Grimes: Hack-a-Shaq is an important part of an evolving NBA

Alec Grimes

Alec Grimes
Alec Grimes

The most debated topic of the NBA playoffs has been the Hack-a-Shaq strategy and its impact on the game.

The strategy was first used in 1997 by Mavericks head coach Don Nelson. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, Nelson instructed his team to intentionally foul Dennis Rodman, who entered the game shooting 38 percent from the free throw line. The tactic backfired as Rodman made 9 of 12 free throw attempts, leading to a Bulls’ victory. Nelson again used the strategy two years later against Shaquille O’Neal, this time successfully. The Hack-a-Shaq strategy was officially coined shortly after other teams began to adopt the same tactic of intentionally fouling Shaquille O’Neal. This strategy paid dividends for many teams, as Shaq converted a meager 52.7 percent of his free throw attempts in his career.


The strategy is still being used today, but it is limited by a new set of rules. Under current rules, any off-ball fouls that occur in the final two minutes of a game result in one free throw and the possession of the ball for the team that was fouled. This rule has eliminated the use of the strategy at the end of the game, but it has not discouraged some coaches from utilizing it up until the two minute mark.

The biggest supporter of Hack-a-Shaq is Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich repeatedly used the strategy throughout the Spurs’ seven game series against the Los Angeles Clippers. DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers worst free throw shooter at 39.7 percent on the season, was intentionally fouled a total of 30 times in the series. Jordan was victimized the most in the third quarter of Game 5 when he was forced to attempt 10 free throws in a span of one minute and 47 seconds, which took over nine minutes to play out in real time.

This prolonging of the game is what has many coaches, players, commentators and fans up in arms about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Many opponents to the strategy claim that it takes the excitement and spirit out of the game, and instead adds an unnecessary aspect that only succeeds at making a parody of the game. The NBA is planning on discussing these problems over the off season and looking at ways to eliminate the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. While this would be a relief to many, it would take away a useful tactic that is reliant on one of the fundamentals of the game.

Free throw shooting is one of the first things you learn when you begin to play basketball. It is a pivotal part of the game, and oftentimes it can decide closely-contested games. The Hack-a-Shaq strategy is hotly-debated because it works off this basic skill, therefore becoming a larger part of the game. If people want to see the end of the strategy, then the solution is simple — make free throws. Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki made 38 consecutive free throws in the 2011 playoffs, which is why opposing teams avoided even the slightest contact with the all-star forward. No player should be expected to achieve the same feat as Nowitzki, but they are paid professionals and should be expected to make around 70 percent of their free throws. If players such as O’Neal and Jordan could reach the 70 percent mark, then Hack-a-Shaq would be ineffective and would not be used in tightly contested games.

By adding rules against the Hack-a-Shaq the NBA is bailing out players who are unable to shoot free throws. The basis of competition in sports, exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses and taking advantage of them, will be eliminated along with the Hack-a-Shaq strategy.

Thanks for making time for Grimes.

Collegian Sports Reporter Alec Grimes can be reached at and on Twitter @GrimesAlec.