Ripples of the curse

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As he swung back and forth upside-down, hundreds of feet off the ground, the Joker howled with laughter. The face-painted killer had nearly out-crazied Batman, but finally in a moment of weakness, he still spoke with that unnerving confidence and offered some of the most sage wisdom a psychopathic clown could conjure.

“Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

What if I told you Kevin Durant’s push came from a 5-foot-6 Berkeley-based mixtape rapper? Lil B, the BasedGod, cast a hex on Durant five years ago that has finally synched its lasso. Durant will now play uncursed in the Bay, at the cost of his staggering individual potential. How on Earth did we get here?

Now, it’s silly to discuss the failures of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in relation to Durant’s choice to leave Oklahoma City. Sure, the rules don’t appear to steer the NBA toward the supposed league end goal of parity. I must also admit that it’s at least a little odd that every single team’s salary cap casually jumped over $20 million the exact summer the most important athlete in the history of tiny-market Oklahoma was set to hit free agency. But I guess that’s just the way things go in this wild world. Ultimately, though, lawyer bickerings had no bearing on Durant’s decision to leave or to specifically choose the Golden State Warriors. Nope, that decision was made for him, by Lil B.

History lesson: In 2011, Kevin Durant calls Lil B a wack rapper. Lil B promptly curses Durant to never win a championship, and the fun begins.

The following spring, the Thunder loses the NBA Finals. In 2014, Durant wins the MVP, then Lil B drops the tour-de-force “F*ck KD.”

And in 2015, Durant hurts his foot and misses 55 games. It all seems a little too perfect, right? And finally, this past postseason, with the Thunder up 3-1 on the 73-9 Warriors and one win away from a Finals berth, Lil B reiterates his confidence: Oklahoma City will have no championship as long as Durant remains on roster. The Thunder loses three straight games to Lil B’s favorite team and are eliminated.

These things don’t just happen.

But odd happenstance does not a curse make. A curse is a social construct, a Dark Ages highdea real only to LARPers who own voodoo dolls or take Harry Potter too seriously (or maybe even own Harry Potter voodoo dolls). But maybe not.

When Durant looks up from the bench and sees the Warriors dancing up and down the hardwood, raining down threes and laughing their way to victory after victory, silently acknowledging that he’ll never have that much fun because his team will never be quite good enough — that’s the curse. It’s the organic self-consciousness of being one of the league’s best, magnified through the looking glass of a silly tweet that prevents him from doing the one thing that can prove his worth: win a title.

So as far as his long legs ran, he wasn’t able to escape the curse because it was so subversive. It was everywhere he looked, it was everything he saw. He couldn’t fight it, for it laid within him as well — his own greatness became his biggest horcrux (can you tell I take Harry Potter too seriously?). As his peerless talent grew, so too did the fear of it never being good enough.

So when his team finally sat on the precipice of the Finals — having only to win one game out of three to advance — Durant had more pressure on him than ever before. Each subsequent loss begged more questions about Durant’s legacy and added credence to the inescapable curse. By the time Game 7 rolled around, with social media exploding and the curse getting meme’d back to life, Durant played like a shell of himself, attending the Thunder’s funeral before his team had even died.

That voice of doubt that lingers in the very back of Durant’s mind, screaming that he’s not great enough — that’s the curse. I mean sure, it’s somewhat a natural byproduct of the human experience. But maybe that night, after a tough loss in a Game 7 he really shouldn’t have had to play in the first place, it was louder than usual. That’s the curse — and Lil B conjured it only when he had to.

So what does a wayward superstar do after that? Maybe he joins the best regular season team in history, the very team that beat him, preferring to ride coattails to a ring he’s now all but guaranteed rather than fight for one on his own — because then he’d have to fight not only other teams, but himself as well. So off to the Warriors he goes.

And by the way, Lil B lifted the curse within hours of Durant agreeing to play for his hometown team. Funny how things work out.

So maybe the curse was just speculation and typo-laden Twitter beef. Maybe it’s just coincidence that Durant lost the Finals the year after he was cursed, missed nearly an entire season to injury and choked away a 3-1 lead. Maybe he still would have formed the craziest superteam in the history of professional sports without the inkling that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t have what it takes to win as the leading star.

But all it takes is a little push.

Austin Isaacsohn is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].