In the seconds after the final horn, with the jubilant Denver Nuggets celebrating their first championship, the surprising question hung in the air.

Is Jamal Murray now Kentucky’s greatest NBA alum? And who saw that coming?

Yes, Murray, who was selected 7th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, was an outstanding player in his 1 season in Lexington. His 20.0 points per game make him John Calipari’s only UK player to reach that mark in a season. His 113 made 3-pointers rank 2nd in UK history. He was a consensus All-SEC pick and earned All-America honors from the Associated Press and USA Today.

But Murray, if it’s possible, made noise quietly. Only once in his season as a Wildcat, in the second game, against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, did Murray fail to reach double figures in scoring. He made at least 1 3-point shot in every game. But his consistency didn’t deliver a UK team that missed a superstar. Murray was teamed with post player Skal Labissiere, who was expected to shine, but who instead averaged 6.6 points per game. His best supporting teammate was Tyler Ulis, notable for his massive heart but also for his 5-9 listed height. And accordingly, Murray’s lone season at UK ended in a 2nd-round NCAA Tournament loss to Indiana.

And in the NBA, Murray was solid. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie, averaging 9.9 points per game. He became a starter and improved as a scorer, with his scoring average jumping each season, from 16.7 points per game to 18.2 to 18.5 to 21.2. But then came disaster. Murray blew out his ACL and missed the entire 2021-22 season. Coming off that injury, it was fair to wonder if Murray’s burgeoning career would go the way of fellow UK alums derailed by injuries like John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins.

Not so much. Yes, Murray’s scoring numbers declined in the regular season, down to 20.0 points per game. His shooting percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage each dipped. But in the playoffs, Murray delivered on the promise he’d made after his injury to come back even stronger than he had been before.

Playoff Jamal Murray was an assassin. He averaged 26.1 points per game and knocked down 59 3-point buckets. Not that it was all about scoring. Murray averaged 7.1 assists per game in the playoffs, and generally co-anchored the Nuggets with Nikola Jokic. In 8 of the Nuggets’ 20 playoff games, Murray managed 30+ points. His humble 14-point performance in the NBA Finals capper Monday night was his 2nd-lowest scoring game of the postseason. Jokic was the Finals MVP, but Denver doesn’t stroll to a 16-4 postseason without Murray turning into a shooting legend.

For his part, Murray was humbled by the reminder of the vast change in his fortune since his injury. Tears streamed down his face as he reflected on his transition from young gun to horribly injured question mark to postseason gunner.

But honestly, as tempting as it is to say that Murray’s improvement was sudden, Murray put up 26.5 points per game in Denver’s 2020 playoff run. For his career, he’s averaging 16.9 points per regular season NBA game. And when the lights shine brightest? He averages just over 25 points per playoff game. Maybe that’s just who Murray is.

In any case, an NBA title will recast Murray as perhaps UK’s most prominent NBA ambassador. Consider the immediate follow-up from Big Blue Nation …

Is Jamal Murray now the NBA’s resident Mr. Kentucky basketball? Anthony Davis has a title and a gold medal … but certainly has struggled with his own injury issues and was noticeably a second (or even third) fiddle for the Lakers in their postseason run. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a phenomenal season, but hasn’t produced in the postseason yet. Bam Abebayo was on the losing end of his second Finals, but Bam is more a glue and grit guy than a shooting star. Devin Booker or De’Aaron Fox could end up making a move for the spot.

But today, Jamal Murray is a champion, a Denver legend, and very possibly UK alum No. 1. And if we didn’t see it coming, maybe we just weren’t looking hard enough.