“The entire regular season is about gamesmanship and trying to fool the refs. It’s up to us as a league. Do we want to fix this?” Those were the words of Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr during playoff season in May 2023. About 2 months later, the NBA started experimenting with a new flopping penalty during July’s Summer League. Shortly thereafter, the NBA Board of Governors green-lighted the rule to officially take effect on a 1-year trial basis during the 2023-24 NBA season.
Looks like the league heard Steve Kerr loud and clear. But did they really? Is the NBA flopping penalty really something that Adam Silver and league officials ever intended to take seriously? Or is it just a toothless rule meant to assuage Kerr and the countless other NBA fans, players, coaches, and media members who continue to regurgitate the same dramatic lines about how flopping is “ruining the game” or making it “unwatchable”?
This Rule is a Total Flop
The rule really hasn’t been enforced much through the first few weeks of the 2023-24 NBA season. Sure, there were a couple of in-game flopping penalties called during Summer League and a quick flurry of 5 or so calls in the first few days of the regular season. But since then? It’s been easy to forget that the new NBA flopping penalty rule even exists, especially with the much more prominent presence of the other 2 new NBA features in the In-Season Tournament and the additional coach’s challenge rule.
An NBA referee can call a flopping penalty when a player engages in a “theatrical physical act” designed specifically to trigger a foul call against an opposing player. The player would then receive a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul and the opposing team would get to shoot one free throw. Those are the terms of the rule.
It’s easy to assume that there have been so few flopping penalties called precisely because the rule has done what it was intended to do—dissuade players from flopping through its mere existence as a rule. I don’t buy this argument for a few reasons.
First, because that’s just not how players approach officiating in any sport. It’s generally advantageous to play aggressively, bumping up against the rules to see how much you can get away with until the refs start actually enforcing things. You adjust your play style based on where the refs are drawing boundaries, but first you have to find where those boundaries are. A few games worth of flopping calls at the very start of the season is not enough to accurately gauge the level of scrutiny that officials intend to apply. In short, I would expect to see many more instances of flopping penalties being called before players started backing off and actually making a noticeable effort to flop less.
The second reason I don’t think the NBA flopping penalty rule has actually made players think twice about flopping is because the penalty itself is actually not that devastating. Because it’s a non-unsportsmanlike tech, it doesn’t count toward the player’s unsportsmanlike tech totals which can eventually result in game ejections or suspensions. So, if you get caught flopping, you cost your team potentially one point and yourself $2,000. But, if you don’t get caught, you could earn your team potentially two points. Seems to me like a risk that’s still worth taking in many situations.
Lastly, I don’t think the flopping penalty has cut down on flopping attempts because, quite simply, I’m still seeing them occurring and going uncalled, even in the case of certain known serial offenders (*cough* *cough* Chris Paul). Just ask De’Aaron Fox, who has already put together an impressive highlight reel of impressions of his adversaries’ (*cough* *cough* Chris Paul again) flops. Remember over the summer when we all joked about how players X, Y, and Z were all going to end up bankrupt because of all the fines they were about to rack up with the new flopping penalty in place? Well, I’m still waiting to see that happen.
Is Flopping Really a Problem in the NBA?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to see NBA referees call more flopping penalties—quite the contrary. I think the rule is silly to begin with. I don’t think flopping is ruining the game or making it unwatchable, and I certainly don’t think it’s where we should be focusing our attention in terms of officiating-related rule changes. Players embellish on penalties and fouls in many sports simply because the refs can’t be everywhere at once. Refs miss legitimate foul calls all the time. Sometimes, it just makes sense to sell things a bit.
Flopping only becomes a problem in sports when it’s rampant and excessive, and frequently employed during plays when there are no legitimate grounds for calling a foul or penalty. Disagree with me if you will, but I just haven’t been seeing that in the NBA. Sure, I hear this opinion voiced a lot, but I really don’t see it—certainly not to the extent that it’s ruining my basketball-watching experience. There are, of course, exceptions, games in which flopping gets out of control, but I don’t think it’s uncommon to see a full NBA game in which there are no real blatant flops that catch my attention.
Fix the Bigger NBA Issues, Please
What is ruining the game for me is the frequency of eons-long stoppages for challenges and official reviews. If the criteria for overturning a call on the floor is “clear and conclusive proof” that the call was incorrect, why does it so frequently need to take 5 or more minutes, multiple commercial breaks, and a million different camera angles to adjudicate? For the love of god, give the refs a 30-second time limit to make a decision. If by the end of that time, they still can’t come to a consensus, just keep the call on the floor as is and get back to the game.
Who knows how the flopping penalty will play out during the rest of the regular season and throughout the playoffs? Maybe the NBA referees will start calling them more consistently and maybe it will prove to be a good thing for the league. But for now, I’m not seeing it as anything other than a hollow distraction from bigger problems facing the league’s officiating, which has suffered from low levels of approval relative to other sports for years.
So next time you’re about to watch an NBA game this season, do me a favor and try to clear your mind of all the noise around how much flopping is ruining the league. Approach the game from an unbiased perspective and then, when the game is over, ask yourself, “What bothered me most about that game? What is the thing that most got in the way of me enjoying the game?”
A Golden Embarrassment
I did this last night for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers game and you know what I saw? A 3-hour long game plagued by 50+ personal foul calls and dozens of stoppages, including an 11-minute stoppage to fix the game clock with scarcely a minute left in a game that the Warriors had all but conceded by then anyway.
Oh yeah, and a laughable decision on the part of the officiating crew to reward Donovan Mitchell by excusing his blatant retaliatory body check on Draymond Green as a common foul and ejecting Green from the game due to his light bump on Mitchell that occurred almost a minute prior to the actual play they were reviewing. So, no, if there was any flopping in that game, it didn’t bother me. Everything else did. That’s it. Rant over.