The end is near.
Since stepping off the fence this past February, NBA commissioner Adam Silver took the time during his annual pre-Finals address on Thursday to reaffirm his stance against the Hack-a-Shaq strategy, in which teams intentionally foul poor free throw shooters away from ball in hopes of gaining an advantage.
The strategy has increasingly caught the ire of Silver as the number of daily instances increased dramatically between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. ESPN reports away-from-the-ball Hack-a-Shaq fouls increased by two-and-a-half times between this season and last. In addition, the strategy has jumped 16-fold over the past five years.
In essence, not even Shaquille O’Neal was Hack-a-Shaq’d this much, and that doesn’t sit well with Silver.
“Not only is that something that is bad for our network partners, but for all of the fan research we have shows that the fans hate it,” Silver said. “There may be a compromise in there where we can cut it down significantly.”
While Silver acknowledged the majority of Hack-a-Shaq instances involved three players (Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and Andre Drummond), as of January, at least 27 different players were subject to the intentional foul strategy at least once this season.
Detractors of any proposed rule change threatening the Hack-a-Shaq strategy often point the finger at the struggling free throw shooters in question, citing that a rule change would let poor free throw shooters off the hook.
Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s vice president of player operations, disagrees. Attempting to benefit from intentionally and openly breaking the rules flies in the face of what the game’s supposed to be all about, he says.
“It goes against the spirit of the rule book,” VanDeWeghe told The Washington Post in April. “Free throws were to compensate and deter fouls, not to encourage them. So I think we’re at the point where everyone agrees on that, not to belabor that, so what are the solutions?”
While the league has yet to offer a concrete fix for curbing the practice, they may be able to take heed from their D-League affiliate, who banned Hack-a-Shaq fouls two years ago by awarding the offensive team with one free throw and possession. A similar rule is already in place for the last two minutes of NBA games.
Currently, the NBA is one of the few leagues to feature a loophole that allows mid-court away-from-the-ball hugs. The practice is considered intentional and/or unsportsmanlike in the majority of prep, pro, and FIBA organizations.
Still, Silver will likely face resistance in his attempt to overhaul the ruling.
“If Adam wants to get rid of Hack-a-Shaq, he’s wrong. Dead wrong,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in April. “Absolutely 100 percent wrong.”