In our society there are a number of things that simply aren't said and topics that are considered taboo. Sometimes, in spite of all reason, this is as a result of fear and superstition. While it may seem archaic in the modern world our lives are still very much governed by ancient traditions. For example, we say "bless you" after someone sneezes to stop their soul from escaping, or possibly to assist the body in expelling an evil spirit. Of course today we know such things to be farcical, but we continue the practice nonetheless.
Similarly, we have long considered words to be powerful things, and believe that their misuse can bring ruin upon us. That's why so many of us are still afraid to go into the bathroom, shut off the lights, and say "Bloody Mary" three times. Even the most skeptical among us, who know it's nothing more than a silly story, feel that slight tingle of fear when the words leave our lips. While we are 99 percent sure that an angry ghost isn't going to leap out of the mirror and claw our eyes out the remaining one percent of uncertainty stops us from doing it.
The same effect can be seen in the sports world, where it's forbidden to talk about a perfect game or no-hitter while it's happening out of fear that it will be jinxed. Everyone has it on their mind and yet the announcers don't dare speak of it lest the power of their words destroy the moment.
The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a somewhat comparable situation, albeit for negative reasons instead of positive. There's a topic that is rarely being discussed, and with good reason. It's something that fans don't dare speak of out of fear that it will somehow become the truth, and that their great franchise will be undone as a result.
However, as one season of misery after another passes, what was once nothing more than muted whispers has become a more insistent rumbling from anxious fans. Try as we might, a tidal wave of evidence has made it impossible to brush aside the ghost before our eyes.
The time has come to ponder the question: are the Lakers cursed?
While some would scoff at the idea, even the most hardened skeptic would have to admit that the franchise has had a remarkable run of bad luck recently. Tracing the string back to the start, we find a single day that signified the beginning of the end.
December 8th, 2011, a day Lakers fans know too well. It was, as FDR would say, a date which will live in infamy. That was the day that Chris Paul was traded to the Lakers, and then he wasn't. NBA Commissioner David Stern, who had promised not to interfere with the decision making ability of the league-owned Hornets (now Pelicans), broke his own rules and stepped in to veto a deal that would have sent Paul, aka the point god, to the league's most glamorous franchise.
While Stern infamously claimed that his decision was due to "basketball reasons" the rumor mill churned out a number of other likely scenarios, ranging from the Laker-crippling goals of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to a letter of protest from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Regardless of the reason, the deed was done, and a change in the wind was felt across the NBA landscape.
The Lakers have had a history of getting things right, of finding a way to rise to the top just when it seemed like all was lost. They would swing a trade or land a free agent that would keep them on top of the hill for a little longer, always coming up big when the chips were down. Even the players on the court seemed to share this ability, as proven by incredible moments like Kobe to Shaq in 2000, Horry for three, and of course, Derek Fisher's unforgettable .4 shot.
The Lakers were like Achilles (the Greek warrior, not Kobe's): Invincible, indestructible, and nearly unbeatable. Yet Stern's action exposed their heel, and the franchise crumbled under the sting of his arrow. If the Lakers are really cursed it was in this dark moment that it was cast upon them.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the key pieces of the Paul trade, were understandably shaken by the rescinded deal. They had won championships as Lakers, and felt that they were owed a measure of loyalty. Odom in particular was so hurt that he requested to be traded, and was sent to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round pick and a trade exception.
The Lakers were determined to prove that they were still a force to be reckoned with and that what had appeared to be a mortal blow dealt by Stern was merely a flesh wound. In the summer of 2012 they traded away a number of draft picks as well as the trade exception from the Odom deal to land aging maestro Steve Nash. They then went all-in by dealing prominent center (and bowler) Andrew Bynum for an injured Dwight Howard, who was in the final year of his contract.
After firing then-coach Mike Brown, the team spurned Phil Jackson to install Mike D'Antoni at the helm. The Lakers envisioned Mike D'Antoni's cutting-edge offense turning Howard into a violent dispenser of death-from-above dunks. Nash would be the engine of the team, and his pick and roll acumen would pair perfectly with Howard's explosiveness and strength. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would use their considerable skills to pick away at the opponents seams when the defense rotated. They would also be called upon to provide leadership to the franchise, something the reserved Nash and juvenile Howard would need help with. In short, the slow, half-court oriented Lakers were intended to become the rebirth of Showtime.
Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Steve Nash had his leg broken in a freak run-in with Damian Lillard and was never the same. Howard had gone through offseason back surgery, and when he finally got on the court he revealed he had no interest in playing pick-and-roll basketball, which was a requirement of D'Antoni's offense. Howard thought of himself as a classic post-up center in spite of a mountain of turnovers proving he wasn't, and as a result he never looked comfortable in Lakers colors. Gasol and D'Antoni also had their philosophical issues, creating a team without even a hint of chemistry.
