Blog Entry

Gamesmanship in basketball

Posted on: September 16, 2010 1:35 pm
Posted by Royce Young

There's been a ton of chatter today about what Derek Jeter did last night against the Tampa Bay Rays. If you didn't see it, basically, a pitch tailed inside on Jeter and hit the knob of his bat. But the way it happened looked as if it hit Jeter's elbow and the umpire bought it. Jeter went to first in a very important divisional game his team was trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning.

The whole thing has sparked a lot of discussion about the difference between cheating and gamesmanship. And I'm not sure there's any more of a cloudy line than between those two. Baseball has its encyclopedia of unwritten rules and gamesmanship has been a part of the game for a long time. Stealing signs, spitting on the ball and all that stuff.

I'm bringing this back to basketball, I promise.

For instance, flopping. We all know what it is and we all despise it to varying degrees. Some players have reputations for it, some players make it a point not to do it. But is it cheating or gamesmanship? Basically, it's the same thing Jeter did last night in Tampa. He did what he could to get to first base. By flopping, you're doing what you can to try and score points. Both are the goals of the game.

Flopping is something seen by most as disrespectful and low class. Instead of playing the game straight up, you've got to take to acting and antics in order to gain an advantage. You work the officials by over-exaggerating fouls. But is that really cheating? Or is it just smart? Working around the rules to manipulate officials in order to score more points? Isn't that what Jeter's being praised for today?

Or what about at the free throw line? It's common for players to put their hands up when their opponent is taking their free shots. But typically, they wait until the last minute to raise their hands, trying to distract the guy at the line. Or how players will swap sides on the lane right before the free throw shooter gets the ball from the referee. It's an effort to try and disrupt rhythm and focus. Cheating or just playing the game?

What about players screaming "AND ONE!!!" to try and coerce a ref into blowing his whistle? Or things like stretching rules like traveling and carrying? Or an opposing bench yelling or waving a towel as someone attempts a 3 in the corner? Couldn't all these things be considered "cheating?"

I for one, despise flopping. It's why a lot of Americans hate soccer and it's a lot of the reason Manu Ginobili isn't very well-liked outside of San Antonio. It cheapens the game and it's just a low-brow effort to try and gain an advantage. Man up and play. As a basketball fan, is it annoying to watch? Absolutely. But is it cheating? No way. It's completely fair to do and if a flop wins your team a game, it's a smart play. It might hurt your reputation as a player, but if you don't care, by all means.

As long as you put competitors in competitive situations, they're going to look for an edge. Steroids is the extreme example and that's where the line is blurry. What about what the Patriots did taping the Rams' walkthrough? All of that stuff is kind of hard to define.

There are different levels of cheating and depending on how you want to define it, I suppose what Jeter did could be seen as such. But this is a game. Nobody says you have to be honest on the field or court and nobody says you can't can stretch some contact, or milk an injury. Cheating is breaking rules. What Jeter did, was a smart player taking advantage of a situation.

Fair or not, still doesn't mean I approve of flopping though.
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