- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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How is it, exactly, that NFL czar Roger Goodell is seen as the law and order commissioner when in David Stern's NBA they have the Dress Code Edict, the Technical Foul Tracking System, the Flagrant Foul Recidivist Act, the No Arguing with the Refs Embargo (except if it's banished rogue ref Tim Donaghy, then rip away), and now, as of this week, the Anti-Flopping Rule, which includes an escalating series of fines and a morning-after videotape review by the league office, with no avenue for the offending players to appeal?
The last provision, especially, is guaranteed to create some caterwauling by anyone punished for laying down on the job, taking a phony hardwood nap, and generally behaving as if they've just been kneecapped. From now on, no more writhing on the floor as if you're in the grip of an invisible python that's squeezing life's last breath out of you after a phantom collision.
"I think flopping happens because everybody wants a competitive advantage -- I mean, shoot, sometimes I started screaming before I got hit," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said Wednesday, the day the league's new fine system was announced.
"Hey, y'all thought I was crazy for saying it over the last so-and-so years," said newly signed Knicks forward Rasheed Wallace, who's called a lot of people "so-and-sos" during a long career that's already featured 308 technicals and one particularly unforgettable anti-flopping rant against Hedo Turkoglu, the Turkish-born forward whom Wallace contemptuously called "Turkododo" in 2009.
As in: "They've got to know that he's a damn flopper. That's all Turkododo do. Flopping shouldn't get you nowhere ... .That's not basketball, man. That's not defense. That's garbage. I'm glad I don't have too much of it left. Let the Golden Child [LeBron James] do that, or one of the NBA Without Border kids do that, it's all fine and dandy. This game is watered down, watered down with all that flopping."
Will the NBA now consider retroactively giving amnesty for some of Sheed's cries from the heart? Hell, why not make him one of its replay judges? Is this not some late-coming validation for a man who was, at the time of that rant, the NBA's career leader in ejections, not just technicals?
Saying goodbye to flopping is both a sad and joyous day in the NBA, depending upon whom you talk to. Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, one of the original flopping virtuosos along with Vlade Divac back in the short shorts day, might be too upset by the new rule to even come to the phone. He couldn't be flushed out despite a request for comment placed through two intermediaries. But current coaches and players, including Kobe Bryant, almost uniformly endorsed the new rule. Even Jeff Van Gundy, the former Knicks coach who cut loose another of the all-time great rants against flopping on TV a couple of years ago in his role as an ESPN NBA analyst, says he's happy the NBA is doing something. He just thinks the new penalties don't go far enough.
"Oh? What did Jeff say?" NBA discipline chief Stu Jackson asked when we spoke on the phone shortly after he announced the league's plan.
"Well, he's backed off his $1 million fine for all floppers," I told Jackson. "But he's got some other ideas.
"Ah, ha," Jackson laughed.
The Van Gundy plan is an ambitious manifesto with three basic planks right now. But he admits it's flexible.
"The $1 million fine, I said that facetiously," Van Gundy says. "But I would also say sometimes to eradicate the behavior you want to eliminate, you have to overreact. So I'd hammer them.
"My plan would be this: In a game when an official sees a flop or an embellishment of contact -- I know it's a fluid term -- the flopping should override if the flopper actually was fouled. And if the foul on them is called, I would still simultaneously give them a fine for the flop as well. Either way, they'd get a fine, and I would also have a flopping points system like they do with technical fouls now, and ultimately they'd be suspended.
"The last thing I'd do is, you know how they have a captain's C affixed to some jerseys now? I would affix a big, red, scarlet letter F on the back and the front of chronic floppers' shirts -- F for 'Flopper.' So now an official knows he's dealing with a registered flopper, see? And when anyone in general sees this big scarlet F, they know, 'Hey, this guy's a known, registered flopper!' You need the visual, too. Because I think there should be a level of humiliation to it."
I told Van Gundy the last idea reminded me of Wimbledon's old system of punishing players who threw tantrums at linesmen or officials. The All-England club used to put out very formally worded press releases for each fineable offense that straightforwardly described, in profane direct quotes or detail, exactly what each penalized player screamed.
