“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” —Voltaire
The existence of God has been debated ad nauseam since the dawn of mankind. As we culturally progress, the concept of God is being split into increasingly niche forms. One small subset might involve basketball. Does the world’s third most popular sport have omnipotent beings that dedicate themselves to controlling even the most minuscule happenings within its leagues?
Maybe. There are a number of people who believe it does.
This year’s playoffs have been widely panned for the seemingly excessive influx of injuries to star players in important moments. As such, the Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard’s of the world have given their teams a pass of some sort that exempt them from criticism after a loss. The most heavily affected team, however, has been granted no such privileges and is criticized as if they deserved the injuries that befell their best players.
That team is the Brooklyn Nets. With no Kyrie and a hobbled Harden, they lost to the Bucks in a thrilling 7-game series. The hate was almost immediate, people jumped to blame their injuries on “karma” for the aggressive and distasteful manner in which the team was assembled. Karma itself implies that something is controlling the outcomes of these series based on superficial anecdotes from the team’s history.
More alleged karma dished out from the basketball gods can be found in the aftermath of the 2019 NBA Finals. Here we see some early signs of players’ acknowledgment of divine intervention. At this point in NBA history, we were witnessing the fifth straight year of Warriors dominance. Cynical minds criticized those five years by nitpicking particular lucky breaks they got along their way to three titles; Chris Paul’s untimely hamstring injury being the most prevalent.
In 2019, the gods’ supposed bias towards Golden State abruptly flipped. In just six finals games, the Warriors lost both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant to career-threatening injuries. The weakened Warriors fell to the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors as expected. A rarely vulnerable Warriors franchise was pounced on at first opportunity. Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma explicitly cited karma as the reason Golden State crumbled.
If basketball gods exist, they certainly have it out for a few people. As I hinted towards, Chris Paul’s career is nothing but a microcosm of unluckiness in every regard.
- Being traded to the Lakers to play with Kobe: vetoed by the league at the last minute.
- Up 3-2 on the greatest team ever in the WCF: pulled hamstring en route to losing the series.
- Finally getting some lucky breaks and leading a small market team to the finals: instantly discredited by fans and media.
Chris Paul might be considered fortunate with his tainted career by some. 1960s pioneer Elgin Baylor went 0-8 in the NBA Finals in his career, losing in a more heartbreaking fashion each time. On top of that, for two years Baylor was an active member of the military and only allowed to play for the Lakers on the weekends. Baylor’s prime and legacy were stolen from him at every turn, none of it his doing.
Sure, these may just be some unlucky coincidences. After all, CP3 is two wins away from winning his first NBA title and the first for his team. That doesn’t sound too unlucky to me. Maybe it just took his transition to a plant-based diet to finally break the inescapable Chris Paul curse. Maybe Paul was just an inadvertent victim of the everlasting Clippers curse. Who knows? I’d be grateful that we can celebrate the end of his jinxed streak. The same cannot be said for others.
The Kardashian clan and their relentless penchant for dating NBA players is a perpetually relevant joke and topic among fans. The aptly named “Kardashian Curse” has grown from an internet punchline to a legitimate gripe within NBA circles. Kendall Jenner has been temporarily banned from Clippers games, locker rooms, and team planes during her on and off relationships with a number of borderline All-Stars.
Most of the curse in question is simply superstition with a bit of humor weaved in. Maybe the karma gods are just fans of reality TV. As fun as it is to make fun of the Kardashians, the supposed curse has been largely unfounded to this point outside of some coincidental losses. The Kardashian Curse is one of the better-known basketball stigmas, but nowhere near the most deadly.
That title goes to one Aubrey Drake Graham, Canadian rapper and basketball fan. His gruesome reach extends to all sports beyond basketball. There is an undeniable history of Drake passionately supporting a team or individual only for them to lose despite the most improbable odds.
The Drake Curse feels more vicious than others due to the fact that he nearly always rides with the favorite. It’s one thing for a team to consistently lose after just being outmatched by their opponent. It’s another to be the prohibitive favorite and suffer total heartbreak at the hands of an underdog. This story has happened far too many times.
- In 2015, Drake began a rumored relationship with Serena Williams. He attended most of her matches in the midst of her campaign towards a Grand Slam, winning all four major tournaments in the same calendar year. With three majors already won, Serena entered the US Open with high hopes and a passionate cheering section. She went on to be stunned by Roberta Vinci who lost later in the tournament.
- In 2016, Drake vocally backed the historic 73-9 Warriors, referencing them in songs and attending games throughout the season. The team famously went on to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
- In 2018, Drake joined UFC star Conor McGregor’s camp in the buildup to his title fight with Russian wrestler Khabib Nurmagomedov. McGregor even brought Drake with him to weigh-ins and press conferences, making their association public. McGregor was dominated in the Octagon and tapped out after 4 rounds.
- In 2019, Drake acknowledged the curse outright as he posed for a picture with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. The photo was captioned “Bout to break the curse.” Joshua seemed like a sure thing as he entered a title defense against the largely unknown Andy Ruiz Jr. In one of the most shocking upsets in boxing history, Ruiz knocked out the champion, becoming the first Mexican heavyweight champion ever.
Drake’s understanding and outright battling of his curse is what makes his story the most tragic. He’s now reached a point where his awareness of the curse can be used to offset it. As a lifelong Raptors fan, Drake wore 76ers shorts to their Game 7 battle in 2019. The Sixers lost on a heartbreaking fluke jumper from Kawhi Leonard, sending his team to the Finals.
This marred history of tragedy and disappointment has mostly unaffected Drake. Unlike the Kardashians, Drake remains a well-liked pop culture figure among athletes while the supermodel family is treated like a plague. A relationship between a Kardashian and Drake might be enough to rip the fabric of the universe apart.
Those celebrity curses appear to be random, we’re not sure what the two have done to anger the basketball gods but the damage is irrevocable. There is one man who delights in ruining legacies and careers with a golden grill smile.
The zaniest figure in an already zany topic, Lil B The Based God takes it upon himself to curse or bless certain NBA players. His words have been shown to have very real ramifications, resulting in loss upon loss to his hexed players.
Kevin Durant was the Based God’s first victim, being cursed in 2011 after calling the rapper “wack.” During his cursed years, Durant never won a championship, was injured multiple times in big moments, and fell to the Warriors after leading 3-1. On the latter end of 2016, Durant’s curse was lifted as he joined Lil B’s hometown Warriors. After ending the curse, Durant won back-to-back titles in dominant fashion, solidifying his place among NBA greats, as well as Lil B’s place among the basketball spirits.
Soon after, James Harden was cursed. He’s also yet to reach the Finals despite coming inches away in 2018. The curse prompted Harden’s Rockets to miss 27 consecutive 3-pointers, an NBA record that looked just as bad as it was. Harden and Durant have now reunited in Brooklyn with Harden still cursed. Time will tell if the two can break the undefeated curse while having the clear-cut best roster in the league.
Whether they’re truly real or pure fiction, too many people believe in the basketball gods for them not to be taken seriously. Maybe the next generation of stars will look to target and kill old curses and eliminate karma from their games. Until then, I will be waving the sage in my bedroom before every game. I choose to believe in the basketball gods because right now the evidence unnerves me. It can’t hurt?