In the Chinese tradition of Taoism, there are eight legendary xian who became immortal by following the way of Tao. Each of the Eight Immortals represents a different facet of humanity and had unique powers — as well as unique paths to immortality. For the 2014 All-Star Profiles, I took a look at the Eight Immortals of the NBA. Kyrie Irving is Han Xiang, a teacher of philosophical balance who tested his by tring to climb the tree of immortality.
Things have gone really poorly for Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. There’s no nice way of saying that. In the best case scenario of the most optimistic observer, 2013-14 represents a learning moment for the entire Cavaliers organization, top to bottom. The problem is that the lesson isn’t exactly clear. Cleveland’s drafted poorly, but “don’t draft bad players” seems axiomatic. Free agency has been miss or miss; again, “make the most of free agency” is a pretty good idea. They lost LeBron James; “don’t part ways with the best player in the NBA if you can help it,” check.
So maybe it’s not the lessons themselves. Maybe 2013-14 was a chance for the Cavs to practice emergency preparedness. If they thought they’d bottomed out before, how wrong they were — this year has revealed a basement below a basement in which only a Cleveland franchise could make a home. That’s okay, says the optimist. You have to take the good with the bad. And you need to mix in a little bit of the balanced, too. A little neutrality never hurt anyone. Striving for .500 and a playoff berth for the sake of making the postseason was okay, because a little mediocrity teaches you to appreciate the good times and that the bad times don’t last forever.
It’s the pride, though, that’ll get you. Being too proud to learn the lessons and do the homework wastes the opportunity to make good from bad and balance from it all. There’s nothing wrong with striving to climb to the highest rung and shout your supremacy to the winds, but you better be right each time you reach up for the next branch. If you swing, and you miss, the fall can last forever.
When things are going right for the Cavs, though, Irving is that balance. He’s their scorer and their offensive initiator in equal parts. He’s their Han Xiang, the Immortal who nearly wasn’t. Han Xiang was a great philosopher and poet. His lessons centered on the three core elements of humanity: good, evil and balance. Failing to balance all three — including balance, it’s all very meta — would have disharmonious effects, and blatant disregard for their proper order meant cacophony. In the eyes of Han Xiang, such was the state of the royal court, which he believed to be too heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings. For voicing his displeasure with the way things were, Han Xiang was banished to the wilderness. With nothing to lose, he went into the beastslaying business, finding a village endangered by a dragon and…eliminating the danger, so to speak.
Once you’ve killed a dragon after you’ve already been exiled, you basically dare the universe to stop you from conquering it. Han Xiang happened upon the tree of immortality and came to the same conclusion that any five-year old would: that thing needed to be climbed, immediately. How tall can a tree of immortality really be? 30 feet? 40 feet?
Turns out the answer is forever. When you’re starting from the bottom and trying to become one of the Immortals, you have a long, long way to go. And if you try to fight gravity, you’ll probably never make it. Han Xiang told others that balance was the way, yet he let his pride allow him to risk the fall. And fall he did. He’d yearned to see how the Immortals lived and paid for his folly. He knew it. He realized he’d made a mistake.
And though he was now well on his way to cratering, he’d generally been pretty awesome. So right before he hit the ground, he conveniently became immortal. He hit the dirt, realized he was alive, dusted himself off, and went about a life of showing off just how immortal and magical he was. When his uncle didn’t want to give up a job working for the government to come play wizards with him, Han Xiang made his gourd pour an endless supply of wine, just to prove how awesome magic was.
Eventually, Kyrie Irving’s going to get to that stage of his career. Right now, though, he and the Cavs are still victims of physics, in free fall until something intercedes. Immortality or the ground — which strikes first in Cleveland?