Chris Paul and the Suns have a lot in common. Neither has won a championship. Both have terrible luck in the NBA playoffs.
After 69 combined seasons between the two, we have all arrived at the ultimate litmus test.
Are Paul and the Suns eternally cursed by the basketball gods? Or will the latest setback prove just the opposite, representing nothing more than a speed bump on their road to redemption?
After testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Paul can no longer practice with the Suns. He needs consecutive negative tests before rejoining his team in the Western Conference Finals, which begin Sunday at the earliest, Tuesday at the latest.
Paul is reportedly vaccinated. He might be asymptomatic. If both are true and Paul is still ruled ineligible for Game 1, it will be yet another corruption of justice on Planet Orange. It will be hard to keep your faith. Especially when the NBA is compounding the risk by packing arenas for profit, filling them to the brim with screaming fans.
But if Paul successfully sheds the virus and rejoins the team for the beginning of the Western Conference Finals, it will be therapeutic and symbolic, a sign that our luck has clearly changed for the better.
Already, so much has fallen into place in the 2021 postseason. Paul overcame a fluke injury in the first half of his first playoff game in Phoenix; the Lakers lost Anthony Davis to injury and their grip on a first-round series; the Suns drew the diminished Nuggets in the second round, pulling off a rare four-game sweep, barely trailing in the entire series.
Imagine if the Suns had somehow lost Game 4 in Denver and had to finish off that series with Paul in quarantine
Meanwhile, the Clippers might’ve lost Kawhi Leonard with an ACL injury in the late stages of a blowout victory. The Jazz are still without Mike Conley. The Nets have paid a king’s ransom for injured players in 2021, and may not be invincible, after all.
Our sense of destiny was pierced on Wednesday morning, when Valley fans woke up to Paul’s positive Covid-19 test; a Diamondbacks club that had lost 21 consecutive road games; extreme temperatures and horrible air quality in the Valley; and an ASU football program and coaching staff that might be in serious trouble with the NCAA for brazen rules violations.
For the local sports fan, Arizona looked and felt like hell all over again.
Here’s the bright side:
After the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to stun the hated Yankees in 2004, they cruised to their first championship in 86 years, liberating New England from an alleged hex. Even though our ring-less streak can’t be blamed on a Billy goat or a Bambino’s curse, it feels equally oppressive and equally malicious. The Suns have a great opportunity to confront and defy their bad luck. And if Paul can’t play in Game 1, the Suns have a great opportunity to show their gratitude to the veteran point guard.
Paul has given everything to our collective cause. He moved to Phoenix without his family in tow. He helped Monty Williams change a toxic culture. He has been relentless in his mentorship of Deandre Ayton, who is no longer enigmatic or erratic.
Paul refused all forms of load management during the regular season. He is extremely dedicated, spending most of his time away from the court on recovery and recuperation. He begged Williams for a chance to play through his injury in Game 4 against the Lakers, just as the Suns head coach was ready to shut him down. By the end of the Nuggets series, Paul was producing some of the best basketball in his decorated career, still in his prime at age 36, a true legend who has never been given his just rewards in the postseason.
If he misses the beginning of the Western Conference Finals, the Suns can pay him back by winning without him.
By changing his narrative. Just like he has changed ours.