The tradition of intentionally fouling a poor free throw shooter has been around for ages. Since the sixties, most big men have not been accurate from the charity stripe. While they can throw their weight and dominate inside, converting free throws has been their Achilles. This had led opposing teams to deliberately send these goons to the line. The earliest notable example is Wilt Chamberlain. ‘The Stilt’, as he was known, was a prolific scorer in the post. At over seven feet tall, he towered over his nemeses. Individually, he was clearly the best centre of his era. He always came up short against the Boston Celtics. They were powered by the league’s greatest winner: Bill Russell.
I recently watched a two part doco on Russell. The Netflix production pays homage to the man simply known as eleven rings. Wilt was the better athlete but Russ was the smarter team player. Wilt may have scored a century in one game, the greatest scoring output in league history. He may have averaged fifty markers a night. He was the league’s all time scorer until Jabbar passed him in 1984. Yet for all his individual merits, he did not enjoy as much playoff success as his rival. As they say, ‘offence wins games, defence wins championships’.
Going back to the crux of this post, Wilt was a lowly foul shooter. His percentage hovered around the fifty percent mark. As a result, teams caught on and began fouling him earnestly. After all, one point is better than two. Anticipating this, Wilt would avoid getting hacked by playing hide and seek with his oppressors. The L quickly brought this unsightly scene to an end by mandating that the fouled team would have two shots AND ball possession, unless this transpires in the last two minutes of the quarter.
The list of poor shooting man mountains do not end with Wilt. Shaquille O’neal is a prime example. When he entered the L in 92, he wasn’t a horrible foul shooter. During his early years with Orlando, he was treading the sixty percent plateau. However, as his career progressed, his shooting got worse. There were even whole seasons where his percentages dipped below fifty percent. This, in turn, made him a target for aggressive defences. He was often sent to the line, where he committed brick after brick. In fairness, he claimed that he dropped them when they counted. Like Wilt, Shaq had seasons where he shot better from the field than the charity stripe. In his memoir, he couldn’t explain the ineptitude. He had tried everything, including getting rid of the crusts on his peanut butter sandwiches. Nothing worked. He ended his career with over 28,000 points. He confesses that he would’ve been above thirty thou had he just converted more freebies.
These hack a Shaq defences are done to neutralise the other team’s easy scoring. Curiously, it wasn’t Shaq but Dennis Rodman who became known for this tactic in his era. While playing as a Chicago Bull, Rodman was fouled six times by little known Bubba Wells. The latter holds the dubious record of quickest fouling out in history. He played for three minutes. Whack! You’re out.
Other Shaq contemporaries like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan continued this trend. The former is a great rebounder whose bad free throw shooting has forced him out in close games. His teams felt that leaving him out there will jeopardise their chances. DeAndre Jordan was known for his tenure in Lob City with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He was one of the more athletic centres. Like Drummond, he was often left out of close matches due to his bad shooting.
Andrew Bogut is an interesting case. He was the first overall pick by the Bucks in 2005. The Aussie quickly impressed the crowds with his pin point shooting and adept passing for a five man. He was an All Star in 2009, but broke his arm after a dunk. Since then, his shooting wasn’t the same. His form was affected and he became more of an inside presence and rebounder than a scorer. That he was able to adapt his game to his team’s needs was truly remarkable. He lasted many years since the injury, a testament to his hard work and diligence. In 2015, he won a chip as a starter for the Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile, Giannis is another case. He takes a lot of free throws but doesn’t make heaps of them. Despite of this, he proved his doubters wrong by winning a title in 2021. In one of those playoff nights, he was on a tear from the foul line.
It doesn’t always have to be big men. The most notable example was Bruce Bowen. The latter was a defensive stalwart for San Antonio. He was also known for his accurate three point shooting. He would spot up from the corners and let it fly. His on the ball corner sniping didn’t transfer to the foul line, where he was a really atrocious foul shooter. The most consecutive free throws he nailed was 9. As he admitted, he couldn’t even hit double figures. Teams would foul him intentionally, until he was left out of the action. In spite of his flaws, he was a fearless, lockdown defender. He regularly took on the game’s greatest scorers and made them work harder for their buckets.
In some ways, as per Wikipedia, the Hack a Shaq is a grey area. The tactic is much like a handball in football, a ploy that is against the rules but still exploited by teams. Despite the rule changes and video reviews, the Hack a Shaq seems here to stay. As long as there are stars who couldn’t convert at the line, there will always be teams out for blood.