Blame America, not Europe, for the flop

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Blame America, not Europe, for the flop

Postby rlee » Fri Jun 01, 2007 4:15 am

Blame America, not Europe, for the flop
by Dennis Hans / May 15, 2006

Miami coach Pat Riley, upset over the increasing number of offensive fouls called against his center, Shaquille O’Neal, lashed out at foreigners for bringing the flop to the NBA. “In this league,” he said, “it's become an art form, brought, by the way, by the Europeans.”

Alas, not only does Riley sound like the stereotypical “ugly American” with that comment, he’s dead wrong. The flop is as American as Kentucky bluegrass. Maybe Vlade Divac brought a European flair to the stunt when he joined the Lakers – Pat Riley’s Lakers – in 1989, but U.S.-born hoopsters had already been taking dives for decades.

In his 1998 book revealingly titled Values of the Game (p. 149), former senator and Knick Bill Bradley sings the praises of Frank Ramsey, the great Celtic sixth man of the 1950s (and, like Riley, a U. of Kentucky grad): He “could draw an offensive foul by placing his hand behind his opponent’s back (the hand away from the referee) and pulling him forward so that it would appear that the opponent had intentionally run into him. On defensive rebounds, if his opponent had nudged him under the basket so he couldn’t get to the ball, he would simply fling up his arms and fall forward, looking for all the world like a man who had been pushed. Often the referee agreed.”

There are two schools of thought on flopping. The Bradley school –which I would brand ethically challenged – sees such tactics as legitimate and integral to the so-called “game within the game.” There’s the game you play against the opposing team and a simultaneous cat-and-mouse contest with the refs. Painting misleading or even
grotesquely false pictures for the refs to get the whistles to go your way is the heart of this second game.

The Olajuwon-Cowens school – to which I proudly belong – sees basketball as a single game. It doesn’t see a “game within the game,” though it does see some bad apples who cheat. This school is baffled by and disgusted with an NBA hierarchy whose long silence on flopping implicitly condones and encourages cheating.

Back in his playing days, Dave Cowens published a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe denouncing the growing scourge of flopping as bad for the game. But he was more than a man of words. In one game, Mike
Newlin took a dive on Cowens, who got called for a foul he didn’t commit. Enraged, Cowens ran down and flattened Newlin, then yelled at the ref, “Now that's a foul!”

In 1997, the much-admired Hakeem Olajuwon spoke for many when he said of Karl Malone, “The MVP of the league must be legitimate. He can’t be flopping, looking for cheap fouls. It isn’t right. It cheapens the game and it cheapens him.” (St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 1997)

Olajuwon and Cowen have it exactly right, which is why I named a school after them.

The first flopper I remember from my youth is Jerry Sloan. Long before he became the Mailman’s coach and, one presumes, flopping mentor, he was an All-Star and defensive ace for the Chicago Bulls. When the show “Vintage NBA” profiled Sloan, his coach, Dick Motta, recalled fondly how Sloan would flop all over the court. The accompanying footage confirmed that at least one big guard had mastered the phony stagger long before Manu Ginobili arrived from a European league.

Sloan was the hero of the first player I despised – Doug Collins. A “Vintage NBA” show on John Lucas focused on a last-minute Collins flop that cost the Houston Rockets a shot at the 1977 Eastern Conference crown and, according to the show, led to Lucas’s eventual trade to Golden State, where, cut off from his friends and support base, he developed serious problems with alcohol and cocaine that would plague him for a decade. While I’m inclined to cut Collins some slack for Lucas’s substance abuse – it’s possible that flop wasn’t entirely to blame – what led me to despise him was his antics against my favorite player – George “the Iceman” Gervin. Collins didn’t try to guard him; he instead looked for opportunities to take a dive. It was his mission to get Ice into foul trouble and off the court. I recall one play where Collins launched himself into an anticipatory pratfall – the replay showed that Gervin hadn’t come within a foot of the Philly faker. Collins was a Hall-of-Fame talent with Hall-of-Shame values.

As a color commentator on NBC and TNT, Collins repeatedly has sung the praises of guys who flop and flail from incidental or non-existent contact, such as his new TNT colleague, the buffoonish Reggie Miller.

