LeBron James was just fined $5,000 for exaggerating his physical reaction to contact, allegedly for the purposes of drawing the referees to call a foul on the opposing player. The league also handed the same fine to two of his opponents in these NBA eastern conference finals, Lance Stephenson and David West of the Indiana Pacers.
James and West’s fines pertain to the incident in Wedensday’s game in the video above. James has long been accused of this act, which is known in basketball as “flopping.” Come playoff time, news media and fans alike often question him and other players, like the Houston Rocket’s James Harden, for going to the ground too easily over what could be deemed “marginal contact.” Now that the NBA has officially vindicated these critics, it is appropriate to defend Lebron and other players for this seemingly appalling act of flopping.
If you have ever watched soccer, you may be familiar with seeing a grown man with a Mohawk or mullet rolling around on a bed of grass, holding his head in "agony," all because somebody coughed in his general vicinity. In the world’s game, this is known as "diving" or, officially, "simulation." It is so prevalent that officials have both punitive measures (a yellow card, a fine) and even a hand signal that indicates doubt from a referee to a player who may have brought himself to ground (two hands moving upward: “Get up, son, it’s not a foul”). Players do it to maintain possession, they do it to draw a possible penalty or free kick, they do it to spite opponents, they even do it to waste time at the end of game. It is despicable and even amusing at times, as the video below indicates.
But, there are other intentions to the dive and the flop that are less reprehensible. Sometimes footballers fall to ground and crouch in the fetal position, perhaps in a moment of sheer frustration. Often, players can be seen panting furiously, and may be catching their breath before getting up. The best defenders in all contact sports are masters of the dark arts, so to speak, and can sneak a dirty tug, pull, elbow, or trip without triggering the referee’s attention. To get the benefit of the whistle, offensive-minded players like LeBron James or Christiano Ronaldo feel it is necessary to "sell the call."
In the case of LeBron and many other star players, there is a semblance of safety in simulation. People wonder why a player of James’ strength falls so easily sometimes, perhaps it is because he recognizes the danger staying up might pose. If you try and break through a tangle with an opponent you might end up pulling an extremity in an odd direction, and may go to ground anyway, but without control.
Competitive, professional athletes make a target (or, last year in the NFL, a monetized bounty) on ace players, and they will not mind if he has to go off the court because of an injury as result of their aggressive play. Charles Barkley has spent this entire playoff season championing hard fouls.
“There is nothing wrong with that,” he loves to say about a knock-down play at the rim. His attitude is old school but not outdated: hard, clean, foul is a crucial part any physical sport, but, “playoff fouls” really do run the gamut, ethically speaking. Is it fair for Sir Charles, or anybody else to place so much moral outrage on flopping, the natural opposite to the sinister side of defense?
Lastly, LeBron himself basically alluded to an admission of strategic flopping on his part, saying, “Some guys have been doing it for years, just trying to get an advantage. Any way you can get an advantage over the opponent to help your team win, so be it."
This quote came from Lebron after a game Monday. It is hardly a coincidence that this fine is attached to the very next game he played, on Wednesday. It is well known fact that NBA Commissioner David Stern runs a very controlling operation, but this moment of honesty from LeBron could just as easily be the cause of the fine as the actual moments in question. Perhaps by old standards, James should have kept his mouth shut, lest he anger the Kremlin of basketball. But, King James is a new governing body, in a way, and the advent of flopping is just his way of doing things sometimes, and we may resent him, but we will never be bored of him.