After YouTube clips, social media, and a combination of Manu Ginobili, James Harden, and Shane Battier brought the issue of flopping to the forefront of the NBA for the past couple seasons, the league has finally taken official steps in an attempt to prevent the act. Rather than call a technical foul upon a flop like some fans may have wanted, the NBA will instead fine a (relatively) small sum of money, on an increasing scale, per flop. It’s great that the NBA is finally taking a step towards dealing with the oft-egregious flopping problem. What’s not so great: this new rule may cause a lot more trouble than flopping does.
The rule works like this: if a player is a first-time flopper, they’ll get off with a warning. For a subsequent flop — which is tracked over the course of the entire season, rather than game-to-game — a player will be fined $5,000 on an increasing scale, with a ceiling of $30,000 for the fifth flop. NBA officials haven’t yet decided how they’ll handle any subsequent flop after the costly $30,000 one, though they have noted that they’re considering a punishment as drastic as some form of suspension. They also said they’d announce how they’ll punish flopping in the postseason at a later date.
So what’s the problem? Well, probably most troublesome is that the rule came about because referees couldn’t tell if someone was flopping or legitimately clobbered to begin with. The NBA took this into consideration, and (somewhat smartly) decided that the fines won’t be determined during a game, but reviewed by league officials after the game. So there still won’t be a way to overturn a game-deciding flop.
There’s also the issue of not really being able to tell when a player is intentionally trying to trick a referee. Even in the case of a very apparent flop, you can rarely definitively tell if it was a ruse. You know how when you’re carrying a stack of books and accidentally drop it, and you manage to move your feet out of the way just in time, but still jump back and say “Ow!” even though you didn’t get hurt and no contact was made? Who’s to say some floppers aren’t simply reacting the same way?
Also, anyone who has fallen down playing a sport will tell you that sliding across a floor or falling into a somersault actually mitigates some of the pain and damage. So getting slightly pushed off balance, but then flying across the floor instead of just falling to the ground might, in some cases, be beneficial for a player’s health.
And if you could watch some postgame tape, and also had a mindreader on hand to tell you whether or not the player was going through the book-dropping scenario or was deviously trying to manipulate a ref, there’s still the problem of the amount of the fine. No one wants to lose $30,000 or even $5,000, but NBA players often lose that much money for much stupider things, knowing full well beforehand that they’ll be slapped with a fine. Do you think someone who is paid like Manu Ginobili or Dwyane Wade will care about a potential $5,000 fine if their flop (if the postgame review indeed deems it a flop) wins them a game? Probably not.
If anything, the flopping fine needs to be relative to a player’s salary, and somewhat ludicrous on top of that. Shane Battier made three million bucks during the Heat’s championship run last season, and some of his flops definitely helped out here and there. Is a championship worth the occasional $5,000 fine if it’s taken out of three million? But if someone with a $3 million salary were charged, say, $500,000 per flop, Battier probably wouldn’t ever flop again. Similarly, Manu Ginobili made $12.9 million last year. Do you think he cares much about $5,000 if it wins him a game? If you fined him one-twelfth of his salary per flop, on the other hand, he’d probably knock it off.
The NBA also seems to be ignoring the problem of players sometimes flopping because they actually did get fouled but need to make sure the referee noticed it. LeBron James is built like a tank, standing 6’8″ tall and weighing at least 250 pounds. If someone smaller shoulders LeBron in the chest, it’s likely LeBron won’t fall over, and the refs might miss the important foul call. However, it’s still a foul, and should be called. How else could a player show a ref that they just got fouled, other than reacting to the foul? What may seem like a slight bump in the postgame flop review room might’ve actually been a pretty hard hit, but delivered to a player who just happens to be strong enough to keep going with the play.
Hopefully, of course, the officials who look over game tape will be able to discern all of the above issues — even the ones that aren’t exactly discernible without a mindreader. However, there are only two real solutions to prevent flopping. The first would be a fine so ridiculous that players wouldn’t want to pay it even to win an important game. The second, obviously, would be to somehow be able to call flops on the floor as they happen, and if the NBA were able to do that, they wouldn’t have had to establish this new fine to begin with. For now, we’ll just see how the new system goes.
James Plafke is the editor of Geekosystem.
Getty photo, by Ronald Martinez