Poised to take flight, Murray's injury hurts more because this was his time

Brad Fay and Michael Grange discuss the devastating injury to Jamal Murray, and what this means for both the Denver Nuggets and Team Canada at the upcoming Olympics.

There is no such thing as a good injury. They are all bad - but some injuries are just plain sad, and the news that Jamal Murray, the sensational shooting guard from Kitchener, Ont., has torn the ACL in his left knee is simply that.

It’s not tragic — in the true sense of the word at least. At 24 years old, Murray is young and fit and strong and in the first year of a lucrative guaranteed contract that provides financial security and then some for him and his loved ones for generations to come.

With all the resources of modern sports medicine at his disposal and the sheer will he’s demonstrated over and over again as he’s built himself into the best basketball player to come out of Canada since Steve Nash was winning the first of his back-to-back MVP awards 15 years ago, there is no reason to worry about Murray’s long-term prospects.

He’ll most likely make a full recovery and most likely return to the peak levels of the sport. It won’t be easy, but he’ll get there.

So in that sense, Murray will be fine and this moment will go down as one of those unfortunate hurdles that athletes have no choice but to overcome if they are going to reach their full potential.

When you push your body to the limit, injuries are part of the job.

But there’s a reason this one feels a little different and why there has been an outpouring of empathy for the emerging Nuggets star.

This one hurts more because this was Murray’s time, and any way you look at it, it’s a loss.

For Murray, certainly, who was an athlete poised to take full flight.

As a fan of the Nuggets you could rightly look at how their team has been trending upwards, and how Murray has been playing and believe this was the year a group of players entering their collective primes could break through and bring Denver their first NBA title.

And as a fan of basketball you could look forward to watching more of Murray work his exquisite two-man dance on the biggest stage with Nikola Jokic, with Denver’s seven-foot basketball wizard — the pairing of Murray’s one-on-one threat and off-ball gravity giving Jokic all the room and time he needs to make plays like no one else is making in the NBA, perhaps ever. So often it’s Murray who finishes those plays, two perfectly matched basketball minds coming together with complimentary skill sets.

It’s a joy to watch, and for the moment it’s gone.

And for Canadian basketball and the men’s national team?

Murray’s injury is one more kick in the stomach for a program loaded with F1 potential but seemingly — and increasingly through no fault of their own — perpetually having to grind away in second gear like a creaky Civic stuck in rush hour on the DVP.

It’s been 21 summers since Canada shone on the world stage at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but for nearly a decade now we’ve been predicting that the Golden Age was upon us and a wave of young talent — of which Murray stands at the forefront — would wash Canada onto the medal podium.

Murray was fully committed to play last summer before the pandemic struck and the expectation was he was going to play this summer too, with the caveat that if Denver went on the playoff run they were hoping, Murray likely wouldn’t be available for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria from Jun. 29 to Jul. 4.

But if Canada advanced, Murray would be in Tokyo, or if Denver stumbled, the elite combo guard would be available to help get them there.

And what a sight that would have been.

Last August in the bubble, the world saw Murray operating at full capacity — over a magical 19-game run to the Conference Finals, Murray put on one of the most electrifying offensive performances we’ve ever seen.

The numbers tell one story — Murray averaged 26.5 points a game while shooting 50.5 per cent from the floor and 45.3 per cent from three for the playoffs.

But it was the manner and timing of the delivery that turned Murray into a star.

In Game 5 of Denver’s epic first-round series against Utah, as the Nuggets were clawing their way back from a 3-1 hole, Murray put up 42 points on 17-of-26 shooting to avoid elimination. In Game 6 he pulled together his second 50-point game of the series, this time on 17-of-24 shooting, including 9-of-12 from three to force a Game 7.

In Game 7 of the Conference semi-finals he put up 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting as Murray put the Los Angeles Clippers to sleep with 12 points in the fourth quarter alone as Denver advance to the Conference Finals.

It was clutch basketball at its finest and gave the then fourth-year guard a new profile in the league, and a new outlook for the Nuggets.

And it wasn’t a fluke. Over the past two months Murray had been back to his bubble self, averaging 24.1 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 51 per cent from the floor and 46 per cent from three.

The Nuggets were the hottest team in the NBA.

Canadian basketball fans were used to it. Murray’s national team debut came at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015, the summer after he had finished high school.

The 18-year-old came off the bench to score 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Canada beat Team USA to advance to the gold medal final.

“He’s a special, special kid,” said then national team general manager Steve Nash.

It’s maddening that Canadian fans won’t get a chance to see Murray work that magic through the Nuggets playoff run and even tougher to swallow that he won’t be able to do it for the national team this summer.

Canada is loaded with NBA talent and some top European pros too. They remain a threat for a medal if they can run the gauntlet in Victoria.

But it was easier to dream the most fantastic dreams because of the potential Murray offered to take over a game or even a tournament at any given moment.

Is the NBA’s condensed schedule a factor in the rash of injuries to the league’s top talent? It only seems reasonable to ask the question, but that’s an issue for another day.

And it’s worth knowing that Murray will have plenty more moments to shine in a career that’s just getting started.

But for now, for this moment, the only thing to do is to wish Murray a full and speedy recovery and mourn the moments that basketball fans of all stripes — but especially those striped in red and white — are going to be missing this Spring and Summer.

It’s sad to think about.

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