Saturday, May 14, 2005

Players are falling down like Vlade Divac in the NBA playoffs.

You remember Divac’s equilibrium issues back in the day of the Kings-Lakers postseason showdowns?

Divac would step onto the court in the vicinity of Shaquille O’Neal, and soon he would be twitching uncontrollably until his legs finally would give out and he would crumple to the floor in a mass of pain.

Sometimes the referees would acquiesce to Divac’s spasmodic condition and call the United Nations with reports of O’Neal’s human rights violations.

This only encouraged Divac to have more muscular contractions around O’Neal. It got so bad that if Divac played 30 minutes in a game, 29 of them would be spent on the floor with doctors huddled around his prone form trying to determine whether his inner-ear infection was terminal.

Lots of NBA players apparently recognized the benefit of Divac’s inability to stand upright, and so all too many now routinely fall down in their never-ending quest to solicit a whistle from the referees.

Dwyane Wade falls down a lot. In fact, his fall-down maneuver in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game3 helped initiate the Heat’s 27-10 run on the Wizards.

Wade, in only his second season in the NBA, already has been awarded the Michael Jordan protection plan from the referees, which means anyone who comes within breathing distance of him is ordered to go stand in a corner of the arena until the person learns to play well with others.

This is not to trivialize the ascendancy of Wade, who is the NBA’s flavor of the moment, plus one of People magazine’s beautiful people.

Yet Wade is talented enough that he should not need all these favorable whistles.

At least with Divac, you sort of understood the tendency of referees to be sympathetic to an anorexic 7-footer.

For the record, Divac did not come to be a performing artist on his own.

Before Divac, there was Bill Laimbeer, who wanted it both ways.

Sometimes Laimbeer wanted to be a thug, and sometimes he wanted to be a wimp. It was confusing. One moment Laimbeer would kung fu an opponent, and the next he would be squirming on the floor with this horrified look of fear on his face, pleading with the referees to intervene.

But not even Laimbeer is the father of the flop.

That title goes to Dean Smith, the former North Carolina coach who routinely landed the best high school players in the nation and then turned them into 98-pound weaklings around the slightest contact.

Alas, the NBA is now infected with this Oscar-worthy posing, although Paul Pierce took it to an absurd level after his ejection in Game6 of the Celtics-Pacers series. Pierce showed up at a postgame press conference with a ridiculous bandage beneath his jaw, as if he was stepping out of the pages of “The Red Badge of Courage.”

The NBA ought to consider adding an All-Flop team to its list of postseason honors.

Besides Wade, two other cinch picks are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who have never met a house fly that could not send them sprawling to the floor.

Given that Parker and Ginobili are from soccer-mad countries, you sometimes wonder whether they are merely seeking a foul call or they expect the referee to pull out a red card on the offending party.

It really is too bad.

You sit down to watch a basketball game and a pratfall convention breaks out.

And never mind the imposing size of these well-conditioned men.

These men could be knocked down in the express lane of the grocery store by a blue-haired grandmother in a hurry.

These men live with the contradiction of having incredible body control until someone breathes in their presence. And then they become fish out of water, flopping madly on the floor before pushing the button to their medical alarm to summon the aid of the referees.

They have fallen yet again and can’t get up without a whistle.

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