Lakers-Rockets Series: The Semantics of Flagrant Fouls One and Two

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Lakers-Rockets Series: The Semantics of Flagrant Fouls One and Two
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Much has been said concerning the flagrant fouls in the Lakers-Rockets series. The fouls have been viewed, reviewed, and the jurisdiction has gone beyond just the call on the court in every game. Therein lies the problem.

The flagrant foul calls in the NBA perhaps are too subjective on-the-court calls because flagrant foul one and flagrant foul two are separated by a single adjective yet carry different consequences.

According the NBA rule book, a flagrant foul one is defined as follows:

"If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul—penalty (one) will be assessed" (Section IV paragraph a).

A flagrant foul two is defined as:

"If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive, a flagrant foul—penalty (two) will be assessed" (Section IV paragraph b).

A flagrant foul is first and foremost "unnecessary." The difference, however, between a flagrant foul one and a flagrant foul two is whether or not it is "excessive." The problem is, what is defined as excessive?

The personal fouls help better define this. A personal foul is anything that impedes the progress of the offensive player with the following exceptions; "Flagrant, elbow and punching fouls" (Section One paragraph e). Even the lexicon for loose ball fouls denotes a flagrant foul if punching or elbows are involved.

Based on the description under the personal fouls section of the NBA rules, can it then be said that any elbow thrown, whether connected or not, is a flagrant foul two? Does that define excessive? Because what is at stake is being able to continue play with a flagrant foul one or being ejected (and most of the time suspended) with a flagrant foul two.

Last night in Game Three of the Lakers-Rockets series, Ron Artest was assessed a flagrant foul two late in the game for his hard foul on Pau Gasol. Taking a close look at the play, it looked as though Artest did two things right.

First, he took a proper angle to challenge the play. Secondly, he went after the ball and actually made a play on it. In the process, he body checked (which is in the definition of a personal foul) Gasol in the air and sent him hard to the floor.

See the Ron Artest foul here

Excessive? Certainly harder fouls have been committed and Gasol did hit the floor hard, but one would expect that to happen when a 6'7" 265-pound player is making a play on the ball near the basket.

Unnecessary? What was Artest to do? Wait until Gasol was closer and heighten the chances of an and-one play? Not make an attempt to stop Gasol from scoring? As mentioned, he had a very good angle to challenge such a shot.

Now going back to Game Two, where Kobe Bryant was brought into question for his actions on a box-out involving him and Artest. This particular foul was upgraded to a flagrant one after the game.

Off a shot attempt, Bryant has inside position on Artest. He pivots so as to seal Artest from the rebound, thus establishing inside position deep under the basket. As the ball hits the rim, without pivoting, Bryant's elbow rears back and hits Artest above the neck.  

See the Kobe Bryant foul here

This foul was certainly unnecessary. Bryant did everything right in establishing a box-out, then, by swinging his elbow,  looked for an advantage when he realized his position was too far under the basket for the rebound. No play for the ball, but simply a strategy to clear space that is not established by the player.

According the rule book, Bryant used his elbow. Therefore, his was upgraded to a flagrant foul. The NBA did well in correcting this error; however, throwing an elbow that is above the opponent's neck should be excessive and flagrant two.

If a player uses a pivot foot with elbows flared, there is no swinging. Bryant, in this case, swung his elbow back. Since this is not defined under the flagrant foul description, it is left too subjective and thus ineffective within the fast-paced action of an NBA game.

The two changes that probably should be made in the semantics of fouls, first for personal fouls:

1) They need to establish that a successful play on the ball from a frontal angle of the offensive player is never flagrant

Any player who genuinely goes after the ball may body check the offensive player, but if a play on the ball is the intended motion, then it will not be harmful, just aggressive.

 

And for flagrant fouls:

2) They need to include any swinging of the arms once in an established position, including during the use of the pivot foot, is prohibited.

A flagrant one is an aggressive play on the ball from any angle other than the front. A flagrant two is then an aggressive play that involves swinging the arms in a manner that could harm the opponent.

Based on this wording, then Bryant should have received a flagrant two foul and been ejected from Game Two. Since the correction was made after the game, he should have been suspended for Game Three.

Conversely, Ron Artest should have been called for a personal foul on Gasol and nothing more.

This might not make it as specific as it needs to be, but it at least would be away from using words like "unnecessary" and "excessive" to separate minor and serious infractions on the game rules.

Then, maybe, every hard foul with two players facing each other will not draw the ire of fans and teammates. From now on, the NBA should be proactive and not so reactive when it comes to aggressive play.

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