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Ball Don't Lie

Shane Battier says refs tell him to flop, sell contact

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Shane Battier throws a spitball (Sarah Glenn/ Getty).

Last week, when the NBA announced plans to fine players for flopping, the reaction was almost uniformly positive. Fans don't like flopping, what with its foundations in deception, and any attempt to combat it seemed like a good idea. While I have doubts that any flopping policy can be enforced effectively, I also understand why the NBA felt the need to do something. It's an unpopular practice that they want to curtail any way they can.

Players and coaches have also been pleased by the news. However, Miami Heat forward Shane Battier, known as one of basketball best charge-taking defenders during his four years at Duke and 11 NBA seasons, is not so pleased with the idea. From Tom Haberstroh for ESPN.com's Heat Index:

Shane Battier doesn't agree that it's a win for the league. When asked about the new measures to try to combat flopping, Battier delivered an impromptu speech for surrounding reporters. The only thing that was missing was a podium and a campaign banner.

"There's a myriad of issues where you could dissect this proposed rule," Battier said. "There's not a consensus on what a flop is. How much force constitutes a flop? Is a basketball person making that decision? Is an administrative person making that decision? How much is the fine going to be? There's a very gray area. I still maintain that offensive flopping has to be penalizing, too. Let's call it both ways." [...]

"The unfortunate thing about the block/charge [distinction] is that I've had many, many times where a ref told me that you have to go to the floor to get the call. By the letter of the law, I've taken a hit, but I've stood on my feet. Even though I've gotten nailed, the ref calls it a no-call. I say, 'Ref, what's wrong with that [charge]?' He says, 'You have to go down to get the call.'

"Inherently, there's something wrong with that."

[Related: Kobe calls Lakers his most talented team ever]

Battier and I share reservations that it's usually extremely difficult to distinguish between a flop and a legitimate foul, but the really interesting point here is that refs have told him that he must fall to the ground to earn a call for an offensive foul. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, the most prominent and most active crusader against flopping on the Internet, discusses what that means to the refs' credibility:

Now, you might wonder why a referee would do something like that. Here's my best guess: Credibility matters a lot in their jobs. They need to be seen as making good calls. Call a charge on a guy who knocked somebody down, and you're seen as sensible. Call a charge after some contact on a drive which didn't send a body flying, and we all know what happens next: commentators, fans, everybody is screaming to "let them play."

Make a lot of calls that look funny on television, and it quickly becomes very tough to earn a reputation as a great referee. [...]

So if referees want to make calls that look sensible to the people at home, I could see that it would be helpful for a fouled player to make himself look like a player fouled hard. I get how we got here.

Henry makes a good point that referees have to think of their own job security and reputations (even if largely subconsciously), but he also seems to believe that these foul calls are relatively easy to officiate.  Based on what Battier says here, it seems as if the referees are telling him that he must hit the floor in part so they can more clearly notice the contact, not just so it looks more like a foul to the audience. In actuality, the block/charge distinction is one of the most difficult plays to call in the NBA. And while I highly doubt that Battier falls to the ground merely because he was asked, or because of some higher devotion to ultimate truth, he is selling legitimate contact rather than fabricating it wholesale.

Embellishment stretches the truth, but it doesn't necessarily obscure it. When a woman wears lipstick, she paints her lips a different color, but she also brings attention to the lips that are already there. It's deception that reveals an underlying truth, not a pure lie. Similarly, when a player falls to the floor after contact, he's not faking the contact.

Many very smart people believe that this is a flop and that it should be fined, but not everyone believes that to be the case. If the NBA gets into the habit of fining players for this sort of embellishment, they better legislate it fairly across the board. We'll just have to find out if such a plan is feasible.

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