Kyrie Irving, one of the 14 best basketball players on earth today, is, if we have to put a term to it, weird. He does weird things and he says weird things, and then when he’s asked specifically about those things he responds weirdly. A very good example was when he said the earth was flat and then waited three months to tell everyone that actually he was saying that only to show how easy it was to whip everyone up. But an even better example was when he was on ESPN’s First Take in September.
Both Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman attempted to get him to answer questions about leaving Cleveland for Boston, and each time they did, Kyrie would respond with some byzantine or oddly paced nonanswer that did little more than frustrate them. The most compelling instance was when Stephen A. asked Kyrie what he thought about being a distraction to the team. Stephen A. (correctly) asserted that, by walking away from LeBron in Cleveland, Kyrie’s (real or fake) agenda was, whether he wanted it or not, going to be a distraction for the Celtics. It was a long question, and so Kyrie took a beat to process all of its parts, then replied, “Honestly, Stephen A., I didn’t hear anything that was reality-based in all of that.” Flummoxed, Stephen A. stripped the idea down to its bones and attempted to get Kyrie to simply acknowledge that distractions are things that exist. (“Distractions are real, though. You do know that. Come on now.”) Kyrie wiggled free again, saying, “Oh, if you’re very much woke, there is no such thing as ‘distractions.’”
Kyrie is a master at that—at wiggling away. It’s uncanny. And what’s even more interesting is that he is entirely aware of what he’s doing. In that same First Take appearance, cohost Molly Qerim asked him if he was excited about being the primary ball handler on his new team, a question that, at first glance, seems quaint and harmless but is secretly laced with an implied dig at LeBron. Kyrie sniffed it out. Rather than sidestep it entirely, though, he answered it with just enough juice to let everyone know he understood what was happening without ever directly acknowledging it. “I’m just looking forward to … playing my position,” he said, and that pause was so important because it allowed everyone to fill in the empty space with whatever they wanted. He continued: “I’m looking forward to becoming something that I’ve always envisioned myself being; that’s being a complete point guard on a great team.”
The more you watch him break-dance his way through interviews unscathed, the more it feels like he uses his innate oddness the same way he uses his stutter-step move on the dribble, which is to say to keep everyone else off balance and at his mercy. You think he’s finally hemmed in, or cornered, or trapped, and then you blink and he’s standing behind you holding your wallet, smirking at how dumb you are for having thought you had him actually hemmed in, or cornered, or trapped. (I’m almost certain that Kyrie would never, ever describe himself as weird. I suspect he’d explain it away as he’s just actually smarter than the rest of us, or more tied into the cosmic energy of universal truths than the rest of us, which I’ll admit is probably true.)
So here’s the question: Is Kyrie weird? I think yes, definitely, but also no, possibly not. And there are lots of things like that in the NBA right now—things that, when you look at them, make you say, “Wait … is that weird or is that not weird?” LaMarcus Aldridge being very good again, for example, is weird. The Orlando Magic are currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference: super weird. The Thunder’s team plane having its nose crumpled in while 30,000 feet in the air: That’s Stranger Things–level weird. Markelle Fultz’s mysterious shoulder issues: Not weird because he’s on the 76ers, but weird if he’d have been on any other team. Kristaps Porzingis realizing he’s a Latvian Godzilla: not weird. Andre Drummond jumping from shooting 38 percent at the free throw line for his career to shooting 70 percent from the free throw line this season: weird, and also possibly a religious miracle. Aaron Gordon deciding he’s the new Steph Curry: somewhat weird, but maybe not really when you realize that even Timofey Mozgov is shooting 3s this season. The Pacers looking like they’re the ones who won the Paul George trade with OKC: weird on a level that nobody was expecting except for Sean Fennessey.
Let’s do more of those. Let’s take the three most interesting, possibly weird things from the season so far and sort through whether or not those things are weird.
Is What DeMarcus Cousins Is Doing Right Now Weird?
Through seven games this season, Boogie’s stat line (29-13-5) is something that hasn’t been done in over 50 years, and it’s only ever been surpassed three times in NBA history (Elgin Baylor had a better line in 1960-61 and Wilt Chamberlain had better lines in 1963-64 and 1965-66).* Let me toss a few specific stats at you (and each of these are coming from my beloved Mike Lynch at Basketball-Reference.com). At the moment, DeMarcus Cousins is:
- Averaging 7.3 3-point attempts per game, which, for context, is more than Reggie Miller ever averaged in a season
- Averaging 13.6 rebounds per game, which, for context, is more than Tim Duncan ever averaged in a season
- Averaging 5.9 assists per game, which, for context, is more assists than any center has averaged since Wilt Chamberlain did it in the 1968 season. (Wilt averaged 8.6 assists per game that year, which was good enough to lead the entire NBA.) (Wilt also led the league that year in rebounds [23.8!], free throw attempts, win shares, and field goal percentage, among other things.) (Wilt was truly unbelievable.)
