Thanks, Coach Vogel. Now what?
May, 14, 2012
By Henry Abbott
HoopIdea began with the conviction that NBA basketball was the best game ever, but could be even better. To that end, we opened channels of communications to ESPN.com readers, to hear how they thought the game could be better.
You know what they wanted changed?
That was a radioactive topic in comments, e-mails and tweets. Flopping came up again and again, far too much to ignore.
That was, frankly, a bit of a surprise. None of us saw it as that big of a deal. Not then, at least. But we did some research, watched some video and found ... a hell of a lot.
NBA flopping is one of those things where the more you dig in, the more likely you are to become a zealot. There tends to be a moment of religious conversion, when suddenly it's clear that flopping is a major preoccupation of NBA players, and it's happening right before our eyes and it's ridiculous.
Flop of the Night was born, and during every single NBA game NBA fans are tweeting candidate plays to our @HoopIdea Twitter account.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel cemented the idea that flopping is an issue of the moment by accusing the Heat of leading the league in the dubious art. It was pure playoff gamesmanship, to be certain -- he wanted to get in the heads of referees -- but it resonated for a reason. People are worried about flopping now, and the Heat do it as noticeably as any team.
Following up in an interview on 790 the Ticket, as reported by Tom Haberstroh, Vogel made the case that fans are making: "We've got the greatest athletes in the world. There's nothing more exciting for our fans to see an athletic play made above the rim. When a defender's intent is to fall down and hope for a whistle, I don't think that's good for the game."
Whether or not Vogel's tactic will work in the series remains to be seen, but certainly Vogel succeeding in bringing the issue to a new level. At the Pacers' first game against the Heat on Sunday, NBA Commissioner David Stern got serious about flopping during the ABC TV broadcast:
Some years ago I told the competition committee that we were going to start fining people for flopping, and then suspending. And I think they almost threw me out of the room (saying), 'No, let it be.'
I think it's time to look at (flopping) in a more serious way, because it's only designed to fool the referee. It's not a legitimate play in my judgment. I recognize if there's contact (you) move a little bit, but some of this is acting. We should give out Oscars rather than MVP trophies.
The league was determined to fine players for flopping in 2008, as Marc Stein reported at the time, but nothing really came of it. Perhaps this time people see the issue differently. There is no shortage of voices complaining about the state of things:
- Jeff Van Gundy on ESPN TV: "It just ruins the game. I can’t believe with all the brilliance we have in the NBA office that we can’t find a way to eliminate this part of the game, or at least even start to punish it. ... I’m just sick of it! And I can’t believe the NBA office isn’t sick of it too. They’re obviously condoning this. ... They’re absolutely condoning flopping because they give them the calls and they don’t punish them when they do flop."
- Zach Randolph on "The Doug Gottlieb Show" says it's getting worse and that, for instance, the Clippers have learned well: "It starts with Chris Paul, because Blake didn't really used to flop like that, you know, last year. Reggie (Evans) flops, Reggie always flops. I think it started when Chris got (to the Clippers)."
- Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute admits on NBA Today that he has flopped, and says everybody does: "You can't touch guys now. The just flop, or they call everything. I think it's part of the game. Flopping. There's definitely a limit where flopping becomes annoying. ... I think, personally, 40 to 50 percent of all charges are flopping. ... Nowadays, you kind of touch a guy and he flops. ... It's just taking advantage of the way the game is called, offensively and defensively."
- Mike Golic on Mike and Mike in the Morning: “It looks horrible. ... Out on the football field I tried to sell things. So there’s a line in all of it: does it make it embarrassing to the sport, the way some of it looks? I guess that’s the questions David Stern is asking. There’s that line you cross over to say, 'All right this is getting out of hand, this is getting embarrassing' ... are we there yet?"
- Shane Battier says he is all for new rules to prevent flopping.
Whether or not you think the NBA has a pressing problem here depends on whether or not you think flopping is very common. If you don't think it's common, I question how hard you're looking.
Not doing anything about it -- and at the moment the league is doing literally nothing whatsoever -- seems to have real potential to harm the game.
Consider the lessons of international soccer. Gary Neville, who was today named a coach of the English national team, is almost synonymous with English soccer. As a longtime regular for Manchester United and the national team, and more recently as a TV analyst, he has a voice that matters. And in a meandering and heartbreaking rant on Sky TV (via @netw3rk), Neville is at his wit's end on the topic of diving. "It isn't creeping into the game," he insists. "This is an epidemic!"
Over nearly 15 minutes of Neville's commentary (well worth watching, by the way) the mood changes. As one superstar after another is shown falling comically to the ground, with games hanging in the balance, it stops feeling like garden variety hand-wringing, and starts to feel more like profound concern about the very definition of the sport. Where is all this headed? Why hasn't somebody fixed this by now?
In soccer one fall can lead to one penalty kick which has an excellent chance of deciding the match, which is why Neville speculates it's a regular part of even amateur soccer. That's also why Neville admits he took a dive or two in his playing days.
Who doesn't? Included in the video clips are some of the biggest names in the sport, including David Beckham, Lionel Messi, Frank Lampard and Stephen Gerrard. "This is every single game of football," Neville laments, "with the greatest players in the world."
What can be done about it? "I don't know what we can actually do," says Neville. But you sure get the feeling he wishes something would be done, because the sport is not, as he sees it, what it once was. "This," Neville says, "is the way of the game."
But of course, it doesn't have to be.
Word is flopping is likely on the agenda for the NBA's competition committee -- comprised of the NBA's 30 general managers or their designees -- expected to meet during the Finals next month. If the committee recommends some method to cope with flopping (and HoopIdea has plenty of suggestions), it will go to the NBA's Board of Governors, made of all 30 owners or their designees.
The owners can do with it as they please. They can vote the recommendations into the rulebook, they can come up with their own solution, they can vote against changes or they can abstain from addressing it at all.
What matters to those intent on stopping the flop, however, is that change could come quickly -- if general managers and owners want it.