“Casual curses are the most effective.” —William Burroughs. “Don’t drink Jobu’s rum. It’s very bad. It’s very bad.” —Pedro Serrano, Major League.
It’s superficially absurd to wonder if the Los Angeles Lakers are cursed. The 16 championship banners hanging from the Staples Center rafters, $4 billion TV deal and generally sanctified history, at least theoretically, offer evidence to the contrary. But whether you’re MacBeth, Sleeping Beauty, or Alex Rodriguez, even the most favorably blessed at birth can fall victim to the wrong coven.
In order to trace the source of tribulations, I consulted a wiccan, a feng shui expert, a psychic and a shaman to determine if the hex is real and what can be done about it.
“I’m sensing a foreign dark energy that started attaching itself to the team around the Chris Paul trade,” says Justine Kenzer, proprietor of Psychicgirl.com — an opinion mirrored by basketball and paranormal experts alike. “And it seems to be coming from really far away. It’s a foreign dark energy invading the team, not an internal one.”
After a half century of mostly uninterrupted success, the franchise has sunk to Clipperian lows.
David Stern’s veto of the Chris Paul trade in 2011 triggered a malefic streak yet to be broken. The team has cycled through three coaches, seen the death of beloved and famously rabbit-footed owner Jerry Buss, the flameout and departure of Dwight Howard, the total short-circuiting of Steve Nash’s nervous system and the Achilles rupture of Kobe Bryant (followed by a broken leg).
Last year, the Lakers missed more games to injury than any team, finishing with their worst record since ditching Minneapolis during the Eisenhower Administration. This year they’ve shattered marks for early-season franchise futility, lost three players to year-ending injuries (including star rookie, Julius Randle), and seen true tragedy—the father of reserve guard, Wayne Ellington, brutally murdered this month in Philadelphia.
Then there’s Kobe, blending confidence and delusion as though his off-season rehab was Kanye West’s New Workout Plan. Vintage brilliance has been mitigated by ball hogging, overuse and ill-inspired shots. He’s leads the league in scoring, but chucks more than anyone on Earth, and easily eclipsed the worst shooting percentage of his 19-year career.
If you’re looking for an overt metaphor about team shortcomings and the perils of extreme heroism, there’s this 30-foot airball, a decision so poor you’d have thought 2 Chainz was whispering in his ear.
How did the luckiest organization in league history become the most star-crossed? Fortunately, Tuesday Phillips—a “California Love Consultant” based in Los Angeles—also answered my call.
While Phillips doesn’t necessarily identify as a Wiccan or pagan, she does work within witchcraft. Even better, she used to be a Lakers fan during their first millennial run of championships. Says Philips:
“If one person is out of sync, it can throw the entire team off and change the vibrations within the organization. It could have started with Jerry Buss dying, Kobe’s injury or something else. Once things start to spiral, they go downward. But you have to figure out how to control yourself to fix that mojo."
"And you have to want to change.”
So are we talking about something occult and numinous? Did the Lakers build their El Segundo training facility on a sacred Tongva burial ground? Did Kobe give Vanessa Bryant the Hope Diamond as an anniversary present? Did someone steal the sacred rum and coke designated for the ancestral worship of Jerry Buss?
And if so, how can the curse be lifted?
I also tried to consult Lil B – the Berkeley rapper, who famously hexed Kevin Durant to a lifetime devoid of championship rings. Sadly, the Based God didn’t return my text message or e-mail inquiries.
“Your chi can move or it can get stuck.” Phillips says. “The latter is when you get sick and tired. Every action has a reaction.”
Of course, the greatest chemistry in the world can’t alter the fact that the Lakers are the worst defensive team in the league and lack the personnel to fix that—no matter how much Byron Scott preaches the gospel of grit and rim protection. Phillips says the secret to improvement lies in positivity, the desire to improve, and lots of hard work. Basically, the mantras that coaches recite in every post-game press conference.
If that fails, alternative remedies include buying flowers or boiling cinnamon, sage and cloves together.
