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A Word on Flagrant Fouls

 

Dwyane Wade was just called for a flagrant foul that we’d all agree was far less flagrant than the foul Rajon Rondo committed last night on Brad Miller–the one that wasn’t judged a flagrant at the time or the day after, when, according to Chris Sheridan, the NBA could have upgraded the foul to a Flagrant 1 without suspending Rondo. 

Before we get into all that, I want to (try to) clear up one thing about Rondo’s would-be flagrant: I’m not sure that Vinny Del Negro would have automatically been able to pick any Bulls player to shoot free throws had Rondo been whistled for a flagrant and Miller been too injured to continue. This idea has popped up all over the place today. Here’s John Hollinger

“[Miller] pretty much had to take the shots because if he hadn’t, the Celtics would have had their choice of which Bull to shoot the ball. Hello, Aaron Gray. If the foul had been called a flagrant one, on the other hand, Miller could have signed off for the night and let coach Vinny Del Negro choose any Chicago player as his replacement shooter.”

There are two types of flagrants, and, if I’m reading the rule book correctly, if a player is injured on a foul deemed to be the less serious of the two flagrants, the opposing coach (Doc) gets to pick the foul shooter. (And note: Hollinger does mention one category of flagrant in the quote I pulled, so he and I may actually be in agreement here).

Here’s what the rule book says for a Flagrant 1–the less serious of the two fouls (the bolds are mine): 

PENALTY: (1) Two free throws shall be attempted and the ball awarded to the offended team… (2) If the offended player is injured and unable to attempt his free throws, the opposing coach will select any player from the bench to attempt the free throws

And here’s what the rule book says for a Flagrant 2: 

PENALTY: (1) Two free throws shall be attempted and the ball awarded to the offended team…(2) If the offended player is injured and unable to attempt his free throws, his coach will select a substitute and any player from the team is eligible to attempt the free throws.

I’m pretty sure I’m reading that right, and Henry Abbott agreed after I sent him the rule tonight. (Note: Please tell me if you disagree or if I’m missing something; the rule book is really complicated). The notion that Vinny would have been able to pluck Ben Gordon off the bench for the free throws would only be true had the refs whistled Rondo for the more serious flagrant–a foul that merits an automatic ejection. Maybe that’s what pundits are assuming. 

What’s the difference between a Flagrant 1 and a Flagrant 2? The definitions are identical save for two words.

A Flagrant 1 may be assessed “If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary.”

And a Flagrant 2 fits the bill “If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive.”

Those are the entire descriptions. All of these tests the announcers use to determine what’s a flagrant and what isn’t (“It’s not a basketball play!” “He made a play on the ball!” “You can’t have that swinging motion with the arms!”)–it’s all made up. (Update/correction: It’s not really all made up, according to Henry Abbott. NBA higher-ups give certain guidelines to coaches and refs, similar to those italicized statements above). It’s like each ref is a local judge writing common law jurisprudence based on his interpretation of a broad law. 

I’m not saying there’s necessarily a better method to do this; there’s no possible way you can spell out every foul scenario and decide whether it qualifies as a flagrant, and the rule book would be 2,000 pages long if you tried. I’m just saying that relying on “unnecessary” and “excessive” as your guideposts is going to result in wildly dissimilar rulings that are, justifiably, going to drive fans crazy. 

Besides–Rondo’s foul was necessary to preserve the lead and win the game! Without it, Miller lays the ball in and sends the game to overtime, therefore the foul was necessary and cannot be a flagrant. Case closed.*

*This argument is not serious.

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