This NBA flopping rule will either fly or flop, depending on whether the league is serious about cleaning up the game, or merely trying to pretend as much. You know, like a few other times the NBA made an attempt to fix some obvious violations, only to … well, flip-flop.
“Flopping will be defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause referees to call a foul on another player,” said the league’s sternly worded statement on Wednesday. Players will be served a warning for their first flop but will be hit with fines of $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $30,000 for each thereafter.
It’s all open to interpretation, the kind of slippery slope that begs commissioner David Stern to serve as judge and jury. Essentially, the NBA is saying there’s no humanly way Dwight Howard can be steamrolled by Kemba Walker, and if the Lakers center even tries to hurl himself into Jack Nicholson’s lap after the slightest bump, he’ll find his paycheck a little lighter if he keeps that up.
But there are all sorts of reasons why this new rule will, at best, only catch the sloppy floppers who are too amateur to pull it off, while the true artists, more often than not, will keep pulling a fast one on the refs and the league.
Issue 1: How exactly do you police this?
Wouldn’t it be great to know what high-ranking official is placed in charge of watching every NBA game and making a ruling every time a ball-handler comes in contact with a defender? This person, whoever he or she is, might have the toughest job in sports. As Heat forward Shane Battier, one of the best defensive players in basketball, asked: “Is there a flop czar?”
“I wonder if they’re going to hire some intern from Harvard who’s all into sabermetrics or an expert on physics and the law of gravity, and stick him in a room somewhere,” he said.
Battier is half-joking; he’s all in favor of eliminating flopping, “a silent killer” he said, but is leery about how the league plans to administer this.
It’s tricky. Even the refs themselves are sometimes stumped. Some flops are more obvious than others. And suppose a ref rules an offensive foul, while the Flop Czar, upon further review, sees a flop? Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
Battier makes another point: “I hope they give the offensive floppers the same treatment.”
Issue 2: Will this really deter the floppers?
The league is coming at these criminals armed with straws and spitballs. A fifth violation -- fifth! – is worth a whopping $30,000. Plus, the league stopped short of guaranteeing suspensions.
Already, the players’ union is in a snit over the potential for fines, calling the rule a “vague and arbitrary over-reaction” and an “over-reach,” and says it will file a grievance and unfair labor practices charge over the rule.
Issue 3: And this is the really big issue: Will the league, after this season, slowly take a hands-off approach to the whole idea of punishing floppers?
The NBA doesn’t have much of a backbone in these matters. About 10 years ago, it promised to clean up palming violations, mainly because Allen Iverson was starting practically every dribble by placing his hand underneath the ball. For about half a season, whistles blew. But those whistles were mainly heard in the first quarter. By the fourth, referees pretended to not notice, perhaps for fear of intruding on a close game.
By the next season, players went back to palming with impunity, to the point where today, the league is justifying palming by essentially calling it the evolution of the dribble. These “crossover” moves give the dribbler a big advantage over the defender. In that split second, the defender isn’t sure whether the offensive player will pick up the dribble in order to shoot, or keep dribbling. Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are masters of palming but are so quick about it that few referees notice it, or maybe don’t care, since it involves two of the NBA’s marquee stars.
Same with traveling: When a player picks up his dribble, then does a bunny hop, then takes a half-step before shooting, that’s a travel. At least it’s supposed to be.
You wonder how much of the league’s tough-guy stance toward flopping is a reaction to Jeff Van Gundy, the TV analyst who went nuts every time a defender hurled backward. Maybe the league knows it doesn’t have a foolproof plan to totally clean up the game and is merely doing a PR job and giving the appearance of at least trying. Yes, flopping is not what anyone wants to see, and true, the players who make a habit of flopping do the game a disservice.
But the hunch here is this rule won’t eliminate flopping, which can be tough to judge and nearly impossible to police with any true accuracy. Here’s a prediction: Floppers will be in basketball long after the league rubs its bloodshot eyes in a year or two and decides to go to sleep on the job.