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The politics of flopping

10.03.12 at 4:07 pm ET

Everyone hates it when players flop. It’s a passive-aggressive form of defense that penalizes spectacular offense and turns every drive to the hoop into a referendum on how much the officials hate your favorite team. It’s a measure of the vitriol associated with the flop that within minutes of the NBA’s announcement that they were taking steps to penalize floppers, my timeline was filled with people complaining about either the Celtics or the Heat.

First, the basics of the new policy from a statement issued by the league:

“‘Flopping’ will be defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. The primary factor in determining whether a player committed a flop is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact.”

Sounds simple enough. We all know a flop when we see one, right? Here’s what isn’t a flop, according to the NBA:

“Physical acts that constitute legitimate basketball plays (such as moving to a spot in order to draw an offensive foul) and minor physical reactions to contact will not be treated as flops.”

There are some seriously suggestive adjectives at work here including, namely “legitimate” and “minor.” It’s important to note that the NBA is not doing more to eliminate taking a charge as an acceptable defensive strategy. Really what it comes down to is acting, and there are few more subjective arts than theater.

It should also be noted that the block/charge call is the hardest for officials to call correctly. The NBA refs are on no one’s holiday card list, but if you think they screw it up more than they should, watch a college game and try not to go crazy with the inconsistent application of the rule.

The league will determine whether a play crossed the line by a video review after the game, so there won’t be any stoppages during games and refs won’t be reviewing their own calls. This is clearly a deterrent policy, as opposed to an out and out rule change. The fines are as follows:

Violation 1: Warning
Violation 2: $5,000 fine
Violation 3: $10,000 fine
Violation 4: $15,000 fine
Violation 5: $30,000 fine

More than five violations could result in even stiffer penalties including an increased fine and/or a suspension that is, “reasonable under the circumstances.” That last part opens up a fun-house mirror of subjectivity that could create its own problems.

Still, the idea is reasonably clear. Flopping is bad. Fans hate it, players hate it, refs absolutely hate it, and while the fine isn’t a financial backbreaker, the stigma associated with being known as a serial flopper could be even more of a deterrent than whatever “reasonable” punishment awaits after that fifth violation.

Will the new rules eliminate flopping? Of course not. Players sell contact because it works and the art of the sell has long been a part of the game. It is, however, a tacit acknowledgement by the league that it’s become a problem and even a cosmetic change is welcome.

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