During the Miami Heat's second-round series against the Chicago Bulls, multiple members of the Bulls, including coach Tom Thibodeau, accused Heat star LeBron James of flopping to earn foul calls, most notably after being shoved by Bulls center Nazr Mohammed on a play that triggered the veteran big man's ejection from a Game 3 Bulls loss. In the days that followed, the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player responded to Chicago's claims with smiles and denials: "I don't need to flop. I play an aggressive game. I don't flop. I've never been one of those guys."
He still swears he's not "one of those guys," though the tape sometimes tells a different tale. But that doesn't mean he doesn't see the point, value and point value of flopping, as evidenced by his answer to a question about flopping posed by CBSSports.com's Ken Berger on Monday, one day after James' brilliant performance in Miami's Game 3 beatdown of the Indiana Pacers and one day before Game 4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse:
"It hasn't been a problem for many guys at all," James said. "I don't really pay too much attention to it. I think it's been good, I guess."
And since we're guessing here, I guess LeBron was talking about the policy itself, not the fact that it has proved to be woefully ineffective at stopping the bane of basketball, the trickery and foolishness that are ruining the games.
"It's year one, so you're not just going to go cold turkey," James said. "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."
From a strategic perspective, of course, James is right — if referees are likely to respond to embellishment and simulation by calling fouls on your opponent, getting you to the bonus sooner and putting the other team's players in foul trouble, there's plenty to be gained by taking a seat. And as Berger notes, the risk/reward calculus tilts pretty heavily toward reward when the financial penalties — even the stricter postseason ones — aren't big enough to take a major bite out of many players' paychecks.
From a competitive standpoint, though, it's kind of a bummer that the best, most talented player in the world is just shrugging his shoulders and saying taking dives is no big deal. I don't have the same level of zeal for anti-flopping efforts as folks like Berger or the TrueHoop gang, and I generally accept it as part of the game and the cost of doing business, but hearing LeBron blithely co-sign the practice as a means of getting the advantage leaves me a bit cold, even if he's right.
It leaves the Pacers on the other end of the temperature spectrum, hot under the collar at the Heat's penchant for embellishment. Last year, Indiana coach Frank Vogel received a $15,000 fine for complaining that officials allow the Heat to get away with flopping; this year, he's more reserved, but struck a similar tone on Monday ("I think it's well documented. I'm not for flopping").
Berger's ire toward the Heat's Game 3 simulation seemed to stem from several plays in the third quarter, when the Pacers fought back to draw within seven points before Miami pulled away for good. Shane Battier kicked things off with a pair of dubious defensive plays, both of which resulted in foul calls:
And Dwyane Wade followed up by trying to earn a call along the baseline, albeit unsuccessfully:
And on the next possession, James himself appeared (even to me) to embellish contact while defending a drive that led to an offensive foul call on Paul George:
Thus far, Battier, Wade and James have all gone without a $5,000 rip from the league. No member of the Heat was penalized during the regular season, which was the first NBA campaign in which the league had a hard-and-fast policy aimed at curbing flopping. Only four players — Derek Fisher, Jeff Pendergraph, J.R. Smith and Tony Allen — have been fined for flopping this postseason.
After James' comments, it'll be interesting to see if the officiating crew of Joey Crawford, Rodney Mott, Derrick Stafford and alternate Bill Spooner are a bit less forgiving of fakery in Game 4. If not, well, I guess we'll see how far each team is willing to take their attempts to "get the advantage."