“Let’s not hurt the game.” That's how Red Auerbach finished a video in which he appealed to remove a problematic phenomenon from basketball - players intentionally falling to provoke a foul call. The fact this happened in the mid-1970s isn't even the best part. It's who the message was directed to.
Social media and a lot of websites were full of the Suns reaching a 40-9 record, qualifying for the Phil Jackson "40-20" rule. For those who don't know, Phil Jackson once said a team is a contender if they reach 40 wins before they have 20 losses.
It was a thing he mentioned to Mark Stein around 15 years ago, and Stein included it in his article on ESPN. No major analysis behind it, a rule of thumb really - but if you read about it today, it's "Phil Jackson's theory," talked about like it's one of the 10 commandments.
What Jackson basically said was that if a team has a 66% win rate 60 games into an 82 game season, they're a good team. The little detail about getting to 40 wins BEFORE having 20 losses makes it seem very specific, but it's just a general observation - a quite obvious one.
Jackson didn't talk about it as if it was a major breakthrough in data analysis, nor did Stein portray it as such in his article. But things slowly get mentioned, aggregated, and suddenly became something they're not. For instance, the overall belief that Vlade Divac brought the plague of flopping to the NBA.
The Serbian center came to the NBA in 1989, and if you were to believe a lot of articles and social media posts, did for flopping what Manu Ginobili did for the euro step. Coming from a country and a continent where soccer is an undisputed no.1, it would make sense Divac and the rest of the Europeans shamelessly flopped while the football-loving tough Americans tried to play a tough game, right?
For everyone convinced that's a true interpretation, I have to break it to you; you are wrong. While Divac was just a little boy starting school, one of the greatest coaches and NBA executives of all time was already ringing the bells to alarm the NBA community that flopping is ruining the game. Yep, there was so much flopping during the tough 70s when men played the game (not like the whining primadonnas we have today) that Red Auerbach had to do something about it.
"Coaches today in high school, college and pro, are teaching the players how to fall! This is unreal!"
The most fascinating exchange is between Red and Hall of Fame referee Mendy Rudolph. They continue to play out a few scenarios, and Rudolph gives suggestions on how the refs should penalize the player who's flopping to eliminate it out of the game. But Auerbach held someone else responsible. Red agreed, said he was "very much opposed to this king of basketball," and then pointed out the refs shouldn't be the one removing flopping out of the game.
This segment is not aimed at referees, believe me. It’s aimed at coaches, it’s aimed at players. What are we going to do about it?
Let’s clean this thing up.
Let’s not hurt the game.
I am sad to say Red's message fell on deaf ears.