Even Collins didn’t flop as much as Ron Lee of the Suns, the first player to try to turn every single possession into real or imaginary block/charge collisions. Where did Lee learn this “style” of defense? At the University of Oregon under Dick Harter, who would later be a favorite assistant coach of Riley’s.

I was a Washington Bullets fan at that time, and one of their reserves had played for Harter. Greg Ballard was a big burly forward, yet he could convincingly collapse if a fly landed on his shoulder.

When David Stern became commissioner in 1984, Bill Laimbeer was the premiere flopper, which was one reason he was the most hated player in the league. A few seasons later he had an understudy, Dennis Rodman, and their flopping and cheap shots helped put the Detroit Pistons over the top as they won NBA crowns in 1989 and 1990.

The Chicago Tribune’s Sam Smith, in his 1992 book The Jordan Rules (p. 18), observed that Michael Jordan “didn’t care much for Rodman’s play. ‘He’s a flopper,’ Jordan would say disdainfully. ‘He just falls down
and tries to get the calls.’”

Years later, when Rodman joined the Chicago Bulls, Jordan evinced no problem with Rodman’s flopping, which helped the Bulls win three consecutive NBA titles, the first of which came against Seattle. The Sonics were coached by George Karl, who in his 1997 book This Game’s the Best! (p. 20), described Rodman as a “cute cheater” who won Game Two of the 1996 Finals all by himself “just by flopping every time our Frank Brickowski came near him. . . . If Dennis Rodman did this stuff on the playgrounds, you’d punch him.”

Karl now coaches at Denver, where he periodically rails against flopping and comes off as a member of the Olajuwon-Cowens school. But he seems to have swallowed his tongue since acquiring notorious flopper (and
testicles squeezer) Reggie Evans.

Karl and Jordan matriculated at the University of North Carolina. Might they have pursued the same degree – Situational Ethics?

Returning to the present, the occasion for Riley’s comments was Shaq’s statement that he’s facing a proud member of the “flopternity” in Jason Collins of the Nets. Shaq says that Collins likes to bang in the paint, but then he’ll flop when Shaq bangs back. Shaq is right about Collins, though the Net also draws his share of legit, non-flopping charges from the likes of Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, who tend to telegraph their bulldozing “moves” a week in advance.

That bulldozing is one reason Shaq has zero credibility as a critic of flopping, for he has benefited immensely from playing much of his career when refs, for whatever reason, have allowed him to break the rule against dislodging — an allowance not accorded center greats of yesteryear. Another reason to shed no tears for Shaq is that he didn’t object to the flops of teammates Derek Fisher and Robert Horry when their antics were contributing to three Laker championships.

While amnesiac Riley blames Europe for the flop, the reality is that Fisher, Horry, Evans, Collins, Rodman, Ramsey, Lee, Laimbeer, Newlin, Miller and Sloan were born and raised in the USA and taught the game by
non-European coaches. Given that U.S. coaches tout their countless teaching clinics in far-flung lands as instrumental in globalizing the American-born game, perhaps we should see foreign NBA floppers as a form
of “blowback”: Donnie Nelson and other hoop missionaries bring the fundamentals of flopping to Lithuanians, Serbs and Argentinians, who then give it their own twist before gravitating to the NBA.

It’s a depressing thought for subscribers to the Olajuwon-Cowens school, but for the Bradley school it’s all good – fodder, perhaps, for a sappy “NBA Cares” spot, showing how our hoop missionaries teach youngsters the
world over how to con a ref.
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Postby Keith Ellis » Fri Jun 01, 2007 4:10 pm

Now that's my kinda article -- blunt & back-at-cha.

Who the heck is Dennis Hans?
Keith Ellis
 

Who the heck is Dennis Hans?

Postby rlee » Fri Jun 01, 2007 4:21 pm

He writes for HoopsHype.com Here is another of his columns on flopping:

HoopsHype.com Columns

Varejao is Blanche DuBois Defender of the Year
by Dennis Hans / May 29, 2007

Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers has nipped Raja Bell of the Phoenix Suns for the first annual Blanche DuBois Defender of the Year award.

