Tony Parker on Dejounte Murray: ‘The Spurs are in good hands’
As San Antonio honors its former point guard, his successor is ready to rise
SAN ANTONIO — Dejounte Murray walked into Gregg Popovich’s office before a game on Jan. 21, 2018, with no clue what to expect. Sitting with the San Antonio Spurs coach was the team’s longtime starting point guard, Tony Parker. They were there to tell Murray that there would be a changing of the guard. After 17 years, Parker was passing the starting gig to Murray.
“He brought us in the office and Tony was already aware. I wasn’t aware yet. It was right before a game [against Indiana],” Murray recently told The Undefeated. “He explained it all to us. Tony was all for it. Tony took it better than anybody could ever expect. I didn’t know what to expect from him. He’s Tony Parker. He is the Spurs, and he is up there with Tim [Duncan] and all that.
“I know it was tough for him. But it was better for the team. He’s a team guy and he showed that.”
Parker, who was the 28th overall pick by the Spurs in 2001 out of France, had teamed up with Duncan and Manu Ginobili to win four titles together under Popovich and became the first European player to win NBA Finals MVP honors in 2007. Being replaced is never easy for a legend, but Parker handled the change with professionalism.
On Monday night, Murray will salute his mentor, who retired last season, as the Spurs send Parker’s No. 9 jersey up to the rafters.
“I learned a lot from Tony. I learned how to handle Coach Pop,” Murray said. “I still talk to him. He comes by the [practice] gym. Tony is Tony. We’re just happy to have him around. …
“There will never be another Tony Parker. He is the greatest Spurs point guard ever. Now, it’s up to me to be the greatest Dejounte Murray I can be.”
The Spurs selected Murray with the 29th overall selection in the 2016 NBA draft out of the University of Washington. While the 6-foot-4, 170-pound guard played sparingly as a rookie, Popovich saw enough in Murray during his second season to make him the starting point guard over Parker.
“I just like the fact that he picks things up so quickly,” Popovich said of Murray, who averaged 10.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals in 26.1 minutes per game as a starter in 2017-18. “And you can get after him like I did Tony Parker and it makes him better. He wants it. He doesn’t want to have an excuse. He’s not afraid to say that he screwed up. And somebody who is like that, you know they are going to grow.
“Tony was like that. Manu was like that. Tim. Kawhi [Leonard] was like that. George [Hill]. With a lot of young guys, you can tell that if they [can be coached], they will have a long career and be successful. But we didn’t know Manu was going to be Manu and Kawhi was going to be Kawhi from the very beginning. You figure it out after a couple years.”
The point guard position truly became Murray’s when Parker departed San Antonio in the summer of 2018 to join the Charlotte Hornets in what would end up being his last season. Expectations were strong that the athletic Murray would have a breakthrough 2018-19 season. But those hopes were put on hold when the Seattle native tore his right ACL on Oct. 7, 2018, during a preseason game against the Houston Rockets. Murray would miss the entire 2018-19 season while recovering from knee surgery, but kept a positive attitude.
“Injuries happen every day. I knew I wasn’t the first or last to have an injury. It’s a normal thing. It happens,” Murray said.
Considering Murray’s tough childhood in Seattle, he has been through a lot worse.
Murray told ESPN in 2016 that he saw drug dealing, gang-related activity and murders near his Seattle high school. Rainier Beach was a basketball power whose alumni include former NBA players Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, but it was once described by the Seattle Times in 2015 as “Seattle’s smallest, most troubled high school.”
“I come from the worst of the worst. That’s all I can say. A lot of people that know me, know where I come from,” Murray told The Undefeated.
The game of basketball and having mentors keeping tabs on him since the sixth grade, including Crawford, kept Murray on the right path.
Murray declined to go into detail about his troubled youth, but says there will be a day when he will tell it.
“I ain’t ready to tell it. I am being patient with it,” Murray said. “When the time comes and is the right time, it will be the right time to get it out to the world. It will mainly be for all the youth and even adults because I was a young boy hanging around nothing but adults. It will be good for everybody.
“I don’t want nothing from it other than to show somebody who has gone through things or is going through things that there is a way if you dedicate yourself, put the work in and stay focused. Eliminate anything that is negative. Everything is possible.”
Murray was back healthy at the start of training camp this season. The Spurs, however, are being cautious with him and sitting him on the second night of back-to-backs. He is averaging 12.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals in just 23.1 minutes per game.
Murray says he is mentally over the injury, but trusts the Spurs’ medical plan with him.
“I am thankful. Sitting out made me realize how much more I love the game,” Murray said. “This is all I do. I sleep, watch, eat and play basketball. That’s all I love to do. I’m just thankful to be back. … The injury is in the past. I don’t think about the injury at all. I play like it’s nothing. I just go out and hoop.”
Popovich is not only impressed with Murray as a basketball player, but as a person, too.
“Dejounte Murray has some basketball skills, but beyond all that he is just highly intelligent. He has a great outlook on life,” Popovich said. “His attitude helps all of us be happier each day and be grateful for what we have. His humor is always there. He is willing. He is a hard worker. He wants to learn. He wants to be great.
“He can handle criticism. He hasn’t any ‘poor me’ type of attitude. It’s all about getting better and doing right by the team.”
Per usual, the small-market Spurs opened the season with very little hype, but Murray believes San Antonio’s play will speak for itself this season.
“I don’t care about the hype. I have always been a dude that is underrated,” Murray said. “I can speak for my teammates and what they went through in high school, college or whatever. But I don’t believe in hype. The real always comes to the top. The ones who put the work in, learn and stay away from all that media stuff, are the ones that usually come up on top.
“Let the world keep hyping up everyone else. San Antonio is going to keep getting better and better as one.”
While all eyes will be on Parker on Monday night, the future Hall of Famer will also be watching his successor.
“I’m very proud of him,” Parker told The Undefeated. “The Spurs are in good hands.”