HoopIdea: No more Hack-a-Whoever

May, 21, 2012
5/21/12
3:22
PM ET
By Beckley Mason and Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Some key moments of Game 4 between the Clippers and Spurs were not basketball at all. And with bricklayers like DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans parading to the line, it was a decent reason to change the channel.

"I hate it," says Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach who made the whole thing happen. "It's ugly. But it's something that's available."

What he's talking about is what used to be called "Hack-a-Shaq," where, instead of playing defense, or grabbing a rebound to get the ball back, a team simply fouls a horrible free throw shooter, often with the ball nowhere in the vicinity, and forces them to struggle through the freebies.

It should probably be called "Hack-whoever-Gregg Popovich-says-to-hack," these days, though, as the Spurs dominate this field.

And yet the coach who does it most hates it. Fans hate it. Players, surely, prefer to play, not hack. Surely this is no referee's idea of a game well played. Even David Stern is on record against it. In 2008, Stern railed against hack-a-Shaq tactics to ESPN.com's J.A. Adande, saying he didn’t like "the idea that, 'Hey, look at me, I'm going to hit this guy as soon as the ball goes into play, even though he's standing under the other basket.'"

If everybody hates it ... why would it ever happen?

Because -- as an unintended consequence of the current rules is that in certain situations -- breaking the rules in this precise way can give a team an advantage.

In other words, the rules made Gregg Popovich do it.

Imagine if the penalty for robbing a bank was that you had to give half the money back. The rules, in that situation, would essentially beg people to rob banks.

Change the rulebook, though, and you can say goodbye to this forever. Nobody will miss it.

How to change the rulebook?

We're open to ideas. But here's a basic principle to consider: Breaking the rules should never help your team. If teams are breaking rules to gain an advantage, clearly the penalties are out of whack.

Now in basketball, there's something odd, that most sports don't have. We have a longstanding tradition of fouling intentionally to get the ball back. It happens late in almost every close game. Some of you might be thinking that any rule that eliminates Hack-a-Whoever would need to somehow preserve that.

To which we'd say: You sure about that?

One simple solution: Let fouled teams decide if they'd rather have the free throw, or the ball out of bounds. After any foul, Hack-a-Whoever or otherwise. You'd quickly have no reason to foul to get the ball back, because fouling would not get you the ball back. Then you'd also get a lot more games ending with a lot more basketball being played. And who's against that?

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Beckley Mason is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com.

Henry Abbott | email

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