Monday, May 21, 2012

NBA's Flopping Superstars: Double Standard or No Standard At All?

The MAMBINO crew (and the general NBA writing populace) has been afire with rage at the egregious and seemingly unending flopping going on in these playoffs. LeBron, Wade, Chris Paul, James Harden and the like have been throwing their bodies around the court as if they got hit by a Rhinoceros rather than a hard screen or an errant forearm from a shooter. Commissioner David Stern has taken notice and there are whispers that a "flopping" committee will be instituted to stop our favorite NBA-ers from being thespians rather than the hard-nosed ballers of yesteryear. 

But the controversy got us thinking, do the NBA superstars get away with flopping because the refs let them operate under a completely different set of rules? Or perhaps everyone does this, but maybe we're just a little too sensitive to our best and brightest flailing about the court? The CDP and I discuss.

The CDP: There's no doubt that the NBA disciplinary committee has had a pretty tough time keeping order in the L this year, with a rash of hard fouls on a mid-air Blake Griffin and lots of tough fouls to officiate. As a Lakers fan, my season was bookended with big Lakers suspensions by stupid fouls from our frontcourt: Bynum's assassination attempt on JJ Barea and Metta World Peace's elbow to the skull of James Harden. At the moment, though, the controversy is all about the Heat. On one hand, you have to admire a team like the Heat's ability to get to the line with their explosive athleticism and deft maneuvering into the paint. Sometimes it's hard to do anything else with LeBron and Wade but foul them. Through obscenely bad flops, constant yammering at the refs, and some Academy Award-caliber acting, it seems like this advantage has been contorted into something else entirely. There's a growing sentiment that the Heat are playing by a whole other set of rules. In one short sequence against the Knicks, LeBron flopped against JR Smith before treating us to one of the worst flops I've ever seen. It swung the momentum of the game and was initially called a Flagrant 2 foul before being downgraded to a Flagrant 1. Poor Tyson Chandler is rightfully incredulous, as is the announcing team, prompting Van Gundy to wonder what kind of league the NBA is becoming where this is a flagrant foul.

What do you think? KOBEsh, do you feel like Kobe gets treated the same way?

KOBEsh: "I figured that shit out at an early age. I've seen Michael Jordan not take one fucking charge and he's healthy his whole career. I don't take charges" - Kobe Bean Bryant

Interesting question. The bottom line here is yes, Kobe's been able to play by a different set of rules from the other mortal guards that occupy our beloved L. In my mind, there's no doubt that Kobe gets extra calls that other players won't get. But there are two conflicting ideas here though - does Kobe get extra calls because he attempts to get them, or does he get extra calls because the referees are keeping an even more judicious eye on Kobe and his defender because, well, he's Kobe?

It's both. Kobe knows that the stripes pay more attention to him, so in turn, he'll accentuate contact when goign up for a shot, or scream loudly in the lane when trying to get to the rack. The Mamba, no different than any other player in the league, wants to get calls and uses it to his advantage that he is a superstar you can't ignore.

The difference betwen Kobe and LeBron, Wade and the ilk here, is that Bryant emphasizes contact, whereas the crew down in Miami seems to be making it up. Bron and Wade react to contact as if someone shot them in the shoulder with a gun forged by God, shot by Moses and then got punched in the penis by Vishnu. The Heat are creating a foul from nothing, rather than Kobe emphasizing one that's actually happening. Obviously we're tremendously biased at MAMBINO HQ, but Kobe has evolved to the point where he only really gets after the refs if he thinks that a call has been egregiously overlooked. It's almost as if he knows he's on his last tank of gas, and can't be expending whatever remaining motor he has left on petty scrums like arguing with the zebras.

I think as a whole, the stars get the calls. That's not surprising. But what's different about Bron and Wade is that they relish this fact and are, in a way, cheating the game in creating an unfair advantage. In a way, their flopping and whining is an allegory to their union in Miami in the first place - in LeBron a guy who would do anything to win a title, even if it meant sacrificing his dignity, respectability and legacy. In Wade, it was the willingness to let go of a rivalry with his only true equal, and acquiescing to the fact that while the Heat will always be his team, he'll never be better than it's second best player. Weak stuff from weak characters.

I've given my two cents here. What do you think is going through their minds when they do this ridiculous flopping and flailing around, like a terrorist sniper actually gave a shit about these two-bit coward basketball players? Do you think that they have any problem becoming the target of every writer and talking head on TV? Or do you think that they feel they're in the right? 

The CDP:  I totally agree with your distinction about Kobe. Although he's gotten to the line less and less over the years, I'd agree with you and put him in a different class of guys that includes Paul Pierce. If they get you with a jab step or a pump fake, they'll gladly take the trip to the line. But they don't flop. The Heat do. It's like they have taken a sacred oath as a team to flop on any and all contact, which has made refereeing them a nightmare. When the Heat flop, the refs have the awkward decision to give the benefit of the doubt to the team of superstars, not call anything and listen to them whine for the next 45 minutes, or actually call a foul for impeding the progress of the opposing player. There's really no good choice there and the Heat are emboldened by no-calls, seeing them as tantamount to a no-risk flopping proposition.

More than that, I think that the Heat have taken a sinister turn and have made themselves into the NBA's most unlikable squad with their behavior. The flopping is just the beginning of it. At this point, they are more like caricatures of villains than a team that people outside of Miami can cheer for. Surprisingly, it's been Dwayne Wade who has taken his turn as Mr. Sunshine and shown that LeBron James has competition for alpha narcissist on the squad. Against the Pacers, Wade has been a real treat to watch...for the haters. In Game 2, he absolutely decked a much smaller Darren Collison from behind, a very dangerous non-basketball play resulting from him being pissed about a non-call. Wade received only a Flagrant 1 foul when he should have been kicked out of the game and suspended if the NBA had any consistency. His foul was identical if not even more dangerous than the foul on Blake Griffin that cost Jason Smith two games. After knocking Collison to the ground, Dwayne "Big Bully" Wade immediately got in his face and tried to start a confrontation. Somehow, Wade avoided a technical foul on top of his Flagrant 1 for both this act and his persistent complaining afterwards.

Wade has also been a real peach in the media and with his team. After the Pacers victory, David West was absolutely hustling his team off the court, but Wade still took exception. Mr. Preemptive Victory Parade had the gall to rip the young Indiana team for a brief display of enthusiasm celebrating what is the biggest victory in most of their pro careers.You're just mad that you've let the Pacers win not 0, not 1, but TWO games so far in this series Mr. Wade. During one of the worst games of your career (Game 3), you decided to take it out on the coach who has supported you unconditionally for years. It's unreal to me that Wade would actually need to be separated from his coach by his teammates like that.

It defies the profile of Wade that has been in the NBA for years as one of the league's likable good guys. I think he's more like LBJ and Melo at this point to be honest. '03 class! It's been really fascinating for me to watch the warts of this Heat squad exposed to the world after Chris Bosh went down. There's no doubt that Wade/LBJ are the stars here, but with its limited frontcourt I feel like this Heat team can only go as far as Bosh's play on the interior will carry them.

To answer your question KOBEsh, I absolutely think they feel like it's in their right. This is the "Entitlement Draft Class" of the NBA and they think that their superior talent entitles them to whatever they can take. You can tell they are genuinely upset when every call doesn't come their way. It's kind of unbelievable. It even feels like they think that the league is just going to lay down for them to take what they see as their destiny. Thankfully, their expectations aren't in line with what their opponents are thinking and they've been smacked in the mouth for the second year in a row.

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