Magazine article Insight on the News

... and the Art of the Flop

Magazine article Insight on the News

... and the Art of the Flop

Article excerpt

When it comes to acting prowess, former D.C. United defender Marlo Gori never will be confused with Sir Laurence Olivier--or even athlete-cum-thespian Shaquille O'Neal. But that doesn't mean the Argentine couldn't deliver a convincing performance.

"Mario used to crack me up," teammate Richie Williams says. "He'd get some contact, and he'd go down -- arm up, grabbing his leg, with a hand over his head, screaming and rolling. And you think, `Oh, my God, did he just break his leg?' But after he does it every week for the whole season, you're thinking, `Here we go again.'"

Faking a fall. Taking a dive. Flopping. Whatever the name, the practice in sports is always the same: A player suffers light -- or better yet, imaginary -- contact from an opponent. He goes down in a spasm of histrionics, as if he's been stabbed, shot and traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. He then draws a wholly undeserved penalty.

"It's an art," says Washington Wizards assistant coach Tree Rollins. "The officials sometimes know you're flopping, but it looks so good they'll give you the call."

If great sport makes for great theater, then a great flop is akin to professional wrestling -- patently fake, surprisingly ubiquitous, oddly compelling. What the flop lacks in class, it makes up in craft. And like all classic theater, it can be broken down into three distinct parts.

Act I: The Setup

As is the case with most Oscar-worthy performances, a first-rate dive looks natural, unscripted, spontaneous. In reality, it's anything but. Former Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson reportedly taught flopping in practice. Indeed, the truly epic fall begins long before game time as divers practice their techniques, study film and search for ways to exploit their opponents -- anything to gain an advantage.

Take former Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, whose penchant for flailing, screaming and falling at the first hint of contact made him the "Godfather" of the modern National Basketball Association flop. According to Rollins, Laimbeer's ability to draw fouls stemmed as much from his knowledge of opponents' tendencies as his (admittedly considerable) thespian gifts.

"Laimbeer knew when I was going to post up," says Rollins of his playing days. "So once I'd make that motion, he'd go flying. …

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