Recently, the good people at Complex brought a video to our attention featuring a tiny rec league player obviously flopping his way to a foul on an inbounds play from the sidelines. The headline reads: “Video of a Little Kid Flopping During a Game Proves That The Future of Basketball Is Probably Doomed.” While headlines — even ours — have a tendency towards hyperbole, the self-righteous anger in the YouTube comments of the video, the we are all doomed tone of the post and the Internet’s general reaction to the various flopping infractions, which occur all the time in the NBA, has got to stop. Flopping isn’t new, either for kids or professionals. As long as there has been athletics, there has been flopping; it’s just that not everyone had camera phones to record such blatant trickery and YouTube didn’t even exist 10 years ago.
Here’s the little kid doing his best Vlade Divac impression, and getting the call before obnoxiously clapping. But, and this is important, he’s a freakin’ little kid.
Now look at these top YouTube comments before I (not the editorial “we”) get into my gripe:
YouTube comments have always been the Internet’s wasteland where people aren’t worried about showcasing their ignorance, racism, homophobia, misogyny and any other prejudices human beings have always exhibited under the protection of anonymity (it used to be death threats in the mail; now we have YouTube comments). It seems YouTube also allows parents to castigate other parents for their children’s behavior, like a particularly onerous PTA meeting.
Is it disturbing to see the kid flop? I suppose. But it’s not the end of the world or a trend in youth basketball — and we realize the author of the post was just thrumming up urgency in the headline for as many viewers as possible, something we do as well. But the post highlights the general fan feeling on flopping. As long as the kid’s parents show him that what he did isn’t good sportsmanship and flies in the face athletic honesty, the kid’s flop isn’t a big deal.
But we, as a basketball-watching populace, need to stop pretending flopping is some new pandemic that’s slowly infiltrated the minds of our children. When I was a kid, my peers would flop. I used to flop playing soccer and basketball in high school (more than a decade ago) because I wanted to win, and I didn’t particularly care if I had to skirt the rules a bit to meet that objective. Obviously, I learned that’s wrong, but I was a teenager and before that a kid — just like the kid in the video above.
This grousing about the kid, or his parents, in the YouTube comments is the exact same behavior that’s infused the angry reaction to flopping in the NBA.
NBA players have always flopped. The exalted 1980s and 90s stars we venerate as some paradigm of fair play these days, flopped too. The 1960s and 70s stars flopped. Everybody flops just like everybody poops.
Do you know how many times Michael Jordan, or Larry Bird or Magic Johnson flopped? More than you’d think. Maybe they weren’t as obvious about it as some in today’s game, but it still happened, and — just like today — there were guys that were better at selling a flop than others. You could even make the case, if you had the time, there was more flopping 10 years ago when compared to the contemporary game because before there wasn’t any flop warning and guys weren’t getting fined after a second infraction. There was no League Pass or YouTube, or even the Internet — at least the iteration we have today — in the 1980s and early 1990s. So unless you were at the game or watching in a local market, you didn’t know a flop was occurring. But like a tree falling in an unoccupied forest, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening (spare me the Plato Cave allegory).
In my personal opinion, after watching basketball over the last 25 years, there hasn’t been any noticeable augmentation in “flopping,” or “selling a foul,” which is what I called it when I was a kid (the theory being that I was just nudging the ref in the right direction). That’s my own observation, but I’m sure people will want to disagree and argue that flopping is the single biggest problem in the NBA today.
I dislike flopping just as much as the next fan, or writer, or journalist, and I watch a lot of basketball so I see more of it than a casual fan might. But no matter how obvious a flop might look from my couch, I can’t understand the bewildered anger and vitriol fans extend online (or at the bar) after a flop occurs. The same characteristic most NBA fans revere in Michael Jordan (at least in terms of his on-court demeanor): a pathological desire to win and destroy his opponents, is the exact same reason that young kid flopped. And, to repeat: he’s a freakin’ kid. Both MJ, and that kid, were trying to win and doing anything in their power to make it so. It still doesn’t make the kid’s flop morally right, but it helps explain where his motive comes from, and it helps explain why flopping has been happening since James Naismith first introduced the original rules of basketball.
Flopping isn’t new, but the breadth of our exposure to it is the real culprit in this argument, and it’s tricking us into believing there is a lot more flopping going on and it’s ruining the game. Remember the context the next time someone sends you a GIF of some NBA player you now loathe because you saw them flop. This is what guys do sometimes. Pretending otherwise is just being ignorant.
Let’s all get over ourselves and refrain from the apocalyptic diction every time someone tries to sell a foul. There are a lot of other things fans can get up on their soapbox about.
The future of basketball isn’t doomed, it’s just played by people who want to win and don’t mind bending the rules to do so. That’s how it’s always been, and likely how it’ll always be. We just weren’t exposed to it as much as we are now.
What do you think?
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