Also bouncing around the wires is a rule change the NBA is reportedly considering, and when I first heard about it, I whooped in approval. Then I started thinking about it.
The considered change: a technical foul for flopping.
I don’t know anybody this side of Vlade Divac who wouldn’t like to see a crackdown on flopping, which is dishonest, unsporting and just plain irritating. It’s the last refuge of a scoundrel who can’t or won’t play solid defense.
But it wouldn’t work to just start penalizing floppers. That would just be one more thing for NBA officials to try to figure out, and they’re already overwhelmed.
Obvious flops are often whistled as offensive fouls — they’d have to be, or someone like San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili never would have earned the descriptor “notorious flopper.” So NBA refs clearly can’t always tell a flop from a legitimate foul. This rule, which NBA officiating czar Stu Jackson told Bloomberg News the league is “looking at,” would allow refs to compound a blown call by assessing a technical.
I’d love to see flopping penalized in the NBA, as it supposedly is, with varying degrees of success, in soccer, international basketball and the NHL. But the NBA has to get a few things straightened out first.
If a bump to the chest is a foul this time down the floor, it should be a foul next time down the floor, and tomorrow night too. Floppers flop not just to draw fouls in lieu of playing defense, but to exaggerate real fouls, which officials sometimes miss, sometimes ignore.
2. No more star system. This is really 1A, but if it’s not a foul when Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade or LeBron James does it, then it shouldn’t be a foul when Kyle Lowry or Ronnie Brewer or Andre Brown does it. If you’re going to give Ginobili the charge call when he goes flying, give it to Beno Udrih too. Better yet, don’t give it to either one.
3. More refs. Seriously. It seems crazy. The refs are a problem so let’s get more of them. But the refs aren’t necessarily the problem. They’re just outmanned.
There were two referees on the floor when pro basketball was played by 10 taller-than-average guys, some of whom were good athletes. Now it’s played by 10 guys the size of buildings who move like F-16s. And there are three refs on the floor.
They don’t have a chance. The game simply moves too fast for the referees to see everything. So they guess. So their calls look random. Because they are. Guessing is random.
There are five players per team in the game at once. So there are roughly five points of intersection with an opponent, give or take a double-team or a switch. There should be five referees, each assigned to one of those interactions. They’d still have a hard time seeing everything because the human eye is only so quick.
But at least they’d have a chance.
And five officials should not be an excuse for every ticky-tack call to be made. It should be a way to improve the odds that the right call gets made when players come together.
And yes, the NBA can afford it. What it might not be able to afford is the growing idea among fans that the league lacks credible officiating, that the refs decide games.
Once the league gets all that fixed, or even some of it, then it should instruct referees to punish floppers by simply not calling the foul. You embellish, launch yourself into the second row, you don’t get the call even if you got butchered. Like I said, these guys are buildings. They don’t go flying when they get run into, even by other buildings.
Repeat offenders can get a technical. But with no payoff, there wouldn’t be repeat offenders.
Get back to me, NBA, when you’ve taken care of this. Otherwise, see you in April when the season starts.
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An attempt to help NFL old-timers [PERMALINK]
Former Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer is hosting an auction of top-notch NFL memorabilia and other stuff at his Web site to benefit the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps retired NFL players in financial need.
Items up for bid include a two-day fishing trip with Kramer and Merlin Olson, a day of tennis with John McEnroe and a day on the Fox set with Howie Long, plus dinner with him. Mike Ditka has donated his 1975 Dallas Cowboys NFC championship ring and Dwight Clark a football with his autograph and his diagram of “The Catch” play. Vince Lombardi Jr. provided some play diagrams hand-drawn by his father.
Nice, but what’s next to help the men who built the foundation of a billion-dollar industry. Bake sales?
The major American sports are haunted by old-timers going through difficult financial times, often accompanied by health problems. Baseball has been ahead of the others in dealing with this problem. The NFL is a special case, though, because the sport itself does so much physical damage to those who play it.
Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle marked the 25th anniversary of “The Catch” and the 49ers’ first NFC championship with an article headlined “Glory Has Its Price.” He detailed the massive physical toll paid by both the great and the ordinary who play a game that’s the physical equivalent of 60 or so car crashes per player, every week. Not counting practice.
Joe Montana has nerve damage in one eye, Kroichick writes, has a “shredded” knee and can’t turn his head. His backup, Guy Benjamin, can’t walk up stairs.
We know all this. It has been nearly six years now since the late Johnny Unitas appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, cradling a football in his famously massive right hand. “Play now, pay later,” the cover copy read. “Johnny Unitas can no longer use his right hand.” The article inside, by William Nack, told in gruesome detail the middle- and old-age health woes of heroes such as Unitas, Earl Campbell, Harry Carson and others.
The problem for the elderly and middle-aged men who played pro sports and now go begging is that, like their pay, their pension plans were created in an era when their sports weren’t billion-dollar enterprises.
“Guys who played years ago, the economics of the league weren’t as great,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel in another fine article on the subject Wednesday. “Therefore their benefit package isn’t what the benefit package is for the players today.”
Talking about the pioneers who played in the NBA and its precursors in the middle of the 20th century, historian Neil Isaacs told me, “It was not a good business to be in.” Players routinely left the leagues in those early days because they had to go make a decent living.
The various players unions, formed in the ’60s and ’70s, don’t represent the older players, and on those grounds they’ve tended to duck responsibility for the men who helped build the industry that enriches so many today. NFL Players Association president Gene Upshaw, himself an old-time player, has been unapologetic about not helping the game’s pioneers, saying he works only for the current union members.
As Wetzel points out, the NFL has to fight disability claims from old-timers or the judgments could mount up and put the league out of business. But more could be done, a lot more, for the cost of a few Super Bowl commercials, to help out those who are hurting.
Running back Leroy Kelly told the Charlotte Observer last year that about 40 of his fellow Hall of Famers who got bad financial advice and took early pensions are getting little more than $100 a month. “It’s really terrible,” he said.
It is. The NFL and the players association, like their counterparts in other sports, should take care of the men who helped create the billion-dollar world they play in. It shouldn’t come down to online auctions by a former pulling guard with a big heart.
But since it does for the moment, put in a bid if you can.
Previous column: The Super Bowl of bad math
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