That’s not to say he’s bad at his job. Williams was dubbed NBA Coach of the Year in May after a historic 64-win campaign. It was a season that ended in an epic Game 7 collapse that handed the visiting Dallas Mavericks a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
The Suns own the second-highest winning percentage of any club to have never won an NBA chip. And that’s the problem. The Suns’ trophy case is reminiscent of the Sonoran Desert that sprawls on all sides of the Footprint Center — barren and blanketed in a thick layer of dust.
Ahead of the Suns' season opener on Wednesday — ironically against the Mavericks — a new study from Toronto-based sportsbook aggregator Online Betting ranks the Suns among the most cursed teams in the NBA. Researchers analyzed fouls, injuries, fan attendance, turnovers, and loss rate to determine which teams are the most cursed. Phoenix sits at No. 5.
All other things being equal, the Suns should have won at least two championships by now, researchers noted. But despite routine winning seasons and trips to the postseason, the team hasn't snagged an NBA Finals trophy.
The Suns have been a model of consistency in recent decades, recording 13 straight playoff appearances from 1989 to 2001. They’ve posted 19 seasons with 50 or more wins, appeared nine times in the Western Conference Finals, and advanced to the NBA Finals three times. In other words, the Suns have been one of the best teams in the league for a very long time.
And yet, they haven't been able to translate that regular-season success into playoff triumph. Williams was named Coach of the Year on May 9. The Suns' Game 7 collapse took place six days later. Coincidence? More like a curse.
'The Curse Is Real'
Some may chalk it up to bad luck. Diehard fans say there’s something more nefarious at play.
“The curse is real, man,” Phoenix-based sports and hip-hop podcaster Michael Johnson, a devout Suns fan, told Phoenix New Times. “It just won’t stop.”
In 2008, Bleacher Report tapped Phoenix as the worst-cursed sports city in America.
It wasn’t long after the article was published that the Report’s Elijah Manders offered this spot-on prognosis: “I know the Suns will be good again, damn good, but don't tell me they'll win a title.” He also chaffed that “With our luck, the Warriors will keep Stephen Curry, and he'll be better than Reggie Miller ever was.”
Oh, buddy, if only you knew what was coming.
The curse that plagues the Suns goes back to 1969. That's when, a year after the expansion Suns started playing in the NBA, fans heard this: “It’s tails! The Bucks win! They get Lew Alcindor!”
CBS commentator Johnny Morris spouted that exclamation as the Suns lost the coin flip that gave the Milwaukee Bucks the No. 1 pick in the draft. It was a turning point in the history of the young Suns, which went on to select Neal Walk.
Alcindor, later and better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning six NBA championships and three MVP Awards to become the league’s all-time leading scorer. Walk would spend five disenchanting seasons in Phoenix before being traded to the New Orleans Jazz. The Suns, meanwhile, would make the playoffs just once in the next seven years.
On March 20, 1969, the day after the coin flip, Arizona Republic sports editor Verne Boatner wrote, “The Phoenix Suns have been struggling since last March to become accepted in the community. Yesterday, on the blackest day of the infant franchise’s history, all indications were that they had succeeded.” But, he continued, “Everywhere you turned, people took the coin toss hard — and personal.”
The moment became known as The Curse of the Coin, something the Suns have yet to break.
"That’s just one example in a long line of bad luck, bad decisions, or a fine mixture of both," Mark Liden, a Suns fan who lives in Scottsdale, told New Times. "They're the oldest team in the NBA to have never hoisted a championship banner. It's frustrating being a fan of them."
These days, fans have all sorts of theories about why the Suns can’t scrounge up a title even though they’ve “had 13 teams in the last 46 years that were at least plausible champions,” according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. He called Phoenix “the most star-crossed franchise in NBA history.”
Suns fans have pointed to everything from the name of the arena to the local music scene to explain the curse. They’ve even blamed multiple celebrities.
During the 2020-2021 season, which ended with the Suns falling (ironically, again) to the Bucks in the NBA Finals, the club’s home venue was renamed twice. It went from Talking Stick Resort Arena to PHX Arena to its current name, the Footprint Center.
“They cursed the Suns by renaming the arena during the playoffs,” said Sharon Reynolds, another local fan. After this year’s postseason heartbreak, a fan quipped on Reddit, “Are our sports teams built on some cursed Indian Burial Ground?”
It's the Anthems — and Kardashians
Johnson, the podcaster, blamed the local hip-hop scene.
“Our hip-hop scene has been cursed for a long while, and that just bleeds onto the Suns,” he said. As the Suns prepared for their third NBA Finals appearance in 2021, local rappers dropped more than a dozen hometown anthems, including Dann G’s “Rally the Valley.”
“When that song dropped, I knew it was just a matter of time before the curse occurred again,” Johnson said. Sure enough, the next day, Jrue Holiday lobbed the ball to Giannis Antetokounmpo for a game-winning slam to end the Suns’ season and give the Bucks the title. The Suns had a 2-0 lead in the series before dropping the next four games.
“I tell these rappers to leave our Suns alone,” Johnson said. “When the Suns get ready to go to the playoffs, all those club promoters in Scottsdale better not think about booking them. Ban them from the club. We tired of getting heartbroken.”
Arizona’s only major sports championship came when the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001. Nobody wrote any anthems for that team, Johnson noted.
“When there’s no anthems, we win shit,” he laughed.
The 2021-22 season started with the news that veteran star point guard Chris Paul was out indefinitely after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Arizona Daily Star wrote that the news was evidence of a “cursed franchise.”
The season ended as it started — in heartbreak. Many at the time, including Johnson, blamed the Kardashians.
The Game 7 loss earlier this year had people talking about the dreaded Kardashian Curse. The idea of the curse is that any man who becomes involved with a member of the Kardashian family will see his life fall apart. There have been many examples of men who have dated or married into the family only to encounter problems in their personal and professional lives.
Devin Booker is the latest example of the curse in action. The star shooting guard has been dating Kendall Jenner on and off since April 2020. While things seemed to be going well at first, they have since hit a rough patch.
Booker injured his knee before the team's 2021 playoff run after colliding with Kent Bazemore. Then in April 2022, Booker was sidelined with a hamstring injury and the Suns went on to lose their second-round playoff series. Coincidence? Maybe. But it's hard to ignore the fact that the Suns have struggled since Booker got involved with Jenner.
A tweet depicting the pair on vacation in Italy went viral after the Suns’ round two exit, amassing nearly 140,000 likes and 10,000 retweets. The tweet was captioned, “The Kardashian curse strikes again.”
The Kardashian curse STRIKES again 😭 pic.twitter.com/DluWPrTebU— Guru (@DrGuru_) May 16, 2022
“The Kardashian Curse is real,” Johnson said. “When Devin Booker was driving his old schools out the arena and we saw Kendall Jenner in one of them old schools, I said, ‘It’s over.’ We lost the next game.”
Golden Globe Award-winning actor Jesse Eisenberg still shoulders the blame for the Suns’ 1993 loss in the Finals. He claimed that a letter he penned as an elementary school student to the Suns' Dan Majerle proved to be a distraction and cursed the team. “I am responsible,” the actor of Superman fame told WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. “Yes, I am the reason the Phoenix Suns lost the NBA Finals that year.”
With another talented roster to open the 2022-23 campaign, there's reason to believe that this could finally be the season for the Suns to win an NBA title. But the team has to get past tough competition in the Western Conference — and a curse that's lingered for decades.