Basketball's biggest flopper Billy Hunter left his players unprotected and unprepared again on Wednesday, failing to warn the union membership against what turned out to be a coast-to-coast embracing of a league-mandated fine system. This is how sadly disorganized and defeated the players are: In a continuation of the lockout ass-kicking delivered the Players Association, NBA commissioner David Stern had players coast to coast offering him a standing ovation for digging deeper into their pockets.
Hunter had weeks to prepare his players for the fact that the NBA could punish flopping with financial fines, and he never bothered. After Hunter waited hours to issue a statement that the NBPA would be filing charges with the U.S. Department of Labor, he had lost the public-relations war and left his players embarrassed and exposed on the matter.
The union could've notified the player reps to encourage teammates to call the fine system for flopping excessive and unnecessary – remember, some coaches teach it – but Hunter is too obsessed with his one true priority: fighting off investigations into his business practices and preserving the lavish lifestyle the NBPA provides his family and him.
Now, Hunter files charges with the Department of Labor saying the NBA can't impose financial fines without negotiating with the union. Here's the problem for the players' interests: As the Department of Labor considers this case, its deep into a joint investigation with the Department of Justice of Hunter's business practices that sources tell Yahoo! Sports include several NBPA employees privately meeting with investigators without Hunter's union lawyers present.
Within the union, there's a strong movement to make Hunter accountable to the players for how the Players Association operates, how it ultimately benefits Hunter and the family members on the payroll. Hunter has done everything in his power to limit his contact with players over the past several months, balancing the cancellation of meetings with the scheduling of others that were inconvenient for players to attend.
For Hunter, he'll use the new flopping legislation as something – anything – to convince his rank-and-file that he's fighting for them. It's all a ruse, and ultimately it speaks to the NBA's complete lack of respect for Hunter's office that it believed it could jam through this legislation without any input from the NBPA.
Yes, flopping needs to be curtailed and punished, but a system of arbitrary fines passed down out of Stern's office for violators on film is ridiculous. The NBA is essentially conceding that its officials don't have the competence to call flopping in the flow of the game, so Stern decides that the players will be punished financially for it.
Once, there was a league-wide competition committee that debated the merits of such monumental change. That's changed. Now, Stern lords over a small group of owners, general managers and coaches, and as one executive said, "This is just his way of getting whatever he wants rubber-stamped."
Yet, Stern couldn't get his legislation passed and replaced with a far more pliable, far smaller group of owners, GMs and coaches. "Stern pushed for a smaller committee, so he could bully through all the changes he wants before he leaves office," one league executive said.
Several league officials say Stern has lobbied unsuccessfully for several years in competition committee meetings to get the FIBA rule on goal-tending instituted in the NBA, but never had support among top basketball minds in the league.
"It's always gotten shot down in the committee, but [Stern] will get that through too before he leaves," one official said.
[Related: NBA unveils fines for flops rule]
For all the magnificent benefits of the NBA's globalization of basketball, there came with it a soccer culture of flopping. It infiltrated the sport on every level, because Stern and the officials let it go unchecked for too long. What's more, some coaches started to use it as a tool with defensively challenged players. When the NBA could've administered technical fouls on floppers, Stern felt empowered enough to do something that sports have mostly done only in the justifiable instances of violent or uncivil behavior: fine players for it.
Flopping is an institutional problem in the sport – not just a players' problem – and a legitimate union would've pushed the league to fine organizations for flopping, too. Nevertheless, Stern rides roughshod over everyone – his teams, the players – and gets what he wants into place. Amazing, isn't it: Stern globalizes the game, imports flopping to the NBA and gets most of the players to give him an ovation for giving power to the league office to fine them for arbitrary violations of a rule that should be enforced on the floor.
Now, the biggest flopper of all, Billy Hunter, will pretend to take a charge on the commissioner, and the league and union will do its dance again. It's all so predictable, so painful to watch.
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Between now and Stern's sooner-than-later movement into retirement, he'll use blunt force to jam so much more of his final agenda onto the NBA's players. The lockout ass-kicking keeps coming and coming, and it ought to make everyone left to wonder: For the players, who'll ever make it stop?
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