- Averaging 29.4 points per game, which, for context, is more than Hakeem Olajuwon ever averaged in a season
- Averaging more than two blocks per game for the first time in his career
- Averaging 1.6 steals per game, which is tied for the highest average of his career (he averaged 1.6 steals for the 2015-16 season)
At any rate, the point here is: Yes. What DeMarcus Cousins is doing right now is weird. It is historically, incredibly, improbably weird. (And the Pelicans are still tied for 10th place in the West.) (That’s less weird.) *A thing that I’ve learned is that when you’re looking for historically gigantic stat lines, you almost always end up back at Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain as a point of reference. Another example: Through these first two weeks of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 34-10-5. The only other guys to have ever done that: Elgin Baylor in 1961 and Wilt Chamberlain in 1964.
Is What Tommy Heinsohn Said About Aron Baynes Weird?
During the first half of a preseason game between the Celtics and the Hornets in early October, Tommy Heinsohn, a legendary figure in Boston sports, made a reference to Aron Baynes having a large penis. “I tell ya,” Heinsohn said to Mike Gorman, his broadcast partner. “I took a look at Baynes in the shower. He looks like …” and then Heinsohn leaned in for emphasis, “all of Australia. He is really … put together.”
There are two parts here, one of which is weird, the other of which is not. The weird part is (obviously) that Heinsohn was watching the Celtics run an inbounds play and felt moved to talk about Aron’s genitalia. In a nice little hat tip from the universe, Gordon Hayward bricked a jumper as Heinsohn was doing so, which you could maybe take as a sign that Heinsohn was bricking that particular moment. I don’t know. That might just be me trying to draw some meaning out of a moment that has none. (Semirelated: The only time I have ever watched an inbounds play and thought of someone’s genitalia was when Derek Fisher hit that 0.4-second shot against my Spurs in the 2004 playoffs. The person whose genitalia I thought about in that moment was mine, because when the shot went in it felt like I’d been shot in the penis with a bow and arrow.)
The not weird part is that, I mean, of course Aron Baynes has a large penis. He is a nearly 7-foot-tall, 260-pound man. That’s usually how it works.
Is LeBron Dressing Up As Pennywise for Halloween Weird?
No. Because they are both killers. Which is why it was also not weird that Steph Curry dressed up as the puppet from the Saw franchise.
(Did you know that the Saw puppet has a name? It does. It’s Billy. “Billy,” it would seem, is not a very intimidating name. But there are lots of evil Billys in movies. Beyond Billy the puppet, there’s Billy Loomis from Scream, Billy Batts from Goodfellas, Billy Ray Cobb from A Time to Kill.)
(Here’s a fun aside: In It, one of the main characters who helps defeat Pennywise is named Bill. So if you want to go super-duper deep into the conspiracy theories side of things, you could say that Steph got wind that LeBron was going to dress up as Pennywise and so he picked a costume was that an ultra-sly hat tip to one of the characters who helped take down Pennywise. Of course, it’d be a ridiculous claim, but it’s one you could make because that’s how conspiracy theories work.)
If you want to walk further into that Basketball Players Dressed As Movie Monsters conversation, you could talk about how LeBron and Steph both chose those costumes because they’re indicative of the way that each of them plays basketball. LeBron, as multitalented and all-around devastating as he is, is capable of being whatever it is that a particular player fears the most, just like Pennywise. And Steph, whose favorite thing is introducing defenders to a torture chamber on the perimeter, aligns perfectly with the Saw puppet, given that that’s basically what the puppet does in the movies.
To extend things, that means Kawhi Leonard should’ve dressed up as Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise (because both are relentless and emotionless). John Wall should’ve dressed up as Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (because both will haunt your nightmares). Russell Westbrook should’ve dressed up as the xenomorph from the Alien franchise (because neither is from Earth). Anthony Davis should’ve dressed up as the Behemoth from The Mist (because neither get the screen time they deserve). Patrick Beverley should’ve dressed up as one of the crawlers from The Descent franchise (I just feel that they would be excellent defenders). And James Harden should’ve dressed up as the entire Scary Movie franchise because the Scary Movie franchise had five movies and not six.
Because James Harden no-showed Game 6 of the Spurs-Rockets series.
(I will never let this go.)