court, which sits at an advantageous 5,280 feet above sea level, the Nuggets perfectly demonstrated that there’s really no substitute for good process as they climbed all the way to the mountain top.

Sure, there were other teams that received hype at various points in these recent playoffs. But the Nuggets were never really threatened in their 20-game journey to the Larry O’Brien trophy. They were, after all, the team with the best record, the best player, the best-constructed roster, as well as the most patient coaching staff in the NBA. Because sometimes, it really is that simple.

The lion’s share of the praise will inevitably be directed towards Nikola Jokić. As the 6’11” centre continues to break records and establish himself as one of the most dominant offensive players in NBA history, the contributions of guys like Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Bruce Brown, and Michael Porter Jr. will often be overlooked. Although you cannot possibly tell this Denver Nuggets team’s success story without mentioning Jamal Murray in the same breath as his towering Serbian teammate.

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On August 18th of 2022, we actually sat down to interview Jamal Murray for the opening of Sydney’s pop-up NBA gallery hosted at the EDDY entertainment complex.

At the time, he was recovering from a torn ACL which saw him miss the entire 2021-2022 season. I’d been a fan of the Blue Arrow since his one-and-done stint as a Kentucky Wildcat under coach John Callipari. So you can imagine how excited for a yarn.

The 26-year-old Canadian’s presence at an exhibition celebrating Australian basketball players and culture seemed a little random. It was, however, appreciated nonetheless. The gallery wasn’t the first time Jamal Murray found himself out of place; when asked about his upbringing in Kitchener, Ontario, he recalled being the kid that loved basketball in a gym class with “hella hockey players” and having to play goalie due to a combination of his size and inability to skate.

Of course, Murray made the most of his situation and competed his ass off, establishing himself as a “really good goalie” among his peers. This tenacity and drive is something that has remained a constant in his NBA career. His first love was basketball, but his second love had always been showing up to silence the doubters.

“I remember KD didn’t think I was going to hit a stepback over him and I cashed it and he was like: ‘What the hell?’ Now he looks at me like: ‘Oh, okay. You’re supposed to do that.'”

These recent playoffs only confirmed Murray has that dawg in him. In the first 18 games, he averaged 27.4 points, 6.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and was on the verge of averaging 50/40/90 shooting splits. And keep in mind that included beating KD’s Phoenix Suns in the second round, with Durant himself later claiming he was “not surprised” to see his Denver rival score a game-high 34 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and two steals while shooting 13/24 from the field.

DENVER, CO – JUNE 12: Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets slam dunks over Max Strus (31) of the Miami Heat in the first quarter during Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Ball Arena June 12, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Jamal Murray now joins three other guys as the only players to ever average 20+ points per game and 10+ assists in the NBA Finals: Magic Johnson (1987, 1988), Michael Jordan (1991), and LeBron James (2017, 2018). That’s it. That’s the entire list.

This is the man who scored 50, 42, and 50 in games against the Utah Jazz during the 2019-2020 season, leading the Nuggets to overcome a 3-1 deficit. This is the man who, in the very next series, scored 40 points against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s LA Clippers in Game 7 to overcome another 3-1 series deficit.

Back then, people chalked up his achievements to sheer luck and nicknamed him “Bubble Jamal Murray.” After witnessing him score 23 in the fourth to go up 2-0 against the Lakers this postseason, it’s time we give him his damn respect.

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I asked Jamal Murray if he had any intentions of playing for Canada’s national basketball team and he replied without any hesitation: “Next year… After we win the championship.”

When I followed this up by asking him to clarify whether these were the Denver Nuggets’ expectations for the upcoming season, he looked at me as if I’d just murdered his entire family.

“Yeah. I mean, what else are we playing for?”

There were reasons to be sceptical. The team had just finished as the sixth seed and lost in five games of the first round to the eventual championship-winning Golden State Warriors. Sure, they now had Jamal Murray returning, but how fair was it to expect a 26-year-old bouncing back from a year-long injury rehabilitation to bridge the difference?

It’s hard not to smile when I listen back to the audio recording of our conversation. Murray told me that the ACL recovery was “just detailed and tedious… but I know that it’s going to pay off with the work that I’m doing now.”

He told me about his commitment to mental strength, as well as his physical. He told me that meditation was crucial in his process and helped him refocus and build patience. He cited the influences of guys like Kobe Bryant and Bruce Lee since childhood, due to the level of obsession they had for their work as well as their mental fortitude. “

“If you go into a fight and you don’t prepare right, you’re gonna get knocked out.”

As a kid, Jamal Murray’s father – a man that incidentally used to play basketball with former heavyweight champion boxer Lennox Lewis – made him complete “pain tolerance drills.” This entailed pushups in the snow, picking up autumn leaves with his bare hands, as well as balancing cups of hot tea on his quads while holding a squat.

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It’s worth noting that recovering from an ACL injury was undoubtedly an incredibly scary and confusing time for a professional basketball player at such a pivotal stage in his young career.

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone recently shared a behind-the-scenes anecdote about Jamal Murray the day after he was wounded. In a state of complete vulnerability, without all of the usual bravado that comes with being a professional baller of his calibre, he tearfully asked his coach if he was going to be traded since he’s “damaged goods.”

Malone then gave him two words delivered with unwavering certainty: “You’re ours.”

Jamal Murray has never received an All-NBA selection or made an All-Star appearance. For most of this season, he didn’t even resemble the same player he once was. But the work eventually paid off and he elevated under the brightest lights like he always has.

The name on the front of his jersey means more to him than the one on the back. You’ll never hear him ever complain about things like salary, playing time, or his role on the team. He’s fully committed to helping his team win, and it looks like the Denver Nuggets could be doing a lot more of that in the foreseeable future. He’s proven himself and his teammates right for believing in him.

There’s no more “Bubble Jamal Murray” talk anymore. If you’re going to mention his name now, it needs to be preceded by “NBA champion.”

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