Heisler: Crimes, Misdemeanors and Flops

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Take flopping, please.

Happily for the NBA, it’s going away, even if the league will pay a higher cost than it knows from crime-and-punishment headlines, stemming from David Stern’s decision to make it a crime, not a basketball play, punishable by huge fines.

How hard would this have been:

Tell the referees to make defenders be stationary for a count, not an instant.

What’s the hard part? Tie goes to the offensive player, as it does to the runner in baseball.

Unfortunately, nothing is easy among commissioners these days, drunk with the new Authoritarian Chic.

A directive to the referees wouldn’t let NBA officials run this project from the league office in New York, issuing ringing denunciations like Stu Jackson’s “Flops have no place in our game.”

I hope this isn’t really a surprise to Stu, who was a coach and GM, but their game is all about flopping.

It’s not just defenders who are acting to fool the referees.

Offensive players act even more, making the merest touch look like an axe murder with accompanying noises to fool the referees into letting them shoot free throws.

Everything on offense is set up to get players open shots, or, better yet, “get to the line.”

Of course, Stu is just mouthing the house line. The NBA is run by lawyers, and not low-key ones like Walter Kennedy, the former mayor of Stamford, Conn., or former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, but ferociously proactive ones like Stern.

In the NBA’s dark early days of the New Millenium, it was Stern’s thankless task to defend his league’s integrity against “fix” charges involving not his own coaches and players—but one wayward referee.

Now Stern has come to view all problems as threats to his painstakingly-nurtured order, requiring criminal sanctions.

Unfortunately, even when Stern is right, the league pays a price for the big stick he brandishes.

(RELATED: Who is the NBA’s biggest flopper? Vote here)

While doing away with fighting, a real accomplishment, Stern’s anal commitment to rules against tiptoeing an inch off the bench ended several teams’ seasons (see: 1997 Knicks, leading Miami, 2-1, in a best-of-five before so many of them and the Heat were suspended after the no-biggie Charlie Ward-P.J. Brown fight, players had to sit out in shifts; 2007 Suns after the suspension of Amare Stoudemire in the series against San Antonio that was 2-2, going back to Phoenix).

While fighting disappeared, the memorable, headline-grabbing headlines from otherwise forgettable incidents led to a perception the NBA has more fights than ever (see: the 2006 Knick-Nugget “fight”–one punch and a lot of milling around–which prompted 47 games of suspensions, 15 for Carmelo Anthony).

Stern’s players could be a major inconvenience, the more so as the NBA’s ‘90s zenith moved swiftly into the worst of times in the Auburn Hills riot where players punched out fans, amid myriad incidents like one in which Indiana’s Stephen Jackson broke up a fight outside a bar involving teammates by firing his pistol in the air.

The sturm und drang may explain Stern’s effort to exert ever greater control, like Lt. Scheisskopf in “Catch-22,” musing about attaching eyelits to his soldiers’ wrists to wire them precisely into formation in parades.

Aside from breaking new ground in suspensions, Stern’s overreach included the new synthetic basketball he introduced, featuring Spalding’s “Cross Traxxion technology,” which—surprise!–the players hated and was withdrawn by December, and the dress code the players—surprise!–hated and defied.

Of course, the NBA is now relatively lucid compared to Roger Goodell’s NFL, with the new hot dog of the commissioners announcing ever more draconian penalties for indiscretions he blew up into major scandals from Spygate to Bountygate to Replacement Officialsgate.

Not that Goodell is power-mad, but after decapitating the New Orleans Saints’ leadership, and ultimately their season, he showed he was a merciful commish by allowing Sean Payton to watch Drew Brees set his touchdown-pass record… on the condition the suspended coach sat in a “private area” and had no contact with the team.

Stern, whose teams don’t average $38 million profits, as Goodell’s do, is actually entitled to some attitude. Embattled as Stern has been in recent years, he’s sure to be remembered as the NBA’s Pete Rozelle when he’s gone.

I feel obliged to note this every time I express horror at something Stern does in the days since he dropped the persona he called “Easy Dave” and turned into Judge Dredd.

This is basketball, NBA-style: Here come da judge.

(RELATED: NBA’s anti-flopping rules are a flop, columnist Brian Geltzeiler writes)

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear every Wednesday during the regular season, and his columns and video reports appear regularly here. Follow him on Twitter.

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