Some guys we actually like to see flop. Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld, for example. Jack Tripper on Three's Company. Any of the Three Stooges.
But when we see the same moves in the NBA, it doesn't make us, the fans and media, laugh.
It makes us angry.
Flopping in professional basketball isn't new. Look at this video from the '70s: You'll see famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach demonstrating, and railing against, "intentionally falling" or "Hollywood acting." (This was so long ago, flopping wasn't named yet.)
Ironically, one of Auerbach's players, Frank Ramsey, wrote an article for Sports Illustrated a decade earlier which completely countermands Auerbach's video plea for fairness. Even its title, "Smart Moves by a Master of Deception," is an endorsement of the cheap tactic of flopping.
The highlights are enough to boil the blood of any fan of fair play:
WHY I FALL
Drawing fouls chiefly requires the ability to provide good, heartwarming drama and to direct it to the right audience. I never forget where the referees are when I go into an act. The most reliable eye-catcher is still the pratfall.
[When] I am beaten…my man has a clear drive past me to the basket, unless I step in front of him—and that would be a definite blocking foul on me.
Instead, I shift my weight to get as much of my body as I can in front of him without moving my feet…then, at the first contact, I fall down—as if my man had charged right into me. With any luck, the foul I deserve will be called on the other guy.
But by and large back then, flopping irritated players and coaches. In Grantland's recent and terrific piece on flopping, author netw3rk recounts a much-told story involving Boston Celtics legend Dave Cowens and Houston Rockets guard Mike Newlin.
Newlin moved in front of Cowens during a drive and flopped—successfully, because he drew the charge. Cowens argued the call as passionately as he did everything else on the court, but with more outrage, because Cowens considered flopping dishonorable. He continued the argument as the game resumed.
Having had enough of the ref's deaf ear turned to Cowens' protestations, the Hall of Famer ran up the court, where Newlin was now dribbling the ball, tackled him, turned to the ref he'd been arguing with and bellowed, "Now that's a f@!&ing foul!"
Cowens was, of course, promptly ejected. But he took a stand that night.
Forty years later, it's a stand that we who watch the game would dearly love to replicate.
Because back in the day, players played. Guys banged up against each other like bumper cars, and it was simply good, clean, physical basketball. Flopping happened in the '80s and '90s, and even the early 2000s, but it was fairly rare and roundly denounced.
After the defensive rule changes of the early and mid-2000s, though, defensive coaches began looking for every remaining edge they could find. One of them was flopping.
The players, faced with fewer legal defensive maneuvers, began to adopt flopping as a ploy.
So no longer did you have players and coaches up in arms about flopping. You had them embracing it.
It would be fair to say that players and coaches flip-flopped on the issue of flopping. So in a now-ironic NBA world that had repositioned unfair play as strategy, who would take up the charge of justice?
The cause was left to us, the folks who report the game, and you, the folks who watch it.
It was fan and media complaints which drove the NBA to implement fines for flopping prior to this season.
If you doubt that, consider two excerpts from an ESPN article reporting the rule change:
1. Hours after the league announced the new penalties, the National Basketball Players Association said it planned to file a grievance with the NBA and an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
2. Commissioner David Stern long has sought to end flopping.
Reading the first point, it's clear the players didn't want the change. As to the second point, Stern has ruled the league with an iron fist. You're telling me he couldn't get flopping penalized until last year? Come on.
The public became obsessed with it because everyone else started looking the other way. A groundswell was necessary to initiative change.
But why are we still obsessed with it?
It's because the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
James, merely the league's ninth-highest paid player, makes $17.5 million dollars this year.
Let me put this in perspective: Five grand to LeBron James is, to a man making $50,000, like $14.25—the cost of two meals with guacamole at Chipotle.
In other words, he'll never think about it again. He succeeded on that flop, even though it failed to win his Miami Heat the game. To James, I am absolutely certain another ring is worth the equivalent of two Chipotle dinners.
Like Steve Kerr recently told the New York Times, “If you’re trying to get to the Finals, and there’s one play and you feel like you can get away with something and it’s going to cost $5,000, then it’s worth it.”
The public is watching roundball criminals get away with their crime right in front of our eyes—and no one is really doing a thing about it.
If you want attention for flopping to subside, here's what the league needs to do. And if you like the ideas, I suggest you make your voice heard.
Idea No. 1: Add an extra referee to every game. The guy is specifically in charge of both ruling on flopping and manning instant replay.
Idea No. 2: Add instant replay. If there's a chance of a flop, stop the game cold and check it out.
Idea No. 3: A flop would count as both a technical foul and a personal foul.
Idea No. 4: Increase fines. (This one's my least favorite, because I don't think fines work anyway.)
Yes, the first two will slow play down. But watch that LeBron flop again. It's important to note that we, the audience, along with the broadcasters, could determine it was a flop in half a minute or less.
Also, consider that players will despise the game being stopped, and the flow of the game being interrupted. Suddenly, we might have players back on our side, deriding a play that is nothing short of cheating.
Suddenly, players will be forced to defend again. Use their bodies vertically instead of horizontally. Play like men instead of cowards.
In that same New York Times article, Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, said the policy could be altered for next season. It needs to be.
Fines and embarrassment are not working well enough. The league needs to up the ante. And it won't do it unless we all get on its case. So make your outrage count.
The NBA corporate office's main phone number is (212) 407-8000. Here's an email contact form as well.