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How Dejounte Murray was inspired by the memory of Kobe Bryant

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DJ used his inner Mamba to fight through the pain of playing on a sprained ankle.

Washington Wizards v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Dejounte Murray is looking more and more like the player the San Antonio Spurs envisioned when they signed him to a contract extension in the summer of 2019 despite having just missed the entire season with a torn ACL. As is often the case such severe injuries, much of the 2019-20 season was an extension of rehab for Murray. He was initially on minutes restrictions, and needed time to get reacclimated with his new teammates and find his form. Despite improve stats across the board, it wasn’t the leap many were envisioning, leaving some to wonder if his ceiling wasn’t as high as previously thought.

However, sometimes it’s easy to forget that it can take athletes up to a year of playing after such a long layoff to be themselves again, and that’s exactly what is happening with Murray this season. He numbers have surged to career highs, with 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists in 30 minutes of action, and he’s looking like the point guard of the future he was signed to be on both ends.

His assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.4-to-1.6 is among the best in the league for point guards, and although his 1.4 steals per game don’t jump off the page, he’s one of the league leaders in deflecting passes, proving his somewhat surprising All-NBA Defense Team selection in 2018 was no fluke.

Perhaps most impressively, he has already posted two triple-doubles the season, making him the first Spur to have more than one in a season since David Robinson had four in 1993-94. One came in their second match up of the season when he posted 11-10-10 in a win against the Toronto Raptors. However, the second one — 11-11-10 this Sunday against the Washington Wizards — may have been more impressive. After leaving the previous game early with a sprained ankle, he was back on the court two nights later, and although he appeared nowhere close to 100 percent, he fought through the pain to help lead his team to victory.

When asked after the game how he bounced back so well, he invoked one of his idols: the late great Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away one year ago today.

“I honestly just tried to have a Mamba Mentality. I watched a lot of Kobe stuff, and you know like, ‘what would Kobe do’? I was just an ankle sprain, so I amped up my treatment. I did a lot of treatment the last couple of days. I was in the gym for hours and at home icing, just so I could get back and help my team.”

There’s no telling if it was more than just the timing had Murray thinking of Kobe, but it shows how tough both physically and mentally he has become. After suffering a season-ending injury once before, it would be understandable if he wanted to let that ankle heal more before playing on it again. (As someone who spent 17 years playing soccer, I can attest that even minor ankle sprains can be little pests: extremely easy to re-tweak, and they take forever to go away.)

However, Murray has been one of the most vocal members of the team this year when it comes to standing by team’s goal of making the playoffs, and how they have to earn everyone’s respect again (like the media) through their play. He knew his team needed him, especially with Derrick White still out, and he fought through the pain and used his “Mamba Mentality” to be there. As time goes by, he continues to show why the Spurs extended him, and what part of their future he holds.

With Kobe no longer with us, maybe Matt Bonner and Brian Scalabrine can do the honors and anoint him the “Skinny Mamba”.