The comparisons to Willis Reed are a little out of hand, but Raja Bell's surprise start after missing two games with a calf injury was a big factor in the Phoenix Suns' Game 4 rout of the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night.
Oops. I just bumped my keyboard, and somewhere in Phoenix, Raja Bell went flying.
Bell, who had been expected to miss most of the series after going down with a slight muscle tear in Game 1, scored nine points in 31 minutes and provided a defensive spark after deciding to play about a half-hour before the game. You have to respect a guy who can handle the pain and help his team like that.
But dear NBA, can you please once and for all do something about players flopping? Bell is one of the worst offenders, a Vlade-esque fall-down artist, a Reggie Miller-like my-God-I've-been-shot stuntman, a Rodmanish launcher of self at the slightest contact. Oh! There he goes again. Someone brushed by him at the Starbucks and he leapt backward through the window.
No, come on, really. I'm kidding. It wasn't a Starbucks.
The NBA sometimes makes an effort to do something about flopping by not calling the charge when a player goes down, letting him lie there as his player waltzes to the rim. I presume this happens on the nights the refs spin the wheel in their dressing room and it lands on "Don't call flops."
But this initiative never lasts long, and soon enough -- and almost always in the playoffs -- players are being rewarded for some of the worst acting this side of Keanu Reeves.
Did you see the charging foul Bell drew on Jerry Stackhouse Tuesday? He hurled himself backward after the slightest brush from the dribbling Maverick.
Bell may have been set. That call can almost always go either way and I have no beef with the refs on it even when they don't call a play the way I saw it. It's just too tough a call in most cases to be anything more than a coin flip.
But there was almost no contact. And here's the thing. The proper call shouldn't have been no call, as it would have been under the current NBA rules. The proper call should have been a technical on Bell.
Diving will never be eradicated. Players will always seek to gain an advantage any way they can, and on an already tough call like the block-charge play it's a decent bet that the referees will blow it and buy your act.
But right now it's too good a bet. When huge, magnificent athletes are sent flying by incidental contact, it's a damn fake, a pro-wrestling move, and the league shouldn't let players get away with it as much as they do. Start calling technicals on floppers and their odds get a lot worse.
I think if flopping were punished we'd all be amazed at how quickly NBA defenders became a lot stronger, able to hold their ground. We'll say, "Remember when guys used to go sailing into the front row all the time."
Yeah, I remember. Glad they cleaned that up.
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Willis who? [PERMALINK]
So after the game Wednesday, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager interviewed Bell, and he asked Bell if he wears No. 19 because of Willis Reed, the New York Knicks center who wore that number and famously hobbled onto the floor at the last minute to make a surprise start in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
"No, I don't," Bell said with a laugh. "I wear it because it's my birthday."
"Well, happy birthday, whatever month that is," Sager said as Bell trotted away.
For the record, it's September.
Here's another question: Do you think as many as 19 percent of current NBA players even know that Reed, the vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, was once a player?
I do. I think it's at least 21 percent.
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Stupid questions aren't always stupid [PERMALINK]
Incidentally, I'm making fun of Sager's question, and it probably looked like a dumb question if you've never worked this racket, but you know what? It wasn't.
I'm not sure I'd have asked it in a quick-hit interview on live TV, but it's the kind of question civilians hear journalists ask, and then the civilians say, "Why do they ask such stupid questions?"
I'll tell you why. Chances are pretty slim that Bell doesn't wear No. 19 because of Willis Reed, whose career was over before Bell was born. So he says no and that's that. No harm done.
But on the off chance that, for whatever reason, this kid who grew up in the Virgin Islands and Miami in the '80s and early '90s and who's just turned in a performance that calls up memories of Willis Reed actually does wear No. 19 because of Willis Reed, well, your story just wrote itself, or at least your lead did.
That's why we ask what sound like stupid questions in this business. They're just one of our tools.
Then again, sometimes some of us just ask stupid questions because we're stupid.
Previous column: Pistons in trouble, TV sound
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