When I gave Van Gundy a made-up example -- "Mr. Goran Ivanisevic (Croatia) was penalized a point in his quarterfinal match and fined $500 for shouting at referee Soo Yun Choo of Korea, 'You are a blind, rotten, stupid, incompetent, @#$%& loser" -- Van Gundy lit up. "I like that! I like calling them right out, and then adding the 'Mister' like that. Like they're, you know dirty," he said.
All joking aside, there are serious reasons the NBA no longer wants to see its players flopping around like beached trout on stream banks. And the reasons are serious enough to transcend the additional general agreement around the league that trying to define exactly what's a flop is a dilemma. It's reminiscent of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's old line about trying to legislate pornography: He wouldn't attempt to define it, but "I know it when I see it."
League officials and a great deal of players agree that what's bad about flopping is it tampers with the integrity of the game. It rewards bad defense. It makes refs the focus of anger or ridicule when it should be the offending players, who know the game is so fast and difficult to officiate, the refs can sometimes be had when they don't have the help of replay.
As Jackson says, "Some flops are so obvious they are funny. But they're not laughable anymore. Some of these guys are pretty darn good at it. They're great actors. And getting better all the time."
"I like the rule," Bryant said. "Shameless flopping, that's a chump move."
Given how much money players make, it is debatable whether they'll be seriously deterred by the league's plan to give a first warning, and then fine any player who flops during a regular-season game in ascending increments of $5,000 for each successive infraction during the season, up to $30,000 for the fifth offense. But the provision for a possible suspension after that, along with even heavier discretionary fines, could get their attention.
Over the years, players have been frank about how far they'd go to be good floppers. Dominique Wilkins advocated practicing in front of a mirror. Tree Rollins once spoke about doing film study of rival post players to pick out certain tics or moves they had, and then waiting for that moment to hit the ground and earn a call.
Van Gundy says when he was a young Knicks assistant working for Don Nelson, "We used to actually practice it. It was the first time I was ever around it. Nellie used to actually critique guys as they flopped: 'No, you've gotta snap your head back more. Listen, you've gotta do it like this.' At the time I thought, 'You know, that's great coaching.'"
Now? Already, the league has seen its first serial flop artist crack and declare he'll repent. On Monday, Cleveland's Anderson Varejao, a former target of Wallace's anger, said with a smile, "I'm not flopping anymore. I used to flop a little bit."
A little bit?
Varejao used to collapse like an accordion. If they gave frequent flier points for flopping, he'd have two round-trip, first-class tickets to the moon. And to be fair, he's not alone.
Manu Ginobili, there's an NBA Oscar, Tony and People's Choice award waiting for you, too. Flopping used to be the province of the marginally talented man. But now it's easy to go to YouTube and find flagrant, often hilarious, examples of exaggerated flops by LeBron James, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Paul Pierce (the Wheelchair Game) and Blake Griffin, who's rapidly becoming the second coming of Reggie Miller because, as Barkley points out, "Most guys flop on defense. But he's an offensive flopper.
"We sit around watching these games sometimes and go, 'These dudes go down like somebody shot them,'" Barkley says.
Which reminds Van Gundy of another idea.
"Sometimes in these games, you do get a meeting of the offensive flopper and the defensive flopper, and it becomes who can flop the best," Van Gundy says. "It's so bad, I think they should go head to head by themselves and there should be a halftime feature: Battle of the Floppers."
What? First guy to three floor burns wins?
"You know, they're lucky I'm not a referee," Van Gundy continued, "because if I were a referee and somebody intentionally got away with making me look stupid by flopping, why, I'd "
" hammer them," Van Gundy said.
What the NBA actually did may, in practice, prove closer to a tough-love tap than a jackhammering. As the Clippers' Griffin pointed out, "I guess it's good but at the same time, you're telling me if it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals and a guy has a chance to make a play, he's going to be like, 'Well, do I want this $10,000 or do I want a championship?'"
He's right. But give the NBA this: At least the league did something.
ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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