When Tyson Chandler’s upper-body collided with LeBron James’ back in Game 1 on Saturday, and LeBron fell to the ground in a heap, the whole world basically lost its damn mind.
There are a few different ways to interpret the play. Basically, your argument depends on how you feel about three factors:
1. Whether Chandler’s screen was legal.
2. How severe Chandler’s contact was.
3. Whether LeBron’s reaction to the contact was excessive or exaggerated.
When the contact happened, Jeff Van Gundy had a conniption, and the word “flop” echoed off the metal walls of the Twittersphere. Van Gundy is a legendary flop-bemoaner, and LeBron’s reactions to contact have long been a subject of catty debate. So this was a perfect storm of insanity, and it came to overshadow the rest of the game, in which LeBron scored 32 points on only 14 shots with four steals and a +/- of 35.
Here’s the thing, though: we’re talking about flops all wrong. I have a theory, and I’m going to share it with all of you. That theory is this: if it’s a foul, it’s not a flop.
In the case of Chandler’s hit on LeBron, we have to look at the three criteria established above to determine whether it was legal, a foul, or a flop. First, Chandler’s screen was very clearly not legal.
Chandler leans into the screen, and even though the camera is panning left as we see the contact, you can tell that he advances both feet, his shoulders, and his elbows. (His right foot moves from the “A” in “American” pre-collision to the “m” post-collision.) He also appears to leave his feet at the time of contact. So, it’s a foul.
The question of severity is a little trickier. Refs initially ruled the play a flagrant-two, which would’ve meant Chandler’s ejection from the game, but downgraded the call to a flagrant-one, which indicates “unnecessary” contact, determined at the discretion of the ref. Seems right; the flagrant-two would’ve been excessive, considering the contact happened well in the context of play.
So, that third question, re: whether LeBron’s reaction was excessive or exaggerated — it doesn’t matter. If LeBron is fouled, it becomes his duty as a basketball player to make sure that foul is called, because it helps his team. It’s a strategic decision, and it doesn’t deserve criticism, especially if it works. A smaller player would’ve been obliterated by this hit from the seven-foot Chandler; the only reason LeBron’s ribcage doesn’t leave his body is because he’s an enormous dude himself. Sure, LeBron probably could’ve kept his feet, but why? To fulfill some imaginary idea of athlete decorum, in which he absorbs all contact like a tackling dummy? To avoid being called soft? Who cares?
Soft is an antiquated, homophobic construct designed to get at some sort of failure in masculinity. LeBron started 62 out of 66 games this year. In his eight full seasons, he’s never started less than 74 out of 82 games, and he averages about 40 minutes per contest. There isn’t a legitimate caveat to be had with LeBron James’ toughness.
What everyone, including Van Gundy, needs to acknowledge is that, if there’s a foul, players will do whatever they can to make sure it’s called. A flop happens when there’s no foul and the player still acts like he got shot. That’s actually problematic, and there’s an easy way to punish it: don’t call a foul.
Just use the handy rubric above. If the contact is legal, and isn’t severe (or doesn’t exist), and the player falls, then it’s a flop. If the contact is illegal, then it isn’t a flop.