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Why do NBA players flop so much?

Basketball is a contact sport, and NBA players are some of the most physically gifted athletes in the planet. Removing physicality from the game is contradictory to the nature of the sport, but over the years, a lot of the physicality (or what has been deemed to be excessive physicality) has been reduced from the game. While it has resulted in a more “clean” game, the reduced physical nature of the NBA game has also led to the rise of flopping.

Why do NBA players flop so much? Flopping is an act of exaggerating physical contact, or acting as if there has been physical contact when there hasn’t been any, in order to draw a foul. The reason why NBA players may choose to flop is to draw a foul, which may earn them free throws or possession of the ball, as well as land the opposing player in foul trouble. NBA players also choose to flop because many argue that flopping is not an act that is heavily punished by NBA referees or the league itself, hence it becoming more common in today’s game.

What distinguishes a flop from a foul?

A foul is usually classed as an act that is physical in nature, and particularly, physical in a way that it is considered illegal or excessive. This may be striking, pushing, pulling, or holding a player in a way that is judged to impede the player illegally, among other actions. A flop is considered a [exaggerated] reaction to little or no physical contact, in what should not be called as a foul.

Distinguishing a flop from a foul is often difficult, because the call is subjective. While egregious flops are easy to call out, “minor” flops have become the part of a many players’ games, and are much more difficult to distinguish in real-time.

Why is flopping bad?

Many players, coaches, and fans look down upon flopping as being an unsportsmanlike act: in its essence, flopping is a way to deceive the referee and gain an unfair advantage by receiving possession, receiving free throws, and/or awarding the opposing player a “false” foul. Many also see it as a “cop-out” for players who can’t cope with the physicality of the game or want to draw a call due to their shortcomings: for example, a player might not be able to advance past a screen so they flop in hopes of drawing a foul call, rather than be exposed on defense. Overall, most people who dislike flopping dislike it as shameless, not-at-all appropriate behavior for some of the biggest and strongest athletes in the world.

Others, including many players, say that while flopping isn’t ideal, it’s just another way to get an advantage to win the game. These players do not feel that it’s the player’s fault for choosing to flop, especially since they are often rewarded for it  and the true fault lies at the hands of the officiating crew for misjudging the call. Flopping is not uncommon in other sports, especially soccer (some even claim that the arrival of international players in the NBA, from countries where soccer is popular, was a factor in the increase of flopping).

What is the punishment for flopping?

The NBA has often held an anti-flopping stance, but only introduced fines and suspensions for flopping starting with the 2012-2013 season, after growing concerns around the league that flopping was becoming a common occurrence and a cause for concern. The NBA begun fining players in the regular season, first providing a warning for flopping, then fining players $5,000 for a first flopping offense, and an increase of $5,000 with each further flopping offense. A fifth flopping offense would earn them a $30,000 fine, and a suspension would be considered for repeat offenders.

Players participating in the NBA Playoffs would receive a $5,000 fine for their first flopping offense, a $10,000 fine for their second flopping offense, a $15,000 fine for their third flopping offense, and a $30,000 fine for their fourth flopping offense. Flopping offenses caught in-game result in a technical foul for the player (these technical fouls are different; 6 of these fouls will result in an ejection rather than 2). A fine is given to players if the flopping offense is reviewed and identified after the game.

Critics have argued that the fines for flopping are too light, and it has not deterred players from flopping; then-NBA Commissioner David Stern himself echoed these sentiments. In the season where flopping fines were introduced, 24 fines were given, with 5 of them being given to second-time offenders. However, in recent years, fines for flopping have become less common, although Patrick Beverley received a $5,000 fine for flopping in the 2021-2022 NBA season.

How can flopping be removed from the game?

Flopping cannot be removed from the game, but rather, it should be punished more strongly. As noted by many, the fines have not deterred players from flopping, especially when it can and has swing games in the flopper’s favor. Referees need to be more aware of flopping characteristics, and award flops more frequently. Introducing stronger fines and suspending players quicker (for example, after the 3rd offense rather than the 5th offense) seems to be a strong tactic. Also, a “name-and-shame” approach that negatively connotated flopping to a player’s reputation may be an effective tactic.

Flopping is widely agreed upon as an unsportsmanlike conduct that is not good for the game of basketball, nor is it entertaining to fans; removing it from the game seems to be a high priority for them. A small portion of the basketball world, many of which are players, are not as anti-flopping as the rest; they see it as just another tactic to gain a competitive advantage. While the NBA has taken some measures to deter flopping, it has not been as effective as it should be. To put it simply, NBA players flop so much because it works. If the NBA comes down harder on flopping, and ensuring that it doesn’t work, flopping will soon be history.