Los Angeles Lakers know the scene far too well.
Up by 10 points, 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter, game seemingly in hand — then the whistle blows.
20 feet away from the ball, a low-caliber player is touching the all-star center on the arm. The Hack-a-[Player] is on.
The game grinds to an unenthusiastic halt, as the next 6 minutes are full of arm grabbing, whistles and the world's best athletes standing around watching seven-foot-tall men throw up uncontested bricks from 15 ft.
Sounds thrilling, doesn't it?
The problem is that the strategy works.
Don Nelson first instituted the off-ball intentional foul at the professional level in 1997. His first target was Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman. The — well — eclectic Rodman was shooting just 38% from the line that season when his team met Nelson's Dallas Mavericks.
Rodman defied the strategy, however, making 9-of-12 free throws in the game.
The showstopper didn't take flight until Nelson revisited it in 1999 while facing a notoriously poor free-throw shooting Shaquille O'Neil (meaning Zen Master Phil Jackson was consistently on the receiving end). The MVP Los Angeles Laker would be the target of off-ball fouls for much of the remainder of his career.
Coaches across the league used the strategy against Kazaam and his not-so-magical 52.7% career free throw shooting percentage. Even Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches of all time, used the strategy. His most notable use was during the 2008 playoffs, resulting in a pretty humorous moment in the '08-'09 season opener:
Despite the comedy above the NBA needs to do something to stop Hack-a-Shaq, Hack-a-Howard, Hack-Asik, Hack-a-??????, from happening and ruining what should be the most exciting quarter in what is supposed to be a fast-paced game.
The current go-to hackee is Houston Rocket (and former Laker) Dwight Howard. As a Lakers fan, I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been thoroughly enjoyable watching Howard struggle at the line this season — especially during a game against his former team earlier this season. But the quality of the game we love to watch is tarnished by the removal of pace and excitement.
The National Basketball Association prides itself on having world-class athletes who can jump higher, run faster and shoot better than the rest of us. When the game deteriorates into a free throw shooting contest the game becomes pedestrian. It might be the only time fans can actually say, "Well even I can do that!"
The way the rules are currently the hacking can occur throughout the game other than the final two minutes of the half and the game. During these two segments of the game if a player is intentionally fouled away from the ball the team on the receiving end can choose the shooter they would like to go to the charity stripe.
I propose that NBA Commissioner David Stern — or Adam Silver when he takes over next season — expands the limitations on the Hack-a-Shaq by allowing a team to choose their shooter at any time during the game.
If I were being greedy I would suggest that in the final two minutes the team can pick its shooter and get the ball back on offense ... one step at a time.
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