The honor goes to the player who best exemplifies the fundamental characteristics of Ms. DuBois, the tragic figure of Tennessee Williams’ stage and screen masterpiece, “A Streetcar Named Desire”: dependence on “the kindness of strangers” and a preference for “illusion” over “realism.”

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Blanche said it, and Varejao lives it. The strangers he depends on are the NBA’s Rules and Competition Committee (RCC), headed by Executive Vice President Stu Jackson, as well as the referees who enforce the Committee’s rules, interpretations and “points of emphasis.”

As I’ve shown in a series of articles dating back to 2001 (which I recount in this 2006 open letter to Director of Officials Ronnie Nunn), under Jackson’s seven-year stewardship the RCC has shown ever-increasing kindness toward late-arriving or still-sliding help defenders (who will often make a late lateral slide or hop in reaction to evasive action the driver has taken to avoid the charge seeker), whistling innocent offensive players for charging as promiscuously as Blanche slept with young men after her husband’s suicide.

That kindness complements Varejao’s Brazilian b-ball breeding. Despite being long, limber and quick off his feet, the Brazilian was taught as a teen that big-man defense means creating lots of legitimate block/charge (B/C) collisions and collapsing convincingly from incidental contact (more on the latter below). That approach makes sense from a Brazilian national perspective, given that international refs love to call offensive fouls. Yet Varejao has found it even easier to draw them in the NBA. (He led the league with 99 this season despite playing just 24 minutes a game.)

“It’s that [restricted-area] line – if you get into position outside that line, then the official has to give it to you,” he told Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst. “It is harder in FIBA, because they can let it go.''

The other reason it’s so easy is that NBA refs, each of whom is trained to focus his one and only pair of eyes on that line (introduced as a broken line in 1997-98), no longer give proper consideration to when charge seekers “get into position.” Back when common sense reined, a help defender had to be directly in the path before the driver planted for take-off, so the driver would have an opportunity to evade the defender, just as screeners on offense must give a defender sufficient time and space to maneuver around the screen.

Today’s whistle blowers typically don’t take into account where Varejao is when the driver commits; they just want to see that his feet are outside the line and his body is reasonably still at the moment of the collision. That’s a simple standard to meet, one that would allow David Stern to draw 40 charges a season. That standard is largely responsible for an increase in charging calls so dramatic that even recently retired DuBois-style defender Jon Barry and recently fired DuBois-style coach Jeff Van Gundy are appalled and have used their ABC/ESPN platform to lambast the NBA for a rule interpretation straight out of high school or college (which is not to say it’s a good thing for those levels, either).

It’s not surprising that Jackson would preside over this monumental shift. After all, in the 1970s he played for Dick Harter’s University of Oregon Ducks, aka the “Kamikaze Kids,” the most charge-obsessed team in NCAA history. Perhaps Jackson sees it as his noble calling to remake the NBA in the Ducks’ image. Who wants freedom of movement and competitive aerial ballet when you can have a demolition derby and such stars as Amare Stoudemire and Tim Duncan undercut into foul trouble?

The second Blanche characteristic that Varejao and many other hoopsters emulate is illusion.

“I know I fib a good deal,” said the fading southern belle. “After all, a woman's charm is 50% illusion. . . . I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.”

In those lines Blanche captures the spirit of the basketball flopper, who “misrepresents things” to the refs.

Many flops are straight-out fibs, presenting the illusion of a shove or push when what actually happened is that the flopper grabbed, brushed against, leaned on or veered into a foe and then flailed his arms or hurled his body in the manner of a Hollywood stuntman.

Other flops fall in a gray area, as a player will embellish the force of real contact initiated by a foe to persuade the ref that the foe’s contact, as Blanche might say, “ought to be a foul.” Varejao himself admits that "Maybe sometimes I exaggerate on the charge.”

The problem that exaggeration poses for NBA refs is that they are required to distinguish what the league terms legal “marginal contact,” which is a frequent occurrence with ten big bodies moving, jostling and bumping on a congested court, from contact that rises to the level of a foul. That would be a tough task in a league without Blanches, where no one is cynically creating false impressions for the refs. It’s impossible with (1) illusionists on every roster and (2) refs implicitly granting every player a presumption of integrity.

