An article by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger stirred up discussion Tuesday, featuring a quote by LeBron James about flopping that’s as telling as the league’s meager attempts to curb it:
“Guys have been accustomed to doing it for years, and it’s not even a bad thing. You’re just trying to get the advantage. Any way you can get the advantage over an opponent to help your team win, then so be it.”
Then, Tuesday night, this happened, a flop so fantastic it managed to momentarily distract me from Joey Crawford’s insufferable refereeing. This isn’t meant to come down solely on LeBron (and he’s not even the only person flopping there, David West is doing some fabulous acting of his own in that gif). While I loathe flopping, I’m not going to sit here and pretend Pierce’s aptitude for embellishment hasn’t been an asset for the Celtics in the past, the patented Pierce ‘drive and flail’ is an integral part of his offensive game. What I do have an issue with is the league’s half-hearted attempts to stifle the flopping epidemic. Let’s go on a bit of a tangent for a moment.
I love watching the World Cup. Even though the US men’s team is relatively terrible, I find the event tremendously entertaining and watch almost every game. The one blemish on the event is the gamesmanship (flopping). So since I’m an unwashed American who calls the game soccer instead of football, I decided to ask my friend Kyle for some perspective on ‘gamesmanship’.
“On paper it’s always frowned upon [but] it’s often a smart move,” Kyle said, “especially if the other team is surging. Even if it is kind of a [naughty-word] move.”
Sounds like just another way to “get the advantage over an opponent to help your team win.”
I’m going to stop talking about soccer before I embarrass myself, but the point is this: The NBA had an opportunity to follow FIFA’s precedent and sell flopping as gamesmanship–an unsavory but inevitable part of the game of basketball. Instead, they chose to implement a crappy fine system, which I loathe more even more than the act it’s supposed to eliminate. The fines for flopping are trivial and heavily weighted in favor of superstars.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the league were to determine LeBron flopped Tuesday night (Note: I would be shocked if this happened). LeBron would be fined $5,000. This year, in salary alone, LeBron is making $17.545 million (tied for the ninth highest salary in the NBA). The ever-reliable Wikipedia tells me that the average US household brings in about $50,000 a year (we’re rounding, I like rounding). This means LeBron would essentially be fined an amount equivalent to $14 for the average person, and that’s ignoring the tremendous amount of money his endorsements bring in. For comparison, Paul Pierce didn’t make much less, his fine would be equivalent to about $15. That is ridiculous. The penalty for fining is so infuriatingly miniscule that the potential rewards far outweigh the risk.
I’m a firm believer that until the punishment is meaningful (and the league’s gone too far to backpedal on pursuing the issue now) flopping will continue to be a problem in the NBA, so I propose one of two solutions:
Increase the fines and make them scale. This is, admittedly, an unlikely idea, but if the league is determined to stick with fining players, at least have the fines make sense. An NBA minimum salary is about $500,000 (again we’re rounding) so a $5000 fine is roughly 1%. What if players were fined based on their salary, so LeBron’s flop would cost him $175,450? What if the percentage was higher, maybe even as great as 5% (thats $877,250 out of LeBron’s pocket). You could argue it isn’t fair, but neither is the systemic bias the current fine system has towards high-earning players.
Suspend players. I think this is a much more likely solution (I don’t know if its a better one). Most NBA fans remember Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw’s suspensions for leaving the bench during the 2007 playoffs. I certainly didn’t like it at the time but its hard to argue that it wasn’t effective: nobody leaves the bench anymore. Maybe, the league should warn players the first time, and enact a suspension for the second offence, but that’s something a person smarter than me should be figuring out.
Implementing these policies effectively is still a major task to accomplish and I’m not going to pretend to know the logistics that factor into a decision like this. I’m not even certain what constitutes a flop, and if you ask ten different people you’ll probably get ten slightly different answers. But I do know that the league’s current policies are comically ineffective, and as flopping becomes an increasingly large topic of discussion I have to think there’s a better solution than docking LeBron James $14.
Follow Jordan on Twitter: @HiggsOnHoops