Finally, some reason and sense on the “flat Earth” thing. After Kyrie Irving came out at the All-Star weekend and said he believed the Earth was flat (which some still believe had to be part of a marketing campaign), Shaquille O’Neal followed up by saying he, too, believed that everything science tells us about the shape and physics of the planet is a lie

But now it turns out that on a podcast appearance, the Big Aristotle says he was messing with people.

Transcription via Ball Don’t Lie: 

Harbinger: “What’s going on with the flat Earth thing? Are you just messing with everybody with that?”
O’Neal: “No, the Earth is flat. Would you like to hear my theory?”
Harbinger: “Yeah, tell me about it.”
O’Neal: “The first part of the theory is, I’m joking, you idiots. That’s the first part of the theory. The second part is, I said jokingly that when I’m in my bus and I drive from Florida to California, which I do every summer, it seems to be flat. When I’m in my plane, and we’re getting ready to land, and I open up the window, and I’m looking at all the land that we’re flying over, it seems to be flat.”

“This world we live in, people take things too seriously, but I’m going to give the people answers to my test,” he said. “Knowing that I’m a funny guy, if something seems controversial or boom, boom, boom, you’ve got to have my funny points on, right? So now, once you have my funny points on, that should eradicate and get rid of all your negative thoughts, right? That’s what you should do when you hear a Shaquille O’Neal statement, OK? You should know that he has funny points right over here, and what did he say? Boom, boom, boom, add the funny points. You either laugh or you don’t laugh, but don’t take me seriously. When I want you to take me seriously, you will know by the tone of my voice that I’m being serious.”

“No, I don’t think that,” O’Neal told Harbinger of a flat Earth. “It was a joke, OK? So know that when Shaquille O’Neal says something, 80 percent of the time I’m being humorous, and it is a joke. And 20 percent of the time, I’m being serious, but when I’m being serious, you’ll know. You want to see me, seriously? See me and Charles Barkley going back and forth on TNT. That’s when I’m mad and when I’m serious. Other than that, you’re not going to get that out of me, so I was just joking people. The Earth is not round, it’s flat. I mean, the Earth is not flat, it’s round.”

(From Yahoo: Unfortunately, Shaquille O’Neal isn’t actually a flat-Earther: ‘I’m joking, you idiots’.)

So Shaq does not fundamentally reject the basis for all planetary science regarding Earth. Good to know. 

The bigger point here speaks to something trickier. 

Essentially, players -- current and former -- have such a built-in distrust of the media and the current environment, based on quotes being taken out of context and how every little thing is extrapolated into a controversy, combined with a natural predisposition as both athletes and multi-millionaires to want to agitate situations, that they routinely walk the line between being serious and “messing with us.” 

The only time this gets straightened out is if money is involved, if a player is at risk of losing a job or endorsement money. Then all of a sudden, the jokes stop. But there’s a little bit of a duplicitous, and honestly, at times, patronizing tone taken by a lot of players. If they don’t take the media seriously, if they make them look like fools, then they can then disregard and diminish anything that the media reports. And the media is handcuffed because all they can do is report on what the players say. And if they sound serious when they say it, it has to be reported that way. Is much of this the result of a sensationalistic news environment driven by an ever-demanding and ever-evolving audience dynamic? Absolutely. 

But it makes trying to figure out what players really say and don’t say an almost-impossible task. 

Anyway, there you go. Shaq believes the Earth is round.