The idea of ‘systematic fouling’ in basketball is not new. Every team has tried to stop the clock with a foul. In the 1960s and 1970s, when FIBA Basketball did not, yet, have a bonus rule, every ‘common foul’ (not on the shooter) was rewarded only with the right to in-bound the ball. The USSR figured this out. They had 12 men and that’s 60 fouls. If they had 55 called, they would have seven men fouled out and five on the court with five each. And no refs ever called 55 fouls. So they beat up on teams.
Then, several NCAA coaches — some in the Hall of Fame — were as shrewd as the USSR coaches. They asked this question: “How many fouls will refs call in a game?” They probably said, “Thirty, tops.” They then reasoned this way, in my opinion: “Let’s not commit just 30 fouls and have them all called. Let’s commit 300 fouls and protest every call at 120 Decibels.” So, their teams, basically, played NFL Football on the hardwood and the referees, intimidated by the force of their personalities, called those 30 fouls but left another 270 go uncalled.
But, about 20 years ago, coach Don Nelson devised an entire strategy to use ‘systematic fouling’: “Hack-a-Shaq.” Meaning foul Shaquille O’Neal, who was a terrible free throw shooter (like about 6000 misses in his career). FIBA coaches call this ‘foul for profit.’ The idea: Spend a foul because we’ll be rewarded when Shaq misses the free throw. No, the strategy was not always successful but it took hold and the NBA now has a lot of poor FT shooters and lots of ‘intentional’ fouls.
What to do? NBA greats like Larry Bird have said, “Do nothing. Those players should learn to make free throws.” For now, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has taken this line. They may be right. Of course, everyone is concerned about how the game has deteriorated into a fouling contest and a free throw shooting contest. That’s not basketball. My idea? Apply the ‘intentional foul’ rule if the foul is flagrant. If the defense is clever in making a ‘tactical’ foul? That’s just two free throws and those stone-handed NBA players had better learn to make them.