Alphonso Davies vs. Jamal Murray: Who should get the Lou Marsh?

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Is it too early to talk Lou Marsh Award?

Yes. It’s September. Year-end awards are for December. But also, no. Because two clear front-runners have emerged for Canadian athlete of the year. And it’s going to be tough for anyone to catch them in what’s shaping up to be a much quieter final quarter of 2020, thanks to all the postponements and cancellations caused by the pandemic.

When the big names and big brains of Canadian sports media gather (probably virtually this year) to hash out their choice, it’s pretty clearly going to come down to two guys: soccer phenom Alphonso Davies and rising basketball star Jamal Murray. Both young players have broken through with attention-grabbing performances in truly global sports, becoming big names outside of Canada’s borders. So let’s look at the case for each of them:

Alphonso Davies

At only 19 (!) years old, Davies became only the second Canadian (and the first member of the national team) to win a men’s UEFA Champions League title. The star left-back from Edmonton started and played every minute of Bayern Munich’s 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the final of soccer’s most prestigious club competition. He also helped Bayern capture the Bundesliga title and was named the German league’s rookie of the year.

Davies is now considered one of the best young players in the entire world. And he’s probably the most talented Canadian soccer player ever. For a glimpse of his elite speed, agility and playmaking skills, check out this jaw-dropping assist from the Champions League quarter-finals vs. Barcelona, which went viral around the world.

The new Bundesliga season is about to get underway, and the Champions League’s group stage kicks off in October. So Davies will be able to burnish his resumé before the end of the year. Unfortunately, he lost an opportunity to shine in World Cup qualifying right before the Lou Marsh vote when the opening round was delayed from October/November to March. Still, the award is probably Davies’ to lose.

Jamal Murray

This newsletter has essentially become a Murray fanzine for stretches over the last few weeks, but that feels like the appropriate response to what he’s done. After showing occasional flashes of brilliance in his four-year pro career, the 23-year-old Denver Nuggets guard went supernova in the first round of this year’s playoffs. He scored 50, 42 and 50 points in consecutive games vs. Utah — a run that’s only been surpassed by Michael Jordan and Jerry West in NBA playoff history.

Pretty much everyone had Murray and the Nuggets going down to Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers in the next round. But the Canadian came up big again, pouring in 40 points in Game 7 to lead Denver to the upset and a spot in the Western Conference final.

Murray’s performances in the first two rounds are enough to put him in the Lou Marsh conversation. But he still has quite a bit of upside. If the Kitchener, Ont., native can author another upset — this time against LeBron James’ and Anthony Davis’ powerful Lakers — and make it to his first NBA Finals, it could be enough to push him past Davies for the Lou Marsh.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin discusses Jamal Murray’s superb season:

The Toronto Raptors are out of the NBA playoffs, but Canadian Jamal Murray is still shooting for an NBA Championship after a stellar season with the Denver Nuggets. 2:03

Quickly…

The world juniors are still on. This year’s tournament was supposed to take place in both Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., beginning Dec. 26. But Hockey Canada and the sport’s world governing body have decided to hold it at a single venue — Edmonton’s Rogers Place — without fans. The plan is to isolate teams and tournament officials in the same bubble the NHL is currently using. A schedule will be released later, so it’s unclear whether the event will still start on Boxing Day. Read more about the revised plan for this year’s and next year’s tournament (which will also be in Alberta) here.

The Blue Jays are making this newsletter look very bad right now. Since I advised you a couple of days ago to jump on the bandwagon immediately because they’re almost certainly headed for a surprising playoff berth, the Jays have been outscored 33-8 in back-to-back losses to the Yankees. More bad news: closer Ken Giles looks like he’s out for the year with an elbow injury just two games after returning. But it’s still not time to panic (yet). Teoscar Hernandez is ready to play again after missing a week and a half with an oblique injury. He’s having a fantastic year — tied for eighth in baseball with 14 homers and ninth in on-base-plus-slugging at .995. And Toronto’s playoff odds are still 97 per cent, according to ESPN’s model. The closest teams to them in the race for the second and final AL wild card are Baltimore and Seattle, who are both 4.5 games behind with only 11 left to play. ESPN’s system gives Seattle a 3 per cent chance of making the playoffs and Baltimore 2 per cent.

WNBA star Maya Moore married the man she helped free from prison. The 31-year-old Moore took the last two seasons off as she focused on helping Jonathan Irons, a 40-year-old who was sentenced to 50 years as a teenager for allegedly breaking into a man’s home and shooting him. Irons maintained he was not there when the incident happened and had been misidentified. Moore met him 13 years ago and joined the campaign to get him released. In March, a judge vacated the conviction, calling the case against Irons “very weak and circumstantial at best” and ruling that the prosecution suppressed fingerprint evidence that may have helped him. Irons was freed in July and he married Moore this summer, the couple announced yesterday on Good Morning AmericaRead more about this unusual love story here.

The Fed Cup is now the Billie Jean King Cup. The women’s version of the Davis Cup was renamed in honour of the iconic player and activist who spearheaded the creation of a women’s pro tennis circuit. Next week marks the 50th anniversary of when King and eight other players broke from the male-dominated tennis establishment to start their own tour. The Virginia Slims Circuit eventually led to the birth of the Women’s Tennis Association, which currently organizes the sport. The Fed Cup began in 1963 with only 16 countries competing and no prize money. It’s grown to 116 countries, and the 12-team Finals now offers equal prize money to the Davis Cup. Read more about the rebranding and King’s role in changing tennis history here.

All four Canadians were over par at the U.S. Open. Golf’s toughest major teed off today at Winged Foot near New York City. Three Canadians were grouped together, and they finished the day with similar scorecards. Corey Conners shot 1-over, while Adam Hadwin and Mackenzie Hughes shot 2-over. The other Canadian, Taylor Pendrith, was 4-over through 13 holes at our publish time. American Justin Thomas had the clubhouse lead at 5-under. Check the live leaderboard here.

And finally…

It was 20 years ago today that Canada’s Simon Whitfield surprised everyone by winning the first-ever Olympic men’s triathlon.

Australians dominated the sport heading into the 2000 Sydney Olympics. That’s one of the reasons why triathlon was added to the program for their home Games, and why the women’s and men’s events were scheduled for the first two days of competition (Sept. 16 and 17). They were supposed to help get the host country fired up.

Meanwhile, no one expected much from the 25-year-old Whitfield, who’d never won a top-level international race. Except for Whitfield. Fuelled by borderline-irrational confidence, a nothing-to-lose mentality and just plain old guts, he hung around during the swim and bike stages and then made his big move in the closing 10-km run — his specialty. His thrilling finishing kick for the upset gold-medal win is one of the great moments in Canadian Olympic history. And he went on to add a silver with another gutsy, exciting run eight years later in Beijing. Read more about how Whitfield won gold in Sydney in his own words (and the words of other key figures involved) in this oral history by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter with video by Steve Tzemis.

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