In the dying seconds of Jamal Murray's historic 48-point game last month, the Denver Nuggets guard launched up a long shot in an attempt to score 50 with the game already well in hand — a flippant move that went against basketball's unwritten code, according to Kyrie Irving.
The Boston point guard responded in anger, grabbing the ball after Murray's missed shot and hurling it 100 feet up into the stands.
Less than three seasons into his NBA career, the 21-year-old Murrary has been branded a villain, and is doing his best to shed that all-Canadians-are-nice-guys notion — on the basketball court at least.
"It's weird because they call Canadians soft and they always harp on that, and now they call me evil. Pick one, you can't have both, man," Murray said with a laugh. "I just go out there and compete. I love to challenge people. You get to see who the real people are when you challenge people, they take it with grain of salt and challenge you back or they just get frustrated."
The Kitchener, Ont., native was in Toronto ahead of Monday night's matchup between NBA conference leaders. The East-leading Raptors (20-4) have won eight in a row, while Denver (17-5) have won five straight to sit atop the west in a tie with the L.A. Clippers.
The Canadian's on-court bravado also made him Public Enemy No. 1 with the Lakers, where fans in L.A. have serenaded him with chants of "Murray sucks!"
It started last season when Murray dribbled cheekily downcourt and around Lonzo Ball as the clock ticked down on a Nuggets win. Ball called it a "punk move." In their next game, Murray said something to Lakers coach Luke Walton after a Nuggets win that Walton called "disrespectful."
"I don't try and play any role, good or bad," Murray said. "I've always had that edge growing up, especially coming from (Toronto) and not having the attention that we've had, but now we do. I really don't care."
Do his Nuggets teammates like his nefarious role?
"They love it. They're watching a movie right now of everything that goes on. It's fun, you've got to have fun with it man," said the 6-4 guard.
Murray is enjoying a breakout season. He's averaging 17.1 points on 41.9 per cent shooting, plus 4.6 assists a night, and his 48 points against the Celtics last month made him the first Canadian to score that many in a regular-season NBA game. Steve Nash scored 48 in a playoff game.
While some players' games go sideways when emotions are high, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Murray's game gets better.
"I think he actually plays better when he's emotional . . . making shots and then the next thing you know he's slinging arrows and all the emotions coming out of him," Malone said, referencing Murray's "Blue Arrow" shot celebration that goes back to his days at Kentucky.
"I think for a young player it's being true to yourself and making sure you don't cross the line. I think sometimes he walks that line very closely but at the end of the day I have his back," Malone added. "Love the kid, love coaching him. And his edge is kind of what makes him who he is. If he needs to use that edge to get a leg up on his competition so be it."
The Nuggets and Raptors were set to tip off shortly after Canada's national team faced Brazil on Monday in a World Cup qualifying game in Sao Paolo. Murray said he hasn't had much down time to follow the team's progress.
"I definitely look and see who's going to play, and look for any (roster) changes, but I got Raps today, and I got Orlando after that, and then I've got Charlotte and Kemba (Walker). . . so, you know," he laughed.
But Murray, who played a huge role in Canada's silver medal performance at the 2015 Pan American Games, looks forward to joining the national team for this summer's World Cup in China, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"It's going to be fun . . . We'll talk more when the time comes, but hopefully I'll be there, hopefully they'll want be on the roster, so I'll prepare for that during the summer."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press