The Denver Nuggets were about midway through a press conference to introduce the four rookies they selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft when I asked a question that was a little odd, given the setting.
It was directed toward Jamal Murray, the sweet-shooting guard Denver nabbed with the No. 7 overall pick, and it had to do with an ancient Eastern practice.
“Jamal, this is kind of random, but I read that you are a big believer in meditation before and after games. I was just curious how that started and why you do it?”
A faint smile spread across his face. “That man right there,” Jamal said, pointing toward someone in the front row dressed in a white fedora and gray sport coat. “That man” was Roger Murray, Jamal’s father. Jamal credits Roger with helping him learn the game of basketball as well as schooling him on the meditation practices both swear by.
Since he was a boy, Jamal has made a habit out of finding a quiet space somewhere in the gym or locker room, closing his eyes and visualizing things that might happen or reflecting on what’s already occurred. The routine calms him down, he said. It shows.
Rarely, if ever, did Jamal look rattled in his lone season at Kentucky, where he averaged 20 points, 5.2 points, 2.2 assists and converted 40.8 percent of the 277 3’s he attempted. Those numbers helped earn first-team All-SEC honors at 18 years old and spurred him to enter the draft as a one-and-done college player.
“It works, man,” Roger said of the practice. “Some players when they’re playing, they have talent, but they don’t use it properly, or they’re focusing on not hitting shots. They don’t get better. They stay in the same place. Meditation helps you sort through all that. It clears your mind and pushes you to be great.”
Roger, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Canada when he was a boy, first became interested in Eastern culture by watching old Bruce Lee movies.
Roger admired the way Lee fought. But what he liked even more was Lee’s mental approach. He was tough, fearless. Roger wanted to be like that.
He felt like those traits could help him not only in sports (he ran track and field and played basketball) but also in life. So he took up martial arts, specifically kung fu. With that came meditation.
When Jamal started to compete in sports, Roger taught his son some of the techniques he’d learned over the years. He stressed the importance of breathing, of visualizing success. The result, Jamal said, is a slower heart rate and the ability to process plays even when things are moving a million miles an hour on the basketball court.
“You think slower,” Jamal says. “A lot of things happen fast.”
Jamal will need to maintain that perspective this season. There will be pressure that goes hand-in-hand with being a top-10 pick. There will also be plenty of competition. Jamal, who is capable of playing point guard or shooting guard, joins a crowded backcourt that includes Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Gary Harris and the 19th overall selection in Thursday’s draft, Malik Beasley.
Roger sounded confident in his son’s ability to keep that cool, calm and collected demeanor in his rookie season. Yes, the athletes will be bigger and stronger. Yes, there will be competition to get minutes. Jamal has the skills to cope with all of that.
“When it becomes difficult in the game for everyone else, he can take a step back and can start having fun with it,” Roger said. “It (the meditation) helps you to see clearly in the moment.”