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Originally published Sunday, April 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Percy Allen

Power forward curse hangs over Sonics

Once upon a time, Spencer Haywood placed a hex on the Sonics. Are his successors suffering for it?

Seattle Times NBA reporter

The e-mail from Dragon Wolf Medicine Woman was sincere and informative, and so we talked the other day about the possibility that the Sonics are cursed.

Not the entire franchise, although an argument could be made there as well, but in particular the men who have occupied the power forward position.

The supernatural theory originated a couple of years ago during a conversation with Spencer Haywood while he was lobbying the Sonics to retire his number.

Haywood made mention that he placed a hex on the team and would only lift the spell upon receiving confirmation that his No. 24 jersey would hang in the rafters.

"I'm from a place where we know about voodoo and stuff like that," said Haywood, a native of Silver City, Miss. "I got some chicken bones around here, so I used some old Black Magic like that boy in Boston did to the Red Sox. This stuff is real, man."

It's difficult to know when Haywood is joking or being serious.

The week ahead


Today

Detroit at Miami, 10 a.m., Ch. 4. The two best teams in the East square off one last time before the playoffs. Shaquille O'Neal is expected to play.

Tomorrow

Houston at Sonics, 7 p.m., FSN. Teams have split two previous games.

Wednesday

Chicago at Washington, 5 p.m., ESPN. Home-court advantage in the first round is at stake. Chicago has No. 4 seed, but a Washington victory puts the Wizards in the catbird seat.

Thursday

Miami at Philadelphia, 5 p.m., TNT. Not as interesting as it looks. Still, the likely first-round preview features All-Stars Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade and O'Neal.

Saturday

Denver at Houston, 4:30 p.m., ESPN. Denver is the hottest team in the NBA, while Houston is struggling to hold on to the No. 6 seed.

But the other day when watching Shawn Kemp stand before a county magistrate after being arrested for drug and gun possession, Haywood's words seemed prophetic.

The lineage he started is littered with shipwrecks.

From Lonnie Shelton, Xavier McDaniel, Vin Baker and currently Danny Fortson, Sonics power forwards are an oddball collection of men — many who spiraled out of the league — which goes way beyond coincidence.

Some might call it a curse.

It's not a word to throw around lightly, but maybe there's something to it.

"On some level, they are aware of what's going on, perhaps not consciously," said Ms. Medicine Woman, an ordained minister, spiritual healer and Earth steward. "Or if they are aware of it, they might have laughingly dismissed it. But it's been talked and it's out there.

"Until they believe it, address it head-on, then it will always linger. And in this case, to reject it they must first say, 'I understand this belief system and I send it back. I do not claim it. It does not belong to me. I ask that it return to its source.' Until that's done in some meaningful way, then you can say that yes, the curse will remain."

Coincidence or curse?

Haywood developed a love affair with cocaine, which he admits began after he left the Sonics. Ultimately, he snorted away a chance at winning an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers and seemingly any chance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"Here's what it is," he said the other day during a telephone interview. "In Seattle you don't have the distractions that you have in other places. Seattle kind of spoils you in a way, and for me, it was like going from Eden to Babylon.

"There you had the water, the atmosphere, the nice rain that keeps your soul clean. The people who are always cool to you. You got all that fish for your diet and your health ... So it's not so much of a curse or anything like that, it's anybody who ever leaves. Check it out, they suffer once they go."

Shelton left Seattle and nearly lost his life. The former Sonics forward once dubbed Lonnie "Pass the Rolls" Shelton by Boston Celtic Cedric Maxwell used his hefty girth during an attempted robbery on the sidewalks of Cleveland.


SEATTLE TIMES, 1973

Spencer Haywood struggled with cocaine abuse after leaving the Sonics, which likely cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame. Seattle has not retired his jersey number.

He scuffled with a gunman and dodged two shots from a .357 Magnum before disarming the assailant and plopping his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame on the gunman's chest until police arrived.

Shelton chose the passive-aggressive route, while others were more confrontational.

McDaniel was a menace on the court. His uncontrollable rage was captured at its most ferocious peak in a choke hold, with both hands wrapped tightly around Laker Wes Matthews' neck as courtside observers watched in horror.

"Maybe I had some anger issues," McDaniel said later.

Sound like anybody we know? Perhaps a chair-tossing power forward for the Sonics who has a penchant for dishing out punishment and collecting technical fouls?

"So are you saying I'm cursed?" Reggie Evans said, chuckling. "Hmmm. Maybe."

How else to explain the eerie intercourse between Kemp and Baker, past All-Stars intertwined by a Sept. 25, 1997, trade involving the Sonics and a similar descent because of substance abuse.

Coincidence?

Baker, a recovering alcoholic, had just one All-Star season in Seattle. Kemp, who violated the NBA's anti-drug policy three times, had just one All-Star season after he left Seattle.

He's waiting to see if he'll face any charges after a Shoreline police officer found him sitting in a parked car in North Seattle with 1 gram of cocaine, 2.4 ounces of marijuana and a semi-automatic pistol.

Curse?

Ms. Medicine Woman offers a cure, which might aid Fortson and protect Evans from a dreadful demise.

"For a professional sports team, pageantry and spectacle are part of their inherent structure," she wrote in an e-mail. "And so any member of the team would need a fairly high ratio of pomp and circumstance in their ritual, in order to help make it meaningfully real for the player, and thus effective in treating their underlying belief system.

"I call this the high 'woo-woo' factor. The full regalia — the biggest drum, the highest staff, all the crystals and feathers, animal skins and the like ... [to] help impress upon the player that the practitioner is someone with serious spiritual credentials.

"The tools — while helpful — are ultimately less critical for the practitioner, per se. But since we're addressing the client's beliefs, what matters is what they think."

It's always difficult to believe in the supernatural, but look at the history.

"I ain't responsible for nobody's fate," Haywood said. "If I am, then I'll go back there and lift it right now. All jokes aside, those guys don't want to go through what I've gone through."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com.

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