(drawing by Josh Frankel)

Feigning injury or selling a foul is hardly a new phenomenon (“if Jose Canseco is the godfather of steroids, then Vlade Divac is the godfather of flopping”), but the Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley should be applauded for managing to wash Shaq’s Escalade and write a column all at the same time.

Flopping – or exaggerating the effects of physical contact in hopes of drawing a foul on the opponent – is technically a form of cheating. It’s more acting than basketball. It’s creating an illusion to fool the referees.

It’s garbage. It’s spineless and wrong. It belongs in professional wrestling. Problem is, it’s a central storyline in the Western Conference playoffs, where the Spurs beat the Suns in Game 1 and Shaquille O’Neal claimed, “the floppers prevailed.”

“I don’t react to players’ comments or really anybody’s comments,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Monday. “It’s like Hillary (Clinton) and Barack (Obama), you know? So and so said this about you. Let’s talk about health care and that sort of thing instead of the bull (expletive).”

Flopping has become such an issue in American basketball that NBA executive Stu Jackson, who oversees the officiating, claimed last season that he was going to research how other leagues handle the most notorious offenders.

Jackson did not return phone calls Monday, but when informed about the flopping charges here in San Antonio, the guy who answered the phone at NBA headquarters said with great sarcasm: “What a surprise.”

Overseas, the problem is so insidious that FIBA referees can assess technical fouls on players for flopping, and with more and more foreign-born players inhabiting the NBA, it’s easy to see how the product can suffer.

“They come from the soccer culture where they kind of get elbowed and then they get carried off on the stretcher,” Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said. “And then they come back a minute later and they’re running at full speed. First, you’re worried they’re going to die. And then you’re worried they’re going to score three more goals in the game.”

Clearly, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili is the Jack Nicholson of flopping, and that’s a shame. Ginobili is a marvelous talent with great courage and toughness. A total team player, he accepted less money and a lesser role (sixth man) just to help his team win. As Popovich noted on Monday, “He got over himself a long time ago.”

Yet outside San Antonio, Ginobili has tarnished his reputation by being King Flopper, and he will never be appreciated for the great player he is. But it’s not just European players who have mastered the art of flopping. It’s not just the Spurs, either. And I hate to tell you this, but the Suns have plenty of floppers, too, including the two-time MVP.

“Raja Bell’s a flopper, Kurt (Thomas) is a flopper, Ginobili is probably the king of floppers,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There are levels of flopping. Divac might be the father of flopping. That’s gamesmanship . . . you love ’em when you’re with them and hate ’em when they’re against you. That’s normal.”

No, normal would be two guys playing basketball, and the best man wins. Instead, flopping rewards inferior players, enrages the victims and makes the officials look stupid.

Though I don’t find the practice nearly as insidious as Bickely, some acting props should go the way of AK-47, who managed to get a game-tying Rockets 3 pointer waived off last night after pretending Luis Scola had stabbed him in the torso.

The New York Daily News’ Frank Isola reports Isiah Thomas has been banned from contacting any Knicks players. I was thinking this might explain why Randolph Morris never got into a game, but apparently, said ban has only been enforced in the past few days.