Crying Foul on Flopping

Great Game 5 between the Lakers and Jazz last night. One of the key plays of the game – and hot topics of debate – is the Pau Gasol rebound and put-back late in the game that essentially sealed the game for L.A.

Mehmet Okur went flying toward the baseline as Gasol grabbed the ball and at first glance it appeared Gasol pushed off. I’m sure everyone in Utah thought so and Henry Abbott of’s TrueHoop thought similarly until he watched the replay several times.

In truth, it looks like Okur flopped. There was contact but not enough to send a 263-pound man to the ground. Okur should have boxed out better. My old high school coach taught me that. But that’s another story. The point is that the flop was Okur’s next best option. He figured he wasn’t getting the rebound anyway so he flopped.

The referee sees a player falling to the ground. In theory, a player doesn’t fall on his own. Some other force knocks him down there. That is the theory upon which the flop strategy is built. Flopping takes on the appearance of a reaction to an action that didn’t exist. The flopper’s goal is to perform the flop well enough that the faked reaction “must” have been caused by some original action. And that action, while unknown to the ref, “must” have come from the player who probably knocked down the flopper.

Thankfully the referee was not baited by Okur at the end of Game 5. But the bigger question is, why is flopping allowed? It’s designed specifically to draw a foul on a player who did not commit an infraction. With only six fouls to give, one successful flop moves the innocent player 17 percent closer to an unfair disqualification. But that’s not fair. Shouldn’t the flopper be the one who is punished for his shenanigans?

Of course he should. The question is how. The referee has enough to be concerned with. We can’t expect him to judge every collision and bump and decide who’s really being knocked down and who’s falling on their own. It’s hard enough to know a block from a charge sometimes. Adding a flop foul call to the ref’s repertoire doesn’t seem feasible.

But there should be a penalty and it should start with the flagrant flops. There are some plays when (almost) everyone is in agreement on a flop. I’m pretty sure the NBA officials already review every game after it is played to go over calls. If not, they should. So why not make it someone’s job to look specifically at flop situations? If he sees something that is a flagrant flop, the flopping player gets assessed a penalty. And set up a system to hold players accountable.

First flop is a fine. The fine increases with each successive flop. After a certain number of flops (5? 10? 15?), the player earns a suspension. Losing cash and missing games would make players stand their ground more firmly. This needs to happen and the sooner the better.

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