Nuggets guard Jamal Murray became a breakout star while playing inside the NBA’s playoff bubble last season. He helped lead Denver to the Western Conference finals against the Lakers and spoke out strongly and emotionally on civil rights issues.
Murray received more recognition Saturday night with the Breakout of the Year honor at the SI Awards. The native of Kitchener, Ont., was chosen over Jazz wing Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland pitcher Shane Bieber and Myisha Hines-Allen of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
The 23-year-old Murray shined last August with games of 50, 42 and 50 points in the first round against the Jazz, who got a huge series from Mitchell. He became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1993 to have three consecutive games of 40 or more points in a series.
“It’s surreal to see it in real time,” Murray told host Richard Jefferson of matching MJ. “You dream of being great, you dream of being the best version of yourself. I don’t see myself stopping there.”
After that second 50-point effort, in Game 6, Murray gained attention for his shoes. They contained illustrations of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police in Minneapolis and Louisville, Ky., respectively.
“These shoes give me life. Even though these people are gone, they give me life. They help me find strength to keep fighting this world,” Murray said as he fought back tears. “That’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
Denver overcame a 3-1 series deficit vs. Utah to win in seven games. The Nuggets repeated the feat in the West semifinals against the Clippers before losing to the Lakers in five games in the conference finals. Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 19 postseason games and shot 45.3 percent from 3-point range.
His focus now is on making another long playoff run with one of the top teams in the West following an abbreviated offseason.
“Can’t wait ’til this postseason because it’s about to be a long, long season, baby,” he said.
“Two months between a season of going deep in the playoffs, that’s just not enough,” he added. “I think every team is trying to handle it differently. [Non-playoff] teams have had 10 months; they could have had a whole baby along the way. We had to go two months, but we’ll be ready.”
Two other Canadian athletes were recognized by SI on Saturday night. Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, M.D., was named a Sportsperson of the Year with LeBron James, Naomi Osaka, Patrick Mahomes and Breanna Stewart. Lightning forward Steven Stamkos was awarded Play of the Year for his goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Stars. Stamkos hadn’t played in an NHL game in seven months because of a leg injury and Game 3 was his only postseason action in the NHL bubble. He logged just 2:47 of ice time in the contest.
Game 4 of that Lightning-Stars series, a 5-4 Tampa Bay win in overtime, was named Game of the Year.