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Debunked: Hacking is a “Part of the Game”

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Last night’s game against the Portland Trailblazers was super fun... until the Blazers started hacking DeAndre Jordan.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

As we have talked about time and again on Clips Nation, the NBA needs to change its rules about fouling off the ball, or “hacking”. It is a commonly used strategy by coaches against poor free throw shooters to slow an opposing team down—it removes all offensive flow from