A Flop by Any Other Name

After Manu Ginobili took two charges in the 4th quarter against the Pistons, a debate on flopping started in the comments. It involved both Spurs and Pistons fans and it was friendly and illuminating for the most part. Flopping is a sensitive issue for NBA fans, as we've all been on the wrong side of a call. I've been meaning to write something on the subject for a long while now, and hearing everybody's opinion was just the stimulus I needed to get it done. Here are my thoughts.

I should start by saying that the following aims to address flops on defense, since everybody flops on offense one way or the other. Every single player that drives to the basket or posts up flails his arms and screams like he was getting kicked in the crotch. Whether it's the classic "EHH" or "AND-1", everybody does it so I won't explore that any further. With that out of the way...

Not all flops are equal

When the slightest incidental contact (or no contact at all) is exaggerated to ridiculous proportions in order fool the ref into blowing the whistle, that's simply indefensible. It's cheating, as close as you can get to it without going over the line. There's no reason for doing it other than to get a cheap call and it should be nothing but condemned even if it's one of your favorite guys that's doing it.

Chris Bosh Flop (Worst NBA flop ever) (via webtechdude)

When a guy gets position by moving his feet, takes the contact and exaggerates what is an offensive foul just to make the ref notice, that's a good basketball play. It doesn't matter that the contact is not hard enough to make the player fall; it matters that it was an offensive foul and the ref made the right call. If players where not allowed to do that, penetrating guards would use their off arm to push away and post players would just shove their shoulders into defenders chests. In those situations, the flop is the only way for defenders to make the ref notice the illegal play, nothing more and nothing less.

Greg Oden Offensive Foul on Marc Gasol (Flop) (via FreeOden52)

Flops are incredibly irritating for the team on the wrong side of the call

As Spurs fans we've been lucky to have some great floppers (Bowen, Manu, Horry and Oberto come to mind), but we've also been in the receiving end of an offensive foul call and it just sucks. That's why I understand why opposing fans hate some of our players and even our team and why it's understandable that we complain about it too, even if the ref made the right call. There's something about flopping, especially the theatrical, I've-just-been-shot kind, that rubs most fans the wrong way and I don't see that changing anytime soon. We should take that into account when we scoff at fans of other teams for hating on one of our players. Manu in particular is an easy target because of his histrionics when flopping and because he is not American, which leads me to my next point...

Flopping has been around for decades, is not going to ruin the game and has not been introduced by European players that come from soccer countries.

Watch this clip of Red Auerbach complaining about flopping in all it's "get off my lawn!" glory. That's from the 70s. Auerbach was bitching about how flopping was ruining the league four decades ago and as far as I know, right now basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world; one of the most entertaining spectacles around with an amazing level of play and displays of athletic ability. Nostalgia is a very powerful and often misguided emotion, so it's not surprising that people still reminisce about the good ol' days without realizing that the game has actually improved over the years and that some of the things they identify with today's game (flopping, supertars forcing their way out of teams, only a handful of real contenders) were present back then, too.

The whole "flopping is ruining the league, as silly as it is, is not the most worrisome part of the flopping debate; that would be the xenophobic undertones that are often present. Carlos Morales did a good job of discussing this in an article he wrote for ESPN Latin America, one that was later translated and posted on ESPN and is currently being plagiarized by me. You should read the whole thing because it's really thought provoking.

I can't count how many comments from fans and articles from writers associate flopping with international players. It's almost impossible for someone to write an article about Manu or Anderson Varejao without mentioning that they flop, with some people even defining them by that aspect of their games. Yet those mentions are nowhere to be found when someone is discussing Chris Paul or Paul Pierce. People immediately mention soccer in their diatribes against flopping, not taking into account that it's doubtful that a guy like Derek Fisher picked up his flopping habits from his exposure to that sport. While it's true that international players seem less afraid of the stigma that some Americans assign to flopping, namely a lack of masculinity, and they seem to have a certain distinctive flair when they do it, it is ridiculous and frankly xenophobic to claim that international players are the ones that introduced it into the league or that flopping has increased and become ubiquitous with the influx of non-American players. That clip is from the 70s, an era where the NBA was mostly comprised of American players, and Auerbach thought it was a big enough problem then to get a few players and a former ref to make a video about it, for crying out loud.

Whether its inadvertent or not, it's hard to deny that at least some degree of xenophobia is in play, especially when you consider that the people who complain about Euros flopping are usually the same who think flopping is ruining the game, making it easy to conclude that they believe, by the transitive property, that international players are ruining the game.

I think the discourse has to change when discussing flops. If it's one of those egregious ones where there's no contact, feel free to launch into a rant against the officials and curse the player's name, but if it's just a smart play by the defensive player we should accept it for what it is and remind ourselves that for as many calls that go against us because of flopping, there will be an equal amount that go our way. And for my sanity, please stop immediately relating it to soccer.

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