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We Still Haven’t Ridden Ourselves of Hack-a-Shaq

The NBA’s new rule change just means we’ll be watching bricked free throws earlier

Getty Images
Getty Images

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Hack-a-Shaq was dead?

I was right here, staring into the blue glow of my laptop when suddenly, bells rang. A breeze blew through my apartment. The dishwasher burbled. A Caterpie appeared. Hack-a-Shaq, the news alert read, was done. I lit some candles in Hack-a’s memory, and dove into my Greatest Hits playlist: Andre Drummond getting lightly tickled; DeAndre Jordan getting pleasant, midgame bro hugs; Shaq getting fouled in the first five seconds of the 2008–09 season. And then I read the report.

Beginning next season, flagrant fouls will be [a cloud slips away from the sun and everything is suddenly drenched in golden light] assigned for “dangerous or excessively hard deliberate fouls”; defensive fouls that occur before the ball is inbounded will be whistled; and away-from-the-play fouls will only be applied to the last two minutes of each period in regulation and overtime.

Wait, what?

This rule change was supposed to keep teams from abusing — sorry if you can’t hear me, I keep telling the chorus of angels to pipe down — the league’s Most Inept Free Throw Shooters. To stop them from bringing games to a standstill as the M.I.F.T.S. were fouled over and over, and over and over and over, and then a little more, and then maybe once or twice after that. This was going to be the end of futile free throws, the sunset of wondering if you even actually enjoy the act of watching basketball anymore.

The breeze came back, stronger and colder, and blew all the candles out. A distant voice could be heard hissing, YOU SHALL NEVER BE FREE OF HACK-A-SHAQ. The Caterpie broke out of the Pokéball for no reason at all.

Let me tell you something about this closing of the NBA’s most annoying loophole, this greatly exaggerated report of death, this séance-that-became-a-resurrection: It’s baloney. In all likelihood, the rule tweak, which was approved by a two-thirds majority of teams and which commissioner Adam Silver said will result in a 45 percent reduction in incidents, will instead push the time frame up: Bad shooters will probably just be fouled earlier in each quarter, before the away-from-the-play foul rule takes effect.

Consider this play-by-play of the third quarter of a Houston-Detroit game from January: The Rockets fouled Drummond 12 times in the first two and a half minutes. It was as if then-Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff were coaching in the future — a future in which he knew he’d have to get all those fouls in early. The lack of solved-ness of this solution is not exactly subtle: Silver himself seems disappointed the rules did not go further. So, bury Hack-a-Shaq, but maybe not very deep: It might not even take five seconds of the 2016–17 season before we need to exhume.