The Wizards squeaked out a 109-104 win over the Nuggets on Monday night. Washington’s lead sat at two points after Denver’s Jamal Murray hit a jumper with 32 seconds remaining, but officials called a technical foul against Nikola Jokic shortly after Murray’s shot went in. Bradley Beal hit the ensuing free throw, giving the Wizards a critical point as they moved toward victory.
Jokic’s crime? Bumping into Washington head coach Scott Brooks during a timeout:
What we have here is a rare situation in which a coach, not a player, is accused of flopping to draw a call from an official. Did Brooks embellish the contact made by Jokic? If so, is that acceptable? East Coast bureau chief (and Wizards fan) Donnie Kwak and staff writer Rodger Sherman offer their opinions on this crucially important NBA controversy.
Did Jokic Make Contact Intentionally?
Donnie Kwak: The two camera angles I saw are inconclusive, but if I were on the jury I’d rule there was some premeditation involved. Jokic may have been looking down at the immediate moment of contact, but a split second before he bumped Brooks, he was staring right at him:
Rodger Sherman: He was staring in the direction of the bench, where he was walking. He was walking in a straight line. I don’t think we need the Zapruder film analysis.
Kwak: A classic high school bully move is to “unintentionally” barrel into smaller people while walking down the hallway. “I didn’t see you!” is always the excuse. A smart principal sees right through that flimsy defense.
Sherman: Jokic rubbed his eye right before bumping into Brooks! It is entirely plausible that he didn’t see him! That feels especially likely considering that Brooks is 5-foot-11, while Jokic is nearly 7 feet tall. If he were acting with malice here, wouldn’t he have done something … malicious? He doesn’t lower his shoulder into Brooks, and I don’t think he makes eye contact with Brooks. He just brushes the coach’s arm on his way down the floor. Who blows off steam by brushing against people?
Apologies about your high school experience, but this is a thing that happens in normal human walking situations all the time. Like, roughly 173 times per New York City subway ride. (For the record, Donnie bikes to work every day.)
Kwak: Context matters, too. According to the ESPN recap of the game, the incident occurred when “Jokic said he was upset about being pushed from behind just before the timeout.” So there is a bit of provocation here. I’m betting a dime to a dollar that Jokic intended to rub his sweaty elbow onto Brooks’s classy navy suit. (And for the record, if I had the ability to get technical fouls assessed against subway riders, I would exercise that right every time.)
Did Brooks Flop?
Sherman: Yes. There’s no way that the minimal contact made by Jokic should have caused a former NBA player to be thrown backward like Brooks was. And Brooks immediately turned to the referees afterward, knowing that he’d earn his team a point as a result. This is the most bush league coaching move I’ve seen since Jason Kidd intentionally spilled Coca-Cola on the floor in order to get a free timeout.
Kwak: Sure, Brooks embellished—slightly. However, the word being used here is “flop,” and Brooksy did not flop.
Let’s not confuse marijuana with crystal meth. Maybe I watch too much international football, but this is what I consider a flop:
Brooks and I are about the same height. If I were, say, in a nightclub, and some dude suddenly jostled me and I was caught off guard, I’d react exactly the same way that Brooks did: stumble backward in surprise, turn angrily to confront the jostler, realize said jostler is a full foot taller than me, then quickly turn my attention elsewhere.
Brooks played 10 years in the NBA, despite being small and offensively challenged. He’s tough and tenacious. He ain’t a punk. Not a flopper.
Was What Brooks Did OK?
Kwak: So, the snitching part. I agree that immediately tattling on someone for a seemingly innocuous offense is a bit unbecoming. And yet: Brooks has been in the NBA, as a player or coach, since the late 1980s. He knows how to work the angles, which is what makes him such a good coach. The free throw that came after the technical coupled with Beal’s subsequent layup iced the game. Thus, Brooks made a positive difference in the outcome; what more do you want your head coach to do?
Sherman: I’ll admit that Brooks did the right thing from a purely coaching perspective. His job is to help the Wizards win games; his getting the extra point that came as a result of this foul call helped Washington do just that. The same goes for players flopping: I understand why guys do the things that they do to win.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t find this morally objectionable. And I think a coach flopping is particularly objectionable. At least player flops are meant to simulate something that’s part of the action of a basketball game. Coaches, by their nature, are not involved in game action. Plus, your opinion on D.C. sports cannot be trusted. I’m bringing in key witness Jason Concepcion.
Jason Concepcion: In the spring of 2016, I arrived at a bar on the Lower East Side to meet my new Ringer colleagues. Editor-in-chief Sean Fennessey was in town. Donnie, the newly minted East Coast bureau chief, was there. He introduced himself to his new charges, whose careers he’d soon shepherd through the stormy seas of the internet, then turned to the bar to inquire about the Washington Capitals playoff game and whether it could be put on the television that was closest our table. He then proceeded to watch said game, standing up, and never said another word to us. Donnie is a D.C. sports maniac, and his views on this subject are suspect.
Kwak: Damn. Fandom aside, I’d argue that Brooks handled the entire situation perfectly: He sold Jokic’s bump contact without egregiously flopping, requested and got the technical call, and therefore helped his team win a close game. Brooksy is the best. And, to Jason’s story: I’ll note that the Caps lost—the game, and the series. We don’t have much to root for here. Let us live.