As Nunn has said repeatedly on his alternately enlightening and ridiculous NBA TV officiating show, his refs are trained to judge actions, not reputations, personalities or intent. That official mindset allowed such savvy illusionists as Karl Malone, Doug Collins, Reggie Miller and Vlade Divac to bamboozle refs as easily at the end of their careers as at the beginning. It is why their imitators do as well or better in the playoffs as the regular season: Only the “best” refs officiate in the postseason, and one way for a ref to prove his worthiness to Jackson and Nunn is to look with unbiased, virginal eyes every time Varejao or Bell brushes into a screen and pretends he’s been shot. If it looks like a brutal act by the screener, then surely it must be so.

With so many worthy candidates for the DuBois award – Bell, Devin Harris, Derek Fisher, Desmond Mason, Andrew Bogut, Manu Ginobili, to name a few – what puts Varejao over the top? His ability to bag supposedly protected superstars in big games with his specialty: the well-after-the-pass, still-sliding, irrelevant-to-the-play charge. I first saw him do this last postseason, getting Chauncey Billups in the closing minutes of a tight game. Billups led a fastbreak, saw Varejao, dished off and veered leftward. Varejao paid no heed to the ball and the unfolding play; rather, he kept sliding laterally until he eventually wound up in the path of the veering and slowing Billups. This postseason, he’s bagged Jason Kidd (at a key second-half moment of Game 1, wiping out a Josh Boone layup) and Vince Carter.

Back in the decades before Commissioner Stern thought it would be a swell idea to give an important job to Jackson, refs would tend to ignore such contact or call a foul on the sliding, ball-ignoring defender. Not today. The Cav’s curly-haired cutie has cast a spell over NBA refs and their supervisors more mesmerizing than the one Blanche DuBois cast over Stanley’s friend Mitch. Varejao is a worthy recipient of the award that bears her name.

Dennis Hans’s essays on basketball – including the styles, rhythms and fundamentals of free-throw shooting – have appeared online at the Sporting News and Slate. His writings on other topics have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald, among other outlets.
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All-NBA floppers

Postby rlee » Thu Jun 07, 2007 8:56 pm

All-NBA floppers
byThomas Neumann, ESPN.com
It's not a stretch to say that these are the glory days of flopping in the NBA.

The tactic was a heated topic of debate in many playoff series this season, including Spurs-Suns, Spurs-Jazz, Cavaliers-Pistons, Pistons-Bulls and Bulls-Heat.

Even 325-pound Shaquille O'Neal took a couple tumbles after collisions with far lighter players this postseason.

"We're all floppers," Bulls forward P.J. Brown said last month. "We're all out there flopping. Some of us are better actors than others."

"Flopping is an art," former All-Star Dominique Wilkins told Page 2's Patrick Hruby last year. "You have to go home and practice it in the mirror. I don't fault guys for it. Especially against great big guys. It's a smart move. For an older veteran, it can be the only advantage you have."

Beginning Thursday night, two of the game's pre-eminent divers -- San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Cleveland's Anderson Varejao -- will showcase their skills on the game's grandest stage as the NBA Finals tip off. Just for the occasion, Page 2 decided to rank the game's greatest flop artists:

1. Bill Laimbeer A cornerstone of the famed "Bad Boys" championship teams in Detroit, Laimbeer was vilified around the league for his aggressive play, head games and the trademark "Laimbeer flop." He was the most hated player in the league during his heyday. Legendary Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most dubbed him, simply, "The Flopper."

A sampling of memorable Laimbeer moments:

- Accused by Chris Webber on Nov. 28, 1993 of flopping on a rebound attempt 70 seconds into the game, then sticking his leg out and causing Webber to sprain his ankle and leave the game -- the only scoreless regular-season appearance of Webber's career.

- The Mavericks reportedly once used clips of Laimbeer flops as an instructional tool.

- Accused by Portland's Kevin Duckworth of flopping throughout the 1990 NBA Finals.

- His flopping performances in nearly every playoff matchup against Robert Parish and the Celtics in the mid-to-late 1980s are legendary.

During the 1989 Eastern Conference finals against Chicago, Laimbeer somewhat acknowledged his use of flopping but said he had moved on.

