Deception and decision making in professional basketball: Is it beneficial to flop? Academic Article uri icon


  • We examine the behavior of professional referees and players in the context of offensive fouls in basketball. Over 500 incidents that had the potential to meet the criteria of an offensive foul were recorded from the 2009/10 season of the Israeli Basketball Super League and were analyzed by basketball experts. Falling intentionally in order to improve the chances to get an offensive foul is a very common behavior of defenders (almost two thirds of the recorded falls). It seems to be helpful at first, increasing indeed the chances to get an offensive foul, but a more careful analysis shows that the entire impact of an intentional fall on the team seems to be negative. We suggest that both rational reasons and biased decision making lead players to frequently act against their team's interest by falling. Referees almost never call an offensive foul if the player remained on his feet, and are generally calling fewer fouls than the number judged by experts as appropriate. We explain the referees’ behavior both by using the representativeness heuristic and by examining closely the referees’ interests and observing that to some extent even their officiating mistakes may be rational.

publication date

  • June 1, 2014