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Kyrie Irving Is Getting Better at Everything, Except Science

On the court, the Celtics guard is making the leap, but with great power comes great responsibility

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s wonderful to watch Kyrie Irving play basketball. I think we can all agree on that. His style of play is basically the scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Indy reaches back through a closing door to grab his hat. Irving does it this at least once a night.

He’s too fun, too venturesome, and too professionally bearded to not enjoy at least a little bit. I think we can also agree that Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving is better than at least the 2016-17 edition of Cleveland Cavalier Kyrie Irving, though the season is only 11 games old. Gordon Hayward was rudely taken away from the Celtics just minutes into the season and, by dint of his trickster-god powers, Irving has led Boston on a nine-game win streak.

I also don’t know what’s wrong with Kyrie Irving, and I fear we may have to send him to space now.

I know, it’s dangerous, and impractical, and sudden, and I’ll miss him too, but it’s for his own good. Elon Musk is busy not rolling out Tesla Model 3s, but there’s a small chance he might finance the expedition if we asked nicely enough.

Wait, we have to send Kyrie where now? Why?

You probably know all of this already, given how many people have been shouting about it, but it helps to see it all in one place. And if you don’t know, then you might want to sit down.

The Model 3s are these entry-level-priced, zero-emission sedans with gull-wing doors that have a years-long waiting list and … you know what, let’s just skip ahead to the flat-earth thing. It was just on the cusp of All-Star Weekend last season, and Kyrie was on a plane. He was doing a guest spot on the Road Trippin’ podcast and telling his then-teammate Richard Jefferson—sitting next to a window, I assume, through which Irving could’ve seen, at any time, the curvature of the earth on the horizon—that he believed the earth to be flat. He’s not alone.

Flat earth is not a new theory. In fact, it’s pretty old. Plenty of people have pointed this out, but Kyrie has thundered on, much to the amusement of fellow players. There were even T-shirts. At last check, it’s a joke that’s not funny and also maybe not a joke. Mind you, Irving only partially walked his non-claim back before the start of the season.

This is ridiculous. Ever since the rocky debris in the sun’s gravitational sphere clumped together to form this stupid planet we call Earth, some 4.6 billion years ago, it has been round. Spherical. Orb-like. I say this not as a matter of opinion, but on the substance of fact, because it is fact, as surely as the Celtics are currently on an unprecedented nine-game win streak and the Cavs, meanwhile, have lost to the Nets, Pelicans, Knicks, Pacers, and Hawks.

OK, but why are we talking about this? Again.

Because it’s still a thing! Last Thursday, he went on Holding Court With Geno Auriemma, a different podcast, to, well, explain what “it” (claiming the earth was flat, doubling and sort of tripling down), mostly by explaining what “it” wasn’t (trying his level best to drive everyone up a wall). He also said that he’d seen Whiplash six times, though he didn’t say if that was six times since its release or six times, in a row.

First:

“Coach, it was, just when I started just seeing comments and things about just universal truths that I had known, I had questions. I had questions. I don’t necessarily know. I won’t sit here and say that I know. But when I started actually doing research on my own and figuring out that there is no real picture of Earth—there is not one picture of Earth. And we haven’t been back to the moon since 1961 or 1969.”

And then:

“I can’t stand is that because I think one particular way—not saying that it ever applies to me and you, because you understand I’m the same human being. But the way that it was kind of divided in terms of the separation of let’s just completely throw something away, an idea that maybe we may not know is true or not, but because he thinks different and he may think that the world is flat, then there’s a tirade of comments of who I am character-wise.”

What … does this mean?

I know, it’s amazing, right? At the very least it’s a lot of words. Mostly adjectives and adverbs, in places where they make a kind of sense— similar to … choose any part of his legendary First Take appearance in September—but the thrust of Kyrie’s argument is that People Don’t Search Out Their Own Answers To Basic Questions Often Enough. Which is a good lesson! I feel you, Kyrie! But the thing is, like red wine or dark chocolate or too much of any one thing, too much skepticism can be unhealthy too.

Can I tell a story? I’m gonna tell a story. I had a philosophy teacher once—a very good and brilliant philosophy teacher, who now spends his well-earned retirement boating and making lithographs. But for two solid days of my junior year of high school, he made me completely insufferable.

This happened after a lecture which instructed us to challenge the fundamental things we accepted as true; to deconstruct the essential promise of science, which was that everything can eventually be understood, because everything is made up of smaller things that work in a certain way. The basis for this is math, which, it turns out, is completely made up.

“Show me the number five,” he said, and I held up five fingers. “No, that’s your hand. What is five?” What then, was the point of school? Why did I have to wear slacks and tuck in my shirt? You’ve also experienced this particular madness that results from tunneling so far into a topic that you can no longer situate anything you uncover within the context of anything else. It’s curable, in most cases, with more books and a functioning understanding of primary sources; what they are and how to read them. And actually, it’s preventable if you never—ever, ever, ever—read the YouTube comments. Especially the ones beneath the footage of the moon landing. It can make you only more unhinged. (To note, the ones beneath music videos are usually OK; in fact, I recommend them.)

Past a point, it’s impossible to explain to anyone why they’re incorrect—say, about cosmography, Kyrie—at least in a way that will convince them. If you’ve read the first few grafs of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript and think you’ve laid bare the fundamental nature of the universe then, well, God bless.

So is this bad? And why does it matter?

Well it’s not bad, not really. But it’s not strictly speaking good, either. We’ve established that this wasn’t just about getting a rise out of the media, sort of. With new, verdant, and supercharged basketballing powers comes well, not a responsibility, but a hope that one might be less obtuse. Or less infuriating about how they go about being so obtuse. Given the sheer stupidity of the times we live in, there’s any number of athletes craning their necks for the kind of visibility Kyrie enjoys, and it’s hard to think of this theorizing as anything other than squandering it. If this flat-earth thing was, at any point, a joke, then it’s stale now. And If Kyrie is truly, publicly wrestling with whether Neil Armstrong had been lying for 50 years, then that’s terrible. Facts used to be pretty permanent, tenable things, and today, they can shift with a deft redirection of the question being asked, or a blanket denial. Slavery was either the first unpaid internship, or else it never happened, since the wreckage of slave ships is hard to come by these days.

These aren’t topics I’d want or expect Kyrie to discuss on a podcast with Geno Auriemma, or during a media availability. But there are plenty of other things we could be talking about, and we’re talking about something that was proved definitively literal millennia ago. Debate is pretty great. Debating facts—like, as in not with them, but against them, for nothing more than argument’s sake—just makes people sad, and a little bored. You don’t need three steps to know that Milwaukee’s retro court is new, and only looks like one from 50 years ago. You don’t need a new picture of Earth to be sure it isn’t flat—this Greek dude named Anaxagoras saw the shape of its shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse almost 2500 years ago and sorted it all out. It was round, by the way, if you need me to say so.