Together, we can do this. No, we must do this. The problem threatens to destroy the very fabric of a sport we love, and it cannot be allowed to go on unchecked. I speak of a danger more widespread than performance-enhancing drugs, more insidious than bounty systems, more threatening than Metta World Peace's elbows. I am talking about the malignancy that is spreading throughout the NBA: Young men, healthy men, are repeatedly dropping to the ground even though they have barely been touched. We have to put an end to this before the game becomes unwatchable. Let us make it our motto, people: STOP THE FLOP.
With every game the trend grows. In the first-round playoff series between the Knicks and the Heat, LeBron James ran into a pick set by Knicks center Tyson Chandler and proceeded to fall like Sonny Corleone at the tollbooth. It induced the referee to call not just a foul on Chandler, which was warranted, but a flagrant one, which was not. At 6'8" and 250 granitelike pounds, James could probably withstand contact from a speeding Humvee without flinching, but when he bumped into Chandler he snapped his head back and tumbled to the deck so dramatically that you might have scanned the arena for snipers.
The playoffs have become a two-month actors' workshop in which some of the finest, most graceful athletes in the world compete to see who can most convincingly fall down on purpose. Flopping, once a minor annoyance to fans, has become an epidemic, and King James is far from the only one exhibiting symptoms. At a typical Clippers game there are so many bodies strewn on the floor writhing in fake pain that it's like a Civil War reenactment.
If flopping gets any more common, the league might as well turn the games over to judges to decide the winner by rating the dives. During the Hawks-Celtics first-round series, Atlanta forward Josh Smith was nudged by the Celtics' Brandon Bass under the basket and flung himself headlong out-of-bounds, drawing a whistle on Bass. The degree of difficulty on Smith's dive would have made Greg Louganis proud.
Clearly the man to spearhead the Stop the Flop movement is ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, because he rants regularly about the faux falls. "It just ruins the game," he said during a Heat-Knicks telecast, when Miami's James Jones reacted to a mild push-off from New York's Iman Shumpert by falling backward as though lassoed from behind by an unseen cowboy. "I can't believe with all the brilliance we have in the NBA office that we can't find a way to eliminate this part of the game," said Van Gundy, and he is not alone. TNT analyst Chris Webber has called out Clippers star Blake Griffin as an excessive flopper. "He doesn't need all the extra stuff," Webber said during a telecast. "Everybody sees it, and you lose respect."
Those well-known voices will help, but the Stop the Flop campaign needs to start at the grassroots level. Parents need to tell their children the truth about flopping—that it's wimpy and weak to pretend you can be knocked over as easily as blowing out a candle, not to mention borderline unethical to try to deceive the officials so blatantly. Tell little Johnny and Janie that just because Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari gives a flick of his hair to make every hand check look like he just took a jab from Floyd Mayweather doesn't mean they should do it too.
It may be too late for current NBA players to change their ways. Veterans like Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher have been trying to trick officials by hitting the hardwood like Taser victims for so long that they probably take a dive when someone bumps their cart at Safeway. But if we are proactive, we don't have to lose another generation to the flop. The first step could be to start an antiflopping hotline: 1-800-OHGETUP. Public service announcements are also in order: Parents, don't let your babies grow up to be floppers. Kids, remember that friends don't let friends flop. If you're playing one-on-one in the driveway and your buddy goes all jelly-legged on you, like Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili, when you back him in, don't just ignore it. Tell someone—if not his parents, at least his P.E. teacher. Maybe they can help him before it's too late.
Perhaps you think all this is an overreaction, but I took flopping lightly too, until I saw a referee gently push his way past Clippers guard Chris Paul during a stoppage in play the other day. Paul threw up his hands and stumbled backward a step or two as if he'd been so conditioned to flop that he was trying to fool the ref into calling a foul on himself. That's more than a habit, people, that's an addiction. The entire NBA is in need of an intervention.
If the league won't review game tapes and fine players guilty of egregious flops, we may need to appeal to higher authorities. Write your congressman; find out what our leaders in Washington are willing to do to address this national nightmare. America didn't become great, after all, by flopping on defense. Let us all become flop stoppers, and if any NBA players offer resistance, all you need to do is tap them once, lightly. Trust me. They'll go down.
THE NBA PLAYOFFS HAVE BECOME AN ACTORS' WORKSHOP IN WHICH GRACEFUL ATHLETES COMPETE TO SEE WHO CAN FALL DOWN MOST CONVINCINGLY.