MIAMI -- Pretty quietly, there's a really great series going on right now in the Eastern Conference finals.
But, unfortunately, it's being completely overshadowed by talk of the flop and the officiating. The flopping conversation is dominating headlines, especially with what the league's best player said about it recently only to get fined himself for an egregious, embarrassing flop a day later.
But for LeBron James, a $5,000 fine is a drop in the ocean. It equates to something just over $10 for the average American and, really, it's even less than that because of diminishing value on LeBron's money because he makes so much.
The feeling is, though, that LeBron and others might be less likely to flop because of the shame that comes with it. There were a lot of grumbles that LeBron was a flopper, but now that he has been fined, he's officially labeled one. LeBron James is a flopper. He has the scarlet "F" on his chest now, something the league's MVP probably shouldn't have.
But Shane Battier on Thursday said the shame of being labeled doesn't matter. The best and only way to curb this issue, he said, is to hit players in their pockets.
"Money. Money is always the [thing]," Battier said. "People say public scorn, the humilation. Guys could care less if they're publicly humiliated."
"If they want to put an opera of all my charges on there or flops or whatever, go for it. You take $10 from me, and I'm upset," Battier said. "Money."
(Hang on. Starting my rock opera featuring Shane Battier's best flops. I'm calling it "From Duke 'Til Dawn.")
More Battier: "No one cares. In our society now, labels don't matter. They change every 10 minutes, so who cares? But money -- that hurts. I hate to sound like a capitalist, but that's much more effective than public humiliation."
Roy Hibbert has a solution: Make players pay on the spot, out of their pocket.
"If the NBA came up to you and said, 'Give me $5,000 out of your pocket right now. Cash,' people probably have a problem," he said. "But it comes out of your check. You don't see it. It is what it is. It gets blown up by the media."
As Ken Berger of CBSSports.com wrote early Thursday, the problem is the backlash that comes from the Players Association. The league can't impose significant fines because the NBPA has such a say. For instance, Marco Belinelli got fined $35,000 for doing the "marbles" dance, Kevin Durant $25,000 for a throat slash. But LeBron James tries to trick an official by flailing his arms and completely simulating contact? That's five grand.
The real problem that the league is facing isn't just the simulation on the court and pathetic acting done by players, it's that this has become such a hot topic and is distracting from an otherwise brilliant, compelling and competitive series. People are watching every little bump and push and, as soon as there's a reaction, the gallery is yelling "Flop!"
"In a perfect world, we'd all love to be stoic, immovable forces, that the force of very large men throwing themselves into you doesn't affect you. Yeah, it'd be great," Battier said. "But unfortunately, there's a thing called physics involved, and it seems to win out more often than not."
But it is the league's job to curb this nonsense, to which, at least it's trying. Remember: This is the first season of flopping penalties. Last season, LeBron, David West, Lance Stephenson or whoever isn't hearing anything from the league for completely pretending to take hits. So, in a way, maybe the league's attempt to reduce the flopping has backfired because it has now called attention to it. Basically, there's been an acknowledgment of a problem, and now fans are looking for them every possession.
Basketball is a contact sport, and players will react to getting hit. Like Battier said, these guys aren't immovable. And sometimes, it's not a flop. It's just illustrating to the official that contact was present. Flopping is complete simulation. Smart basketball is demonstrating and possibly embellishing a bit to draw attention to it.
Unfortunately for the league, though, there's now a lot of attention on the wrong thing.