NBA will try, but can Manu be caught?

Column by Buck Harvey

If NBA officials went to the archives, they would likely find Manu Ginobili with a flop or four worth a fine. He’s been guilty.

But that’s over a decade in the league, with thousands of falls and groans and whistles. Ginobili has stuck his sizeable nose into the breach as consistently as anyone in the game, and he’s been clever 99.9 percent of the time.

That’s why calls have often gone his way, and why a replay won’t reveal much more than what a ref sees live.

To Ginobili, this is art.

That wasn’t the reaction from most players Wednesday after the NBA officially announced its new anti-flopping policy. While Ginobili said, “I don’t think it’s going to change much,” others around the league saw this as a positive step.

“It’s good,” Oklahoma City’s James Harden said, for example. “Guys can’t be flopping and get away with it anymore.”

Those who watched last spring’s Western Conference finals might remember Harden. He’s the one whose head snapped backward on nearly every jump shot he took, as if violently fouled.

But Harden excels, in part, because he understands this game within the game. It’s subtle, and it’s not going away. It didn’t in 2008, either, the first time the league thought it could curb flopping with fines.

Ginobili’s name came up then, too.

“There goes half of Manu’s salary,” Brent Barry joked.

But Ginobili kept his money, and he kept doing what he does. He didn’t change, but maybe others have.

Now, amateurs try what players such as Ginobili and Shane Battier have perfected. Blake Griffin’s clumsy attempts have been laughable, and LeBron James has sometimes been a king of comedy, too. The strongest man on the court has occasionally collapsed as his confidence once did.

Then there was the worst acting performance of this era. Shaquille O’Neal once said “Cowards flop,” yet there he was at the end of his career, helpless against Dwight Howard, opting to fall to the floor as if he weighed 150 pounds instead of 350.

Howard dunked, and the announcer that night screamed, “Shaquille O’Neal flops!”

Last spring brought more of the same. Indiana coach Frank Vogel accused the Heat of flopping before their playoff series began.

“Nobody does it better than the Heat,” Vogel said, and Memphis’ Zach Randolph disagreed.

Randolph said his playoff opponents, the Clippers, were the NBA’s best floppers “by far.”

But even those who agree there is too much flopping aren’t sure how easy it is to define. Ginobili is Exhibit A. After all, shouldn’t they have figured him out years ago?

He’s been the face of the fake foul. The Mavericks dedicated a scoreboard video to him, and the Onion, the satirical news organization, said this in a headline:

“Overacting Manu Ginobili Takes Charge, Plays Dead.”

More telling, a newspaper recently presented Ginobili with “The Vlade Divac Lifetime Achievement Award.” The writer called Ginobili the “Olivier of the NBA.”

But that’s just it. Ginobili is better than the rest. Among his basketball gifts — along with toughness and skill and vision — is anticipating contact.

Sometimes there is considerable contact. Ginobili didn’t become El Contusión by pretending to be hit.

Sometimes, too, there isn’t much contact. But Ginobili is usually in position and ready to react to what is there. It’s smart, and it changes games, and it has driven opposing players and fans mad.

But this season, they say they are going to clean this up. They are going to use replays to see if fines are necessary.

So they will look closely when an elbow touches Ginobili’s chest, or maybe it’s a forearm. They will see Ginobili fall, and they will try to determine why, and they will come to the same conclusion referees came to long ago.

The guy’s good.
Twitter: @Buck_SA

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