Friday, September 28, 2012
A baby step to stop the flop
By Henry Abbott
The NBA is set to take action against floppers with league spokesman Tim Frank reiterating what David Stern had hinted at in June: This upcoming season flops caught on video will be punished with fines from the league office some time in the following days.
This is, I guess, a welcome attempt to try to stem the tide of flopping. But much better changes would have been easy.
I'm left wondering: Why so slow? A flop takes less than a second. You can watch from every available angle in about a minute. Whoever this person is in New York who is going to hand out the fines ... do they really need 15 hours to review the candidate plays?
I'm not suggesting referees stop play to review every collision. I'm asking: If we're already going to trust a nameless, faceless person to watch, call and fine flops from the league office, something which makes some sense to me, why does that person need so darned long to make the call? Many flops are clear to everyone watching at home within seconds. How can it be that millions at home know what should be called, while the league needs another day to figure it out?
My radical HoopIdea: Use the best possible information as quickly as possible. At the very least announce, a few minutes after the flop: "The league has fined Chris Paul $1,000 for a flop at the end of the first quarter."
It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than announcing it the next day. It at least brings the best available information into the real time of the game, which keeps the league from looking clueless to fans with instant replay.
It also makes things a little embarrassing for the player, which could have an effect.
My other radical HoopIdea: Whoever makes the calls should have at least as much information, in real time, as the average fan. Who doesn't want to get the calls right?
The problem the NBA has right now is that the people making the important decisions on the court are some of the only people in the world without really good instant replay.
A good flop is just about impossible to identify by the naked eye.
When I have been lucky enough to sit courtside, my main thought is: I am so glad I'm not a referee. It's craziness to expect referees to just catch them all. As if they aren't already trying hard to get every call right. As if there's a league anywhere in the world, of any sport, where good floppers don't get the call.
A good flop is like a magic trick, where the magic works in one direction. Video shot from multiple directions is the antidote.
The league's problem has been compounded by the reality that even when the referees could identify the flops, however, in the past, nobody did anything about it.
Referees actually stopped play to review this Greivis Vasquez flagrant foul on Reggie Evans last year. In real time they called a Flagrant 2 on Vasquez, which is about as serious as these things get. Vasquez would have been ejected, fined, yelled at by fans, tut-tutted by the media and maybe even victimized by a snarky David Stern comment or two.
But on review, Vasquez did something that wouldn't have even stopped play in practice. Yes, he made contact with his elbow, but in professional sports that's a love tap -- and nothing compared to the legal but hard contact that Evans laid on Vasquez to start the interaction.
What was egregious, however, was Evans' hilarious reaction: After taking an instant to gather himself, he wound up and threw his body backward, as if attempting a gymnastics move I'm pretty sure is called back walkover.
How dreadful it must have been to have been one of those three referees huddling around the replay monitor. They knew they were had. They knew everyone at home, and in the audience knew the exact same thing. Oh, for shame. That is the moment when referees have the toughest, most embarrassing job in the world -- pride melting into a stinky puddle, like crayons on simmer -- before a global TV audience.
Shame shift: From Vasquez, to the officials.
But don't forget this key point! The shame lived rightly with Evans. And even once what really happened was clear Evans still got free throws for his team.
Chalk it up to veteran trickery, gamesmanship, or anything else. Well played, Reggie.
I don't want to engage in scare tactics, but flopping, while nothing new, is a bigger deal than it once was.
Flopping is no longer a case of a goofy Vlade Divac play now and again. Now there's hardly ever a game without a notable flop, including deep in the playoffs and even in the Finals. Now some of the best players in the world spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy focused as much on working the refs as working the opponents -- and for good reason. It's a winning strategy.
Nowadays a good arsenal of flop maneuvers is almost necessary to elite scorers. A disproportionate number of the very best, smartest, most strategic winners in the league, players on contending teams, like Chris Paul, LeBron James and Manu Ginobili, enter games with the belief that to maximize the chance of winning, they need to manufacture drama to deceive the referees at both ends of the court.
When the best players in the world gain advantage by some technique, that technique tends to spread. Flopping has always been around, but where it was once a curio, it's now pervasive. And for the longest time the strategy has had just about zero downside. Other than a few seconds of forcing your team to play five-on-four while you stand back up, there was hardly any reason not to give it a whirl.
That has changed, just a little. With the league's new tweak to the rules, you might still win a game with a flop. You might embarrass referees on television night in and night out, making the league look foolish. You might trick a referee into a foul that benches a player the fans paid to see. You might make fans irate all over Twitter with your antics that are seen as contrary to good sportsmanship. You might even inspire high-school and middle-school kids to fake fouls in games.
But now, at least, for the first time in the NBA, somebody somewhere will be doing something to say hey, we noticed that you did that, and that's not okay.
So, that's something. After the game, there will be video reviews and fines.
But it's such a baby step compared to doing what you can to set things right in the game.
And let's be clear about why the NBA is acting now, as opposed to a twenty or fifty years ago. The reason is because thanks to high-definition on-demand instant replay on hundreds of millions of screens around the globe, the NBA and its referees are looking ridiculous. That's not good for the business.
The NBA logo needs to mean something. There needs to be a certain expectation that things will have a certain degree of fairness and professionalism in a game in this league. (That's one crooked referee had such a profound destabilizing effect -- Tim Donaghy undermined the league's credibility.) Now every game provides powerful visual evidence that the league is routinely duped. Fair or not, NBA fans fall asleep their heads at the things the referee missed. That's bad for the league, and I'm not sure much will change with this baby step of a rule change.