Jamal Murray was great, but he’s not the Canadian athlete of the year


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The person responsible for the Lou Marsh tie has revealed himself

Credit to Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post for admitting he’s the 1 in the 18-18-1 vote that resulted in Alphonso Davies and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif splitting the Canadian Athlete of the Year award. But his argument isn’t great.

Vanstone voted for Jamal Murray, who had a magical but relatively brief scoring run in the NBA playoffs. In a column and a series of tweets explaining his pick, Vanstone seemed most enamoured by Murray’s pair of 50-point games in the first round, pointing out that Kobe Bryant scored 50 only once in the playoffs and such luminaries as Steph Curry, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. J never did it.

That’s impressive, and Murray’s hot streak was one of the best performances by a Canadian athlete this year. But it lasted only a month, it didn’t lift his Denver Nuggets to a championship or even to the Finals, and outside of that stretch he didn’t really do anything special this year.

The Lou Marsh is open to interpretation, but none of the roads lead to Murray. If you think the award should go simply to the Canadian who performed the best on the field/court/rink/etc. during the calendar year, that’s Davies. He was one of the best players in two of soccer’s most competitive arenas, winning the Bundesliga rookie-of-the-season award and playing a key role in Bayern Munich’s domestic-Champions League double. When Bayern won the latter, Davies became the first Canadian men’s national-team player ever to capture soccer’s most prestigious club title. Along the way, he earned worldwide acclaim as perhaps the brightest rising star in his sport.

If you believe an athlete’s off-field efforts should count right alongside their athletic accomplishments, Duvernay-Tardif is a fine pick. He was an important cog in the historically great Kansas City offence that won the Super Bowl before turning his attention to treating long-term-care residents during the first wave of the pandemic. He put himself on the front lines of the fight that defined this year.

Murray? He’s terrific. His playoff run was spectacular and he could be headed for more great things very soon — both in the NBA and maybe for the national team in the Olympics. But he’s not the Canadian athlete of the year.

Alphonso Davies and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif were better picks for the Lou Marsh this year. (Getty Images/File)

Quickly…

The Canadian junior hockey team cut 16-year-old phenom Shane Wright. Like Connor McDavid before him, Wright was granted “exceptional player” status that allowed him to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old. He showed he belonged (and then some), leading Kingston in both goals (39) and points (66) in 58 games last season. McDavid was the same age as an OHL rookie and had 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games. But McDavid played in the world juniors during his second OHL season and Wright will not. He was among seven players released from camp today. Read more about the Canadian team’s preparations for the tournament here.

Kawhi Leonard’s wingman is staying put. At the behest of Kawhi, the Los Angeles Clippers traded a boatload of draft picks and players (including promising Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) to Oklahoma City for Paul George in the summer of 2019. It was the right move for the Clips because it sealed Leonard’s decision to leave Toronto and sign with them — turning L.A. into an instant title contender. But the team flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, and there had to be some anxiety about both stars being able to opt out of their contracts this coming summer. Imagine giving up all that stuff for only two years of George and Kawhi — and maybe coming away with no titles. But the Clippers locked up George today with a four-year extension that doesn’t allow him to opt out until the summer of 2024. Now onto the more important work: convincing Kawhi to follow suit.

The last golf major of the year is underway. Postponed from early June, the U.S. Women’s Open finally teed off today in Houston. Two Canadians are playing. World No. 6 Brooke Henderson was even through seven holes and tied for 25th place at our publish time. 99th-ranked Alena Sharp was one shot behind her through four. See an updated leaderboard here.

And finally…

Remember when Ross Rebagliati’s Olympic gold medal almost went up in smoke?

Twenty-two years ago, snowboarding was still trying to reach mainstream status in the button-down world of the Olympics. So when the sport made its debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, you could just picture the Grinchiest gatekeepers looking down from their perch (and up from their Cognac) to ask, “Who are these punks? And what are they doing to our pristine ski slopes?”

So, of course, the most stereotypical thing imaginable happened. After winning the first-ever Olympic snowboard gold medal with a blazing second run in the men’s giant slalom, Canada’s Ross Rebagliati tested positive for weed.

For a bit, it looked like Rebagliati would become a winter version of Ben Johnson and be stripped of his gold. He was even hauled into a Japanese police station for questioning. But it turned out marijuana wasn’t on the Olympics’ list of banned substances. So Rebagliati kept the medal and became an overnight celebrity, including an appearance next to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

Rebagliati, who still insists the positive test was triggered by second-hand smoke, never appeared in the Olympics again. But he’s parlayed his 15 minutes into a business venture in the age of legalized cannabis. His name is on a line of cannabis-related products and dispensaries in B.C. called — ready? — Ross’ Gold.

Read more about Rebagliati’s highs and lows in Nagano in his own words, and those of some other key figures involved, in the latest edition of CBC Sports’ oral history series.

Tomorrow on CBC Sports

World Cup skeleton: Due to the pandemic, the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton team decided not to send any athletes to Europe for the first few events of the season. But Elisabeth Maier is currently living in Austria with her husband (a bobsleigh pilot from that country) and their young son, so she’ll compete in Friday’s women’s race in Innsbruck. Watch it live at 8:15 a.m. ET here. And read more about Maier and the challenges athletes face in returning from pregnancy and childbirth in this story by CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey.

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