When you are an overseas basketball fan – or even a referee – you’re always looking over your shoulder at what “big brother” is doing in the NBA. After all, they are the biggest (nearly an $8 billion business in 2017-18) and arguably, the best at what they do.
The rule and guideline differences between the NBA and the international game have also narrowed considerably, including with regards to what the NBA calls “flagrant fouls” and what are called in FIBA rules “unsportsmanlike fouls”. So, it’s a little confusing as to what has transpired thus far in the playoffs with regards to flagrant fouls and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid.
If you need your memory refreshed, in game 2 of the series between Philadelphia and Brooklyn, Embiid went hard to the basket and swung an elbow into the jaw of the Nets’ Jarrett Allen. He was initially called for an offensive foul but after review, it was upgraded to a “Flagrant 1”, equivalent to the FIBA “unsportsmanlike foul” rule, i.e. 2 shots and possession.
By getting a Flagrant 1 the NBA recognizes that Embiid made a non-basketball action by violently extending his elbow into Allen’s head. That hit to the head with its potential for injury meets, as far as I am concerned, the guidelines for a Flagrant 2 (or in international rule terms, a flagrant unsportsmanlike) and disqualification. Even Embiid agrees that he should have been tossed!
Joe Borgia’s (NBA Senior Vice President of Replay & Referee Operations) explanation is also quite unsatisfying. First he calls it a “1.5” flagrant foul (“between a 1 and a 2”) but then demonstrates why he thinks it a “regular basketball play.” This begs the question: if it’s a regular basketball play, why is it a flagrant at all? If it’s a regular basketball play, then it’s not flagrant and if it’s not – it should be a disqualification. It’s like being half-pregnant: either you are or you aren’t.
Now the NBA has a dilemma and then along comes game 4 of the series (Embiid sat out game 3). With 7:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Embiid takes a pretty big swipe at the same Jarrett Allen and gets a piece of the wrist – barely missing all ball. Allen falls hard to the floor – not because of the foul, but because he was in the air and because basketball is a physical game! The Nets’ Jared Dudley thinks he sees Embiid getting rough with his teammates again and shoves Embiid, the Sixers’ Jimmy Butler shoves Dudley and the ensuing scuffle spills into the crowd.
Note that the initial call on Embiid was a regular foul and had Dudley and Butler not got into the act, it probably would have stayed that way. But after the monitor review, Embiid also gets another flagrant 1 and the question is, why? It almost looks like a “makeup call” from the previous game 2, where they should have ejected Embiid. Now the NBA has set a bad precedent and put itself in a bit of a box for future similar situations. Call it “The Embiid Conundrum.”