On July 1, LeBron James becomes a free agent. NBA insiders are tapping their sources to determine where LeBron might land next season, and James’ every move will be heavily scrutinized all summer. We’d hate to be left out of the fun, which is why we’re running a series titled, “Where LeBron Should Play Next Year, According to Someone I Called on the Phone.” For this installment, I spoke to theoretical astrophysicist (and occasional Slate contributor) Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who studies dark matter and cosmic acceleration. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nick Greene: You are an early-universe cosmologist. Can you explain what that is?
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: I think about the structure of the universe and what happened in the universe when it was less than a second old, and also what the dark matter is and what it does.
Are you a basketball fan? Have you been following LeBron James’ free agency?
I grew up watching basketball, during the Michael Jordan era. But then I went to college and had too many other things to worry about. At heart, I’m really a baseball person. I grew up in the shadow of Dodger Stadium.
From my limited understanding, isn’t balance really important in physics, like it is in basketball?
I don’t know if the universe cares about balance. If it did, there would be equal amounts of antimatter and matter, but there aren’t.
My guess is that LeBron will probably make his decision sometime in mid-July. What are the chances we find out the secrets of dark matter and antimatter before then?
Wow, what a thought. I don’t think my brain can even process that idea. I think it’s pretty clear that we’re going to find out where LeBron is going before we figure out what the dark matter is. I’m willing to put money on that. If someone finds dark matter before LeBron makes his decision, I will pay them $100. It has to be a result that is widely accepted by the scientific community, and it cannot be widely accepted just because people want to scam me out of 100 bucks.
Is there anything you are working on that you are particularly excited about, even if it doesn’t relate to LeBron James?
I’m heading to South Korea to the International Conference on High Energy Physics where I will be giving a talk about axions [hypothetical subatomic particles]. I’m going to be talking about a mechanism called the relaxion that could help explain dark matter and why the Higgs mass is the one that we measured at the same time. I’ll be trying to convince people that my model is the best one.
What’s your version as compared to others?
One of the things that we did was change when the mass of the axion turns on, since the model still works but it doesn’t require this weird interaction with inflation.
Huh. So the explanation there would be about mass? [Note: I have no idea what I’m talking about.]
Particles can have a mass that is temperature-dependent. The very early universe was supposed to be very, very hot, and so possibly the mass of dark matter changes as the universe gets colder. We take this into account as part of the model to improve it.
So this could relate to the Miami Heat, is what you’re saying?
Yeah, if the Miami Heat were the team of the early days. But as time goes on, things cool off.
Everything goes back to the Big Bang, which was a consolidation of stars, like the Golden State Warriors.
Yeah, I guess you could think about it like that. Actually, what I was thinking about the Big Bang was that really adorable picture of LeBron James that was circulating on social media, the school picture where he has the little basketball watch on.
I tend to think that cosmologists are obsessed with origin stories. So when I look at LeBron making his decision, I’m thinking about LeBron’s cosmology. What’s his origin story? It’s Cleveland, but he went back to Cleveland, so it’s time for him to evolve and move forward and think about different ways of growing and expanding in the universe.
If he’s exploding forth into the universe, where does that land him, scientifically?
I think he’s going to go to the Lakers. That’s my guess.
I actually think it would be really fun if he did something surprising, Like, what if he went to Oklahoma?
What’s the cosmology equivalent of him joining the Thunder?
I need to be careful not to say anything that will upset anyone. It could be him betting on sterile neutrinos as his pet dark-matter candidate.
I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be comparing Oklahoma to sterile neutrinos.
Previously in Where LeBron Should Play Next Year, According to Someone I Called on the Phone:
Where LeBron Should Play Next Year, According to a Wine Critic