Sports breed superstition.
Baseball players who won’t step on the foul line running on and off the field. Fans who sit in the same uncomfortable position, wearing their hats inside out, because the team started playing well when they settled that way.
When a team hits a run of tough luck, people look for explanations through that superstition. No championships in 107 years? There must be greater forces at work. The Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, any team from Cleveland — they’ve all experienced the dreaded phenomenon. A curse.
After six years in Tulsa, is it too early to add the Shock to that list?
The WNBA franchise has experienced plenty of bad luck since moving to the Sooner State. From the start, the team’s four best players chose not to make the move. Then came a run of misfortune at the draft — the institution designed to help the cellar-dwellers turn things around. Twice Tulsa had the worst record in the league and managed to miss out on the No. 1 pick.
Their No. 2 overall pick in 2011 never wanted to come to town and reluctantly played two seasons here before heading overseas for good. Two coaches and an interim coach couldn’t manage to right the ship, and a team that was dominant in Detroit has yet to make the playoffs in Tulsa.
After the Shock rocketed to the best record in the league this year despite missing two of its top three players — All-Star forward Glory Johnson is pregnant and sitting out the season, and Odyssey Sims, one of the best guards in the WNBA, has been sidelined since June 9 by a left knee injury — it seemed like things were finally right.
Less than three weeks after losing Sims, Skylar Diggins — the face of the franchise — tore the ACL in her right knee, ending her season.
“People believe that there are mystical forces in the world, in nature, which can act on each other and that can be manipulated by people to act either on nature or on other people,” Phil Stevens, an anthropologist at the State University of New York in Buffalo, said.
Stevens has done a lot of work in the anthropology of magic, and he said that human psychology is a strong thing.
“There’s powerful evidence for the effects of human psychology, human belief,” Stevens said. “And that’s the way magic actually works, and that’s the way magic can be shown to work. If you believe it, boy, it can be devastating.”
It would be hard to blame anybody for believing there’s something supernatural to the luck the Shock has experienced since moving to Tulsa. “Curse” may not be the right word — Stevens said that a curse is spoken evil magic, and there’s no evidence the Shock made anybody mad enough to actively curse the team — but maybe the franchise is jinxed.
“It is universally believed that these interconnections in nature can themselves somehow get out of whack, without human manipulation,” Stevens said. “And if it has an adverse affect on people, then that’s called a jinx.”
That’s an easy scapegoat for a run of bad luck — that the mystical interconnections of nature have simply gotten themselves out of sorts. The Shock isn’t buying it, though.
“No,” center Courtney Paris said, smiling, when asked if the franchise is cursed. “I mean, I think everything at the beginning, it takes time.”
The seventh-year center out of Oklahoma has been around long enough to see how the balance of power can shift in the WNBA.
“My rookie season when I played in Sacramento,” Paris said, “we were having a bad season in Sacramento and they were like, ‘You should beat Minnesota.’ And now Minnesota is the top tier, they won the back-to-back championships, they’ve done everything. But when I first got to the WNBA, they were the (easy) team to beat.”
As the Shock prepares to play Los Angeles at 7 p.m. Saturday — Tulsa’s first home game since June 28 — it is still confident that this is the year things are really coming together, despite the rash of injuries.
“We had our first good season last year with 12 wins, and this year we want to go out and compete and be a team to get a run for the playoffs and have a good record,” coach Fred Williams said. “I think with the injuries and stuff like that, it happens.
“Situations before the season, it happens in sports. You’ve just got to play through it, and for me, I’ve always played through difficult situations.”
Whether it’s an external force or not, the Shock has encountered some exceptionally bad luck the past six years.
“To claim that the women’s basketball team is under the influence of a jinx, of a kind of cosmic screw-up, is kind of scary because we don’t know what to do about it,” Stevens said.
But the team knows exactly what to do: stick together and keep winning. Tulsa is 9-4, a half-game behind first-place Minnesota in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s not like a small thing happened to us. A big thing happened to us. But we stayed together,” Paris said. “Anybody can do the feel-good part. The tough teams, the teams that really make stuff happen are the ones that can handle when adversity does happen.”
Sparks at Shock
BOK Center, Tulsa
7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Chrome FM 93.5
*assists per game
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