"You can't pin that on me now," Laimbeer told the Washington Post. "You don't hear about me flopping. Now I'm just a dirty player. What happened was, instead of me falling back and trying to draw the foul, I just started hitting people. It's not malicious or dirty, it's just that now there's a collision instead of me falling."

2. Vlade Divac Divac was the forefather of the European flop movement, a man ahead of his time. He entered the NBA in 1989 as a horrible defender, and his Lakers teammates -- most notably Magic Johnson -- demanded improvement. "Most of the time, I flopped because I wasn't strong enough to stand up against everybody who was so physical," Divac told the Orange County Register in 1995, referring to his early NBA career.

The Lakers benefited from Divac's flops through the 1995-96 season, after which he was traded to the Hornets for the rights to Kobe Bryant. But they soon found the tables turned when Divac joined the Sacramento Kings in 1998. Who could forget the images of Divac's body flying to and fro in a flopping fiesta in the 2002 Western Conference finals? "I don't know what is flopping," Divac said in a 2002 ESPN.com article by Marc Stein. "I think Derek Fisher does a better job of that than I do. It's taking a charge. It's for the refs to decide. &#133 I'm going to play like I've been playing my whole career."

3. John Stockton He's severely underrated in the flopping department, perhaps due to his choirboy appearance and playing late games for so many years in a small market. But anyone who watched more than a little Western Conference hoops in the 1990s knows the flop was a staple in Stockton's bag of tricks.

"He's one of the great floppers in the league," longtime NBA analyst Steve Jones told the Salt Lake Tribune in 2001. "He knows how to get into a guy's head."

Even Divac tried to defer to Stockton in the art of the flop: "John's the best," Divac told a Sacramento radio station in 2003. "They told me I'm the Oscar winner for flopping, but hey, everything goes to John!"

Interesting how Stockton didn't seem to get nearly as many calls in his favor, though, when the Bulls came calling in the 1997 and '98 Finals.

4. Reggie Miller Miller is unquestionably the greatest offensive flopper in NBA history, and also the most vocal member of this list.

He spent almost as much time lobbying the officials as he did feigning victimization. Miller perfected the art of drawing contact in midair -- sometimes with an extra little kick at the end of a jumper -- and often found his way to the floor despite barely being grazed.

Said former NBA guard Rex Chapman during a 2004 TNT telecast: "Reggie is, without a doubt, now that John Stockton has retired, the best flopper in the game."

5. Dennis Rodman A supporting cog to Laimbeer in the annoyance department for two NBA champions in Detroit, Rodman went on to win three more rings with the Bulls -- thanks in part to the skills he learned from Laimbeer. But Rodman didn't think of himself as a flopper during his days in Detroit.

"Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn are the Bad Boys, and it seems like I get lumped in there, too, because I do all these antics that people get teed off about," Rodman told the Washington Post in 1989. "I bet if I were on another team, people wouldn't do that to me or feel that way about me."

Rodman eventually mastered Laimbeer's head games and the art of calling timeout while falling out of bounds with the ball. He also developed into quite an actor &#133 and we're not talking about "Double Team." By the time he played for the ABA's Tijuana Dragons in 2005, however, his skills had diminished slightly.

6. Manu Ginobili The fifth-year Spurs guard has long been accused of flopping, but the criticism intensified exponentially during this season's playoff run. The list of people who have recently accused Ginobili of flopping includes Ray Allen, Cuttino Mobley, George Karl and Tony Kornheiser.

In 2005, Allen was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying Ginobili's "hair goes all wild, and it looks like someone just murdered him. Those fouls aren't that hard."

The Spurs' hometown newspaper even felt compelled to probe Manu's flopping reputation. Could he be mentoring his Argentinian countryman, Fabricio Oberto, in the ways of the flop the way Laimbeer did for Rodman? Stay tuned.

7. Anderson Varejao Ginobili has the reputation, but Varejao has the stats. Varejao led the NBA in drawing offensive fouls this season -- with more than triple Ginobili's total. Varejao might have even made a tacit admission to flopping last week.