I tried dialing a few voodoo supply stores and Santeria priestesses, but those tend to be tougher cold calls. Thankfully, this is Los Angeles, the new age capital of the Western World, where feng shui counts as a growth industry. One such consultant is Peter Wai Lam of Alhambra, whose ancestry includes a venerable lineage of Hong Kong practitioners.
Without visiting the Lakers’ El Segundo headquarters or the locker rooms beneath Staples Center, Wai Lam was hesitant to offer a decisive plan of action. However, he offered a few chi-enhancing suggestions to alter the team’s fortunes. Wai Lam offers:
“When morale is down, you need to refresh the energy. That can be done with a good sage cleansing, brightening up the place with crystals, lanterns and with money trees. Sometimes cleaning up the bad energy only takes the janitor putting salt in the corner a few times a week.”
It may not convince Byron Scott that the corner 3-pointer is actually a vital weapon in the modern NBA arsenal, but salt in the corner remains the best Lakers offensive strategy since they stopped using the Triangle.
“Western people might not want the place looking like a Chinese restaurant, so you can look for more appropriate items,” Wai Lam continues. “The players will appreciate the attempts to uplift their morale. They’re so low right now—they need something.”
Kenzer, the clothing entrepreneur-turned-clairvoyant, stressed the powers of dark light. (She also told me me never to take advice from a psychic with a neon sign in front of their house.)
If her assessments are accurate, we can perhaps attribute the Lakers curse to David Stern, the former commissioner who vetoed the Chris Paul trade for reasons only known to the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Vigo the Carpathian.
“I’m sensing that Kobe used to have an unbreakable energy protecting his thoughts and beliefs and then he got vulnerable. According to my readings, it looks like the whole organization become vulnerable too,” Kenzer says.
Of course, Kenzer has never watched an aged Kobe shoot a fusilli-twist fadeaway jumper against a triple team, so vulnerability may be the wrong word. Yet her sensibilities clearly detected a disturbance in the force, one unrelated to Kobe’s use of Darth Vader’s Imperial Death March as last year’s theme song.
“People get scared about hexes and spells,” Kenzer added. “It’s not a matter of a lighting candles in a room, but more of an energy that needs to be cleaned up. Very few people truly know how to remove this energy.”
Phillips’ and Kenzers' words could double as a chapter in one of Phil Jackson’s books on championship team building.
No NBA figure has more successfully cleaned up negative energy than former Lakers coach Jackson, who incorporated shamanistic principles to somehow save Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest from spontaneous combustion. In one of the franchise’s most second-guessed moves, the Lakers declined to re-hire Jackson in 2012 in favor of since-deposed Mike D’ Antoni.
Hence, Jackson assumed the presidency of the New York Knicks and is thus unable to share his sacred zen with the Lakers.
The next best thing is probably Shaman Durek, an L.A.-based spiritual guide and healer descended from a long line of African shamans. His abridged resume includes studying herbs in Belize in the jaguar jungle, tutelage from a Maori healer, and learning the traditions of the Whirling Dervishes from the Sufi’s, who ostensibly provided the model for Carlos Boozer’s pick and roll defense.
“They have to be able to perceive themselves winning," Shaman Durek says. "They have to perceive themselves being so strong in their movement on the court that they won’t be limited or blocked by another player." He goes on:
“If you can’t perceive that in the spiritual, the physical will stumble along. Once you have that awareness, you have to communicate in a verbal and mental way between the players and the coaches.”
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In other words, this may be the trust issues that Jeremy Lin spoke of last week.
Durek maintains that you have to work together or you risk disempowering each other—a conclusion that you might have also arrived upon if you saw Kobe’s ill-advised isolation plays in the fourth quarter at the expense of a wide-open Swaggy P.
If a common thread runs through these mystic solutions to the chaos, it’s something deceptively old-fashioned. Improved flow is merely another synonym for better ball movement. Cleaning up energy means improving locker room chemistry and holding all players accountable. Better communication translates to help defense and quicker rotations.
Or it could really be a tangible curse, the sort of thing that can only be lifted by placing a magic mirror in a bowl of black salt, procuring a supernatural amulet, and spiking the Gatorade with Holy Water—or tanking and finding the best shaman available in next year’s draft.