The Knicks’ Jeremy Lin has spurred incredible highlights, sustained enthusiasm from the world’s toughest fans and created a cottage industry of awful puns of his last name.
But don’t pretend he’s the first to burst on a hoops scene like this. The second-year guard’s jaw-dropping five-game run is, instead, the perfect time to remember another unheralded guard’s flash of fame back in 2003.
And here’s the thing: The best six weeks of Ronald “Flip” Murray’s career might have been an even better story than his Harvard counterpart’s. You think the Crimson was hard up for hoops credibility when Lin left Cambridge? Murray went from junior college in Mississippi to D-II Shaw to the league. Though he eventually worked his way into the 41st pick of the 2002 draft for Milwaukee, he might as well have been part of the Bradley Center’s furniture his first season. He played 42 minutes as a Buck.
So when all he did was average 21 points per in his first 14 games of 2003-04 for Seattle, the product from Philly’s Strawberry Mansion High lit up the league. He didn’t have his first non-double-digit scoring game until Nov. 28 after putting up 24.6 in his first five games. He later dropped a season-high of 31 on Miami a week later. Context: Murray had 94 points in his first four games, on 51 percent shooting, making Lin’s 109 even more remarkable.
John Hollinger, then of SI.com, tried to place him in context then, but came up grasping.
Only one player has averaged 20 points a game after a season when he played fewer than 500 minutes: John Block of the 1967-68 San Diego Rockets, and he has a big fat asterisk because he did it with an expansion team. Hey, somebody had to score.
Then in Seattle, just as now in New York, everyone asked can this last?
Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley wrote after that season’s first month:
Frankly, even (Seattle coach Nate) McMillan wasn’t sure what he had in Murray. He saw glimpses in practice, but he didn’t know what Murray would do under the bright lights of the big time.
“You don’t know,” he said. “It’s a gamble. It’s a guess. But I felt comfortable with him. I knew he would be OK out there. I knew he could score. He could shoot. But I didn’t know he would be so poised and under control and be able to put up the numbers he’s put up.”
He is a no-name no more. “I think he’s for real,” (Seattle assistant Dean) Demopoulos said. “It’s been going on too long. But Flip is so fun. He’s good and so sound and so strong. He’s multi-dimensional. He comes with a spirit that won’t be broken.”
McMillan has earned a reputation for not playing young players big minutes early, but an injury to Luke Ridnour and a big summer league camp practically forced the 24-year-old Murray into the lineup.
From October through November, those 14 games helped propel Murray to a Rookie-Sophomore Game appearance at All-Star Weekend. By the time he arrived at All-Star Weekend, however, his start that shot up like a rocket had run out of fuel months before. He faded as quickly as he shot to the front of NBA fans’ attention. After starting 13 of the first 14, he started just five games the rest of the season. By February, his minutes dropped to nearly half of the 36 per game he was averaging through November and his shooting dipped to below 37 percent until March hit.
Murray’s eight-team career that ended two seasons ago doesn’t inspire many memories. But as the world continues to watch Lin’s story, we’d be remiss not to reminisce about Murray’s incredible first 14 games.
Who had the crazier breakout: Murray or Lin?
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