"My team just tries to be in good position all night, to take a charge," Varejao was quoted in the Detroit Free Press. "Maybe sometimes I exaggerate on the charge."

So who is the biggest flopper currently playing in the NBA, Ginobili or Varejao? This Finals series will answer the question once and for all. For the record, Cavs star LeBron James doesn't think Varejao is a flopper.

"He's taking physical charges," James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this season, with a straight face. "He doesn't flop at all."

But if you see the Brazilian go flying during the Finals, keep in mind that it ought to be difficult to move him -- he's 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, and he's no sissy.

8. Danny Ainge Just to clarify: We're talking only about on-court flopping here. Flopping in the front office doesn't count. Nevertheless, not to be totally outdone by Laimbeer in the flopping department, the Celtics had their own representative among the NBA's elite.

Ainge could be just as demonstrative as -- and far whinier than -- Laimbeer in trying to sell a foul to referees. Just like Laimbeer had a flopping sidekick in Rodman, Ainge had Jerry Sichting. After winning two championships and playing for the better part of eight years in Boston, Ainge kept the dive alive during flops stops in Sacramento, Portland and Phoenix.

9. Raja Bell Bell is a rising star in the flopping ranks -- and a successful one at that, considering his first selection to the NBA All-Defensive team this season. He led the NBA in offensive fouls drawn in 2005-06 and ranked fourth this season.

"What he does, he plays you real tight and he holds on to you, and when you try to get him off, the minute you throw him off, he flops," Sonics guard Ray Allen told the Arizona Republic. "It's his game."

With moves like these, Bell is making a strong push for the "best active flopper."

10. Robert Horry Besides hitting all those famous, game-winning shots, Horry also has a healthy reputation for flopping. Of course, he denies it.

"Apparently, one of the guys with a reputation for flopping is me," Horry told the Orange County Register just prior to the flop-filled 2002 Western Conference finals. "At least, one referee called the block on me because he said I do it all the time. &#133 What they need are taller refs. When the guard sets the pick and knocks you out of bounds, the ref can't see it."

You can deny it all you want Robert, but the proof is in the pudding.

Honorable mention Shane Battier -- He's perhaps the most prominent of the Duke flopping fraternity, but even Battier never, ever flopped this badly.

Andrew Bogut -- The only No. 1 overall draft pick in this group, Bogut is a long way from scaling the summit of Mt. Divac in the pantheon of low-post floppers. But he's off to a good start.

Bruce Bowen -- For many seasons, Bowen was accused of being a flopper. Now he's accused of being a dirty player. Bowen has also been named to the All-Defensive first team each of the past four seasons. You make the call.

Sam Cassell -- He's still the best offensive flopper in the game today, although Dwyane Wade made quite a push for that claim with this move.

Reggie Evans -- When he's not , uh, inappropriately touching opponents, he's getting in his flops. "Reggie Evans would definitely get best actor in the league," former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle. "I am so sick of watching that guy flop I can't stand it. It is an absolute disgrace what he does."

World B. Free -- Reggie Miller may have perfected the "get the defender in the air and jump into him" strategy, but Lloyd, er, World B., originally brought the strategy into vogue.

Derek Fisher -- Contrary to what Divac said, Fish doesn't do a better job at flopping than Vlade. But Fisher has flopped with regularity throughout his career, in part to make up for a speed disadvantage against many opposing guards.

Richard Hamilton -- Rip has taken the torch from Reggie Miller in the "creating contact in midair" department. Hamilton might hit the deck even more often than Reggie did. (Reggie never needed a mask.)

Karl Malone -- Malone is the No. 2 scorer in NBA history and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He also hit the floor with alarming regularity for a 260-pound, muscle-bound power forward. Malone parlayed his acting ability into a pro wrestling payday in 1998, teaming with Diamond Dallas Page against Hollywood Hogan and Dennis Rodman. It's also nice to see he intends to be a mentor for future floppers at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech.

Andres Nocioni -- No word on whether Nocioni works on his technique with his countrymen, Ginobili and Oberto, but it's interesting that Argentina has apparently become a hotbed for this tactic of late. "[Nocioni] flops a lot," Pistons forward Antonio McDyess told the Chicago Tribune last month. "He just annoys you."
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