NBA has serious case of ‘flopping fever’

In an election year, frequent use of the word “flop” is expected and grudgingly assimilated.
But that particular interpretation of flop is escorted toward its intended destination by the companion word “flip,” and the application serves to define a candidate’s waffling.
The flopping now frequently falling under the NBA’s purview is done to provoke a favorable call by a referee. While it might seem like little more than tactical pluck to casual observers, hard-core hoops fanatics insist we’ve reached the epidemic stage.
If there’s not a website already providing a flopping metric, we’ll probably see one soon.
Anyway, among the frothing watchdogs we find ESPN in-game analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who responded to a skillful flop during the New York Knicks-Miami Heat series with the following indictment:
“It just ruins the game. I’m just sick of it.”
In the, well, heat of that moment, Van Gundy might have given a personal thumbs up if someone had suggested the penalty for flopping should be prison time or a multi-year contract with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Yeah, Van Gundy — and a large percentage of the hoop-watching public — has had it up to here with flopping.
Before taking a closer look at the efficacy of creating a flopping penalty phase, it should be pointed out that flopping is not a new phenomenon. For example, former Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings center Vlade Divac had become a flopping expert before he learned how to blow smoke rings with his trusty Camels (or whatever brand he preferred) as a lad in Europe.
Veteran guard Derek Fisher has been an elite practitioner of the flop for most of his career. Ironically, Fisher recently was victimized by a stellar flop courtesy of 2011 NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Flopping fever has been rampant for a while. Once a strident critic of those who would attempt to mitigate his dominance by falling, Shaquille O’Neal even went that route against Dwight Howard in 2009.
With the 2012 playoffs in full gallop, it certainly seems that players have been strategically falling like never before. Perhaps it has something to do with the NBA’s comprehensively-blamed compacted schedule; the inevitable fatigue could have created enough instability in joints to make it more difficult to remain upright when breathed upon.
But it’s more likely the evolution of the charging call — a really tricky judgment to make in a game played at NBA speed — has produced a growing generation of fall guys. With disparate interpretation of what constitutes “legal-guarding position” lousy upon the basketball land, players at all levels are being rewarded by provoking contact from a ballhandler seeking to dribble penetrate.
As the years have rolled by, charging fouls have been expanded from simple, out-of-control basket attacks to — in many cases — rewards for beaten defenders who lean into contact and launch themselves backward.
Years after high school coaches were installing take-the-charge drills way back in the ’70s, the act of dropping like a shot-gunned dove has been incorporated into defending off-ball screens, re-routing cutters, shooting after a successful pump fake and almost any basketball play we can muster.
As fans, it’s difficult to watch the bowling-alley-style activity on the basketball hardwood and not decide that flopping is having a negative impact on the sport we love.
Unfortunately, legislating the flop out of the NBA could create a bigger headache than the flopping itself.
Back in May 2008, the league announced it would financially ding players for obvious flops and suspend the recidivists. How’s that been working out? Before that, the league painted a dotted line around the basket area, which makes it more difficult to coax a charge near the hoop.
But it hasn’t prevented Manu Ginobili from appearing to run into a Klingon-caliber force field while defending a basic off-ball screen.
Although the league could get tough, look at video and start taking relative chump change from these wealthy athletes in exchange for blatant flops, this probably wouldn’t prevent flops from impacting a particular game. That would require in-game sanctions and more subjective judgments from referees who aren’t exactly missing the flops on purpose in the first place.  
In addition to deciding which was the offending party, refs would have to determine intent.
Not “putting air into the whistle” on an obvious flop might seem like encouraging such behavior, but when the flopper fails to provoke a call, he already has put his team in jeopardy by taking himself out of the play.
One referee contacted for his interpretation of this seeming crisis said the histories of serial floppers such as Reggie Evans, Ginobili and Fisher have made it harder for them to receive a favorable call when they’re legitimately clocked.
With human nature as a variable, being duped with video evidence to prove the duping often prevents these falling fanatics from getting the benefit of future doubt.
So do we sit back, do nothing and become even more bitter about flopping?
FIBA rules allow referees to assess technical fouls to floppers, and soccer entities have attached yellow cards to Oscar-worthy performances from their athletes.
Although putting such a mechanism in place might work in the NBA, I think the world’s best referees already have enough difficult judgments to make.
And if you think NBA refs are anything less, ask a player who worked in another country during the lockout.