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Charges Must Go

The case for eliminating basketball’s worst rule: It’s time to stop rewarding defenders for grabbing their nuts and then falling over

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Listen here, basketball fans, and listen good: We have to get rid of charges. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but I know that it’s going to get done. It has to. I refuse to believe that it’s the current year and the greatest sport in the world — a sport that exemplifies athleticism, strength, agility, and grace — is still rewarding defenders for grabbing their balls and falling over as they undercut guys who are trying to dunk. Charges are dangerous and make the game less fun, and the only people who think otherwise are either short, unathletic dudes whose only hope on defense is to take them or stodgy traditionalists who are 4,000 years old.

I wrote about this more than a year and a half ago for a website you may have heard of, and even then I wasn’t the first to have the thought. It’s just that, with a new season right around the corner, I feel compelled to reignite the charge-banning flame. Plus, when I pitch the idea of getting rid of charges to people, most react like I’m suggesting that there should be a 7-point line or that the second quarter of every game should be played with three balls. I want to make it clear this isn’t a novelty act and it sure as shit isn’t a joke. I desperately want to see charges abolished from every level of basketball.

Let me clarify exactly what I mean by a “charge.” I don’t want offensive fouls to be eliminated from the game. There obviously have to be measures in place that prevent offensive players from just lowering their shoulders and plowing through defenders on their way to the rim. I don’t want post defenders to be helpless against someone like Shaq backing them down with reckless abandon, nor do I believe LeBron should be allowed to steamroll Steph Curry on the perimeter. My gripe is with the plays in which help-side defenders run to a spot on the floor, plant their feet, and grab their nuts because they know they can’t make a legitimate play on the ball. In other words, the Marcus Smart defense.

Here’s my proposal: I want to make the 3-point line the new restricted arc, and I want to make it so that it’s a flagrant foul if a secondary defender (or a defender on a fast break) steps in front of an offensive player inside the arc, remains stationary, and then doesn’t attempt a play on the ball. What’s a “play on the ball,” you ask? That would be up to the referee’s discretion to a certain extent, but I’d generally define it as (a) trying to strip the ball from the offensive player as he looks to shoot/dribble or (b) trying to block/alter the shot. Either way, covering your genitals and falling over is most definitely not a play on the ball. And while it might seem unwise to institute a rule that would give officials a gray area to navigate, the truth is this would be much easier to enforce than the current system, which requires officials to determine whether a defender was standing outside the restricted area, whether he moved his feet, whether he established position before the offensive player started his upward motion, and all the other factors that go into making block/charge calls the hardest thing for refs to get right. I imagine most officials would welcome a change that makes their jobs easier, although there would be a few exceptions like Ted Valentine, who seems to have an orgasm every time he emphatically makes a block/charge call in front of a packed Big Ten arena.

Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste gets called for charging on Boston College’s Idy Diallo. (Getty Images)
Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste gets called for charging on Boston College’s Idy Diallo. (Getty Images)

This wouldn’t mean the end of help defense, by the way. If charges were banned, defenders could still get into the same position they already do, only now they’d have to actually play defense instead of strategically falling over. Defenders could do what Roy Hibbert does all the time, which is maintain a vertical plane, challenge guys at the rim, and even draw offensive fouls if the player trying to score is out of control. Wouldn’t it make the sport more fun if more guys followed Hibbert’s lead instead of taking charges?

But, you might be saying, Hibbert can only make that play because he’s enormous. How are guards coming from the help side supposed to stop slashing small forwards from dunking on them?

They aren’t! That’s the point! If a defender doesn’t have quick enough hands to strip the ball, or if he isn’t big or athletic enough to challenge the offensive player at the rim, he’s shit out of luck. We don’t give an out to slower and smaller players in any other context on a basketball court. When Russell Westbrook blows by Kirk Hinrich, Hinrich doesn’t get to grab his jersey just because Westbrook is faster. And Isaiah Thomas doesn’t get to climb on DeAndre Jordan’s back for a rebound because “it’s not fair” how much bigger Jordan is. So why do we put up with charges? We are one rulebook tweak away from living in a world where every time a player dribbles past his primary defender it means that an exciting play at the rim is coming. Either the defender wins, like Hibbert in that Vine above, or the defender loses, like Hibbert does here.

Who the hell says no to that? Both of those plays are immeasurably more entertaining than whatever the most captivating charge in basketball history is. Both are safer, too.

Look, I know people hate change and we’ve all had it beaten into our heads that taking a charge is one of the craftiest and most selfless plays someone can make. The charge rule is like the Second Amendment, though: It made perfect sense when it was implemented a million years ago, but the world we live in now is so different than it was back then that it’s worth re-evaluating. Do we have the rule because it’s good? Or do we have it because it’s always been there? I have no idea what the answer is for the Second Amendment (please don’t yell at me, gun people), but the answer to the charge rule is clear. If charges were never a thing and an NBA owner spent a meeting pushing for the idea of incentivizing defenders for falling over, the rest of the owners would laugh that person out of the room.

Charges were first introduced before the 1928–29 college basketball season, when players wore belts, the ball had laces, jump shots didn’t exist, and the typical center was 6-foot-6. The first NBA game wouldn’t happen for another 18 years. Can you imagine how the people who created the rule would’ve reacted if they knew basketball players would one day be able to jump over 7-footers and Kias? Forget killing baby Hitler. If I had a time machine, I’d travel back to 1928 and show those guys this clip of David Stockton getting obliterated by Orlando Johnson all because their rule had been bastardized to the point that Stockton was an inch away from being rewarded for this absurdity.

Think of taking charges like your grandmother going 45 miles per hour on an interstate where the speed limit is 70. Sure, it’s perfectly within her rights to do so, and you could make an argument that she’s the only safe driver on the road. But come on. Why should all the other people who are in total control of their vehicles be forced to slow down to avoid crashing into her just because she’s too scared and/or doesn’t have the ability to go faster? Similarly, why should LeBron or Kevin Durant be discouraged from attacking the rim just because there are defenders too scared to challenge them and who might take their legs out from underneath them while they’re in the air?

Charges must go. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure of anything in my life. If you disagree and feel the urge to voice your opinion, I want to take a second to remind you that you’re wrong and it’s not my fault that you sucked at basketball and had to rely on garbage tactics to have any semblance of success on the court. For those who agree, I beg you to please please please join the #BanCharges movement this season. Recruit your friends, belittle those who disagree, and become so annoying in your pursuit of change that your message gets lost and people just want you to shut up about it already.

If sportswriters tweeting at airlines during their 20-minute flight delays have taught me anything, it’s that complaining on Twitter is the easiest way to get what you want. And if that plan doesn’t work, we can just get LeBron to complain for us. After all, while it’s impossible to know for certain, I’m confident that when Gandhi said, “Tweet the change you want to see in the world,” he had the #BanCharges movement in mind.