In the middle of all of this turmoil the Lakers beloved Dr. Buss, the man credited with being the architect behind so many championship teams, passed away. The good doctor's children would take over the organization but their lack of seasoning caused many to wonder if they had the chops to run the ship. For the first time in ages, the Lakers decision-making ability was being questioned.
Meanwhile, Kobe did what he could to drag the grieving franchise to the playoffs. While he was heroically successful, Bryant's achilles snapped with just two games remaining in the season, jeopardizing his career. The Lakers were unceremoniously swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
Of course all of this is tragic, but it's not quite curse-worthy. If only the story ended here...
That summer Dwight opted to do what had never been done before and took less money to NOT play for the Lakers, running to the scratchy embrace of James Harden's beard in Houston. Steve Nash attempted to come back time and time again but a nerve root problem ultimately robbed him of his career. Kobe returned from his achilles injury only to play 6 games before fracturing his leg and being forced to miss the remainder of the year.
The Lakers, knocked down by the Stern veto, were now being buried by a landslide of injuries. The team posted its worst record since the franchise moved to LA with just 27 wins in the 2013-2014 season. While all of the injuries and losing were terrible, the silver lining was that the Lakers would have the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 draft, their highest selection since 1982. The team considered themselves lucky to find Kentucky's bruising power forward, Julius Randle, still available for them to choose. Through it all, Randle's potential gave fans hope for the future.
Then free agency came and Pau Gasol parted ways with Southern California. To make matters worse the Lakers were unable to sign their main free agent target, Carmelo Anthony, instead watching him re-sign with the New York Knicks. In a poetic twist of fate the Knicks are run by Phil Jackson, who was convinced to return to his New York roots after the Lakers passed over him to hire D'Antoni.
Still, with both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant returning, plus new additions like Randle, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer, the '14-'15 Lakers squad was expected to improve upon the previous one and offer fans a competitive team to cheer for. Former-Laker great Byron Scott was brought in to replace D'Antoni provide a link to the team's glorious past.
However, curses are nothing if not persistent, and once again things didn't work out the way the Lakers hoped they would. Nash's season was over before it started, and his career mercifully came to a conclusion. The Lakers had also invested a considerable amount of money in Nick Young, the Clown Prince who breathed life into the Lakers fan base with his charisma. Given the injury issues the team has had it should be no surprise that Young spent most of the season injured, and when he was healthy a dreadful shooting slump deprived him of his swag.
Of course the most crushing injury came when prized rookie and bringer-of-hope Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener. Not knowing whether to laugh at their misfortune or cry, Lakers fans in Staples Center that night could only sit in stunned silence while their heir apparent was wheeled off the court. Fans were beyond excited to watch Randle develop but his season would end with just over 13 minutes of court time.
Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, Kobe Bryant tore his rotator cuff after only 35 games, and the resulting surgery ended his season. The team will finish as the worst in franchise history.
Just in case any further evidence of a curse is needed, consider that there are currently just two positive thoughts sustaining fans: 1. Rookie Jordan Clarkson has wildly surpassed expectations as a second-round pick, becoming one of the best rookies of the season and 2. The Lakers losing has put them in a position to potentially keep the top-five protected pick that was traded away in the Steve Nash mistake. Such a pick could yield a star to build around for the future on a team-friendly deal, exactly the kind of thing that can reverse a curse.
However, with a slim lead in the standings over the tanking Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers squared off in head-to-head matchups with both teams last week. The outcome of those games will likely play a huge role in determining whether or not the Lakers keep their coveted draft.
Unfortunately, both games ended in Lakers wins in overtime, with less than a second remaining on the clock, on points scored by Jordan Clarkson. The one person that has given fans hope for the future scored the points that could lead to losing a major piece of their rebuild.
Simply put, you can't make this stuff up.
So is there a curse? If you believe in that sort of thing then it would appear that the evidence is tough to dispute. For over three years the Lakers have been plagued by one grievance after another. If the team ends up losing their draft pick this summer then it will be nearly irrefutable that something malevolent has taken hold in LA.
However, there is a flip side to all of this. If we accept that curses exist then maybe we have to believe that karma does too, that good can balance out evil. Through it all the Lakers franchise has continued to try to win games and fans have been shaken, but stayed strong. That has to count for something.
Maybe now is the time that the Lakers luck will change. Maybe the basketball gods will smile on the good guys and allow them to claim the first-overall pick that they deserve. The one great thing about sports is that, curse or no curse, a new opportunity to change your fortunes is always just around the corner.
It might be wishful thinking, but if a David Stern veto can put a curse on a team, why can't an envelope opened by Adam Silver lift it?