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Monday, November 26, 2012
The traditional basketball flop

By Beckley Mason and Henry Abbott

Watch LeBron James fly backward with a yell, arms flailing. He wanted to take a charge on Dion Waiters in the Heat's weekend win over the Cavaliers. And he put some theatrics into the project.

But James received little contact from Waiters, and little love from the referees. In an instant he was back on his feet, playing again, as if nothing had happened.

No call.

And not a flop, either -- at least as deemed by the NBA.

The NBA’s video demonstrating what is and is not a flop warns sternly and repeatedly about something called "overembellishment."  But plain old embellishment, particularly in attempting to draw a charge, is allowed. The NBA's preseason video reel featured a play like James' from then-Bull Ronnie Brewer: "While there may be a slight embellishment by the defender to draw attention to the marginal contact," intones the narrator, "this is a legitimate basketball play and is a reasonable attempt to draw the charge. This play would not be deemed to be a flop and it will not be penalized."

Here is some tricky territory that begs the question: What is a legitimate basketball play?

Elsewhere in the video the narrator says: "The level of contact on the play is inconsistent with the grossly embellished fall to the floor. This was an illegitimate basketball play ... intended to draw an unearned defensive foul call."

What makes one kind of attempt to fool the referee into thinking “marginal contact” is a big deal legal, and another attempt illegal?

Here's a theory: Tradition. Stepping in front of a driving player, taking some contact in the chest, and then pushing yourself backward to the floor ... that's an ancient practice of American hoops. Coaches have been teaching school kids that particular embellishment for the better part of a century. The coaches, players and administrators who advise the NBA on such things ... they see what James and Brewer did on those plays and see a well-coached young man doing what he has been taught.

Other kinds of flops, though, like a vibrant heliflopter or starfish ... that just seems weird, and it's something people want out of the game, even if the principles involved aren't totally consistent.