The NBA has a problem. The flopping is out of control. And not just the kind where a guy gets brushed and falls down like he's been shot kind of flopping. The kind that Anderson Varejao, Manu Ginobili and Derek Fisher are all known quite well for.
No. Now the NBA, thanks to Miami Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in this year's playoffs, has to deal with guys flopping without even being touched. Exhibit A came in the Bulls series. Exhibit B occurred when Wade nailed Dallas Mavericks' Jason Kidd with the phantom flop in Game 3 of the Finals. And then last night LeBron got another call without being touched:
It's a major problem. Because like Jeff Van Gundy said in the broadcast, it's turning parts of the game into a farce. When a player can just flail because he knows the referee is obscured and he can get a call, it cheapens the game and it makes NBA officials look worse than they already are. The NBA needs to come up with a solution, and they need to do it quickly. Here are three things that can be done immediately to make sure this doesn't become a trend.
1: Punish the players
The players are purposely deceiving the officials and violating the spirit of the game. Excessive acts meant to deceive the officials should come with punishment. Therefore, a fine and a retroactive technical foul should be assessed to the offending player. If you hit the player in wallet and start tacking on technical fouls that could (if the player reaches seven in the postseason) lead to a suspension, players will think long and hard about acting like they've been punched when no one was within two feet of them.
2: Punish the refs
Let's face it. These are the most blatant examples of refs calling what they think, not what they see. And their job is to call what they see. Referees who blow the whistle and give that call need to be disciplined because they are anticipating plays rather than officiating the game. Any sort of fine or removal from the playoff officiating rotation (which can really hurt the bank account) will ensure officials go back to doing what they should be doing: observing the game action and looking for infractions of the NBA rule book. Bottom line: if you don't see the foul happen, you don't blow the whistle.
3: Add a fourth official
Part of the reason refs anticipate calls is because the action has gotten too fast and the players have gotten too big. Look at the 1980-81 NBA Champion Boston Celtics. That's only 20 years ago but the team was full of thin guys who'd have to think for a minute when you asked them where the weight room was. Now take a look at LeBron James, who is a 6'9" behemoth who'd make NFL linebackers cringe were he a tight end on a crossing pattern. These guys are bigger and faster than ever. So a fourth official would allow more fouls to be seen, or, in this case, waved off. They could position themselves in a diamond-shaped pattern so there is a roaming official at the top of the key and on the baseline, with two others on the sidelines angled to see more of the action. This way, when someone pulls what LeBron or Wade did, someone is much more likely to see it and wave off the foul.
These are three very simple measures to take that could eliminate a very disconcerting problem. Two of these could be instituted immediately so we don't see them again in the Finals. Because wouldn't the ultimate embarrassment be that a Game 7 comes down to a blown call because LeBron James is too good of an actor? David Stern doesn't want his league to turn into the WWE, so he's got to do something about this problem, and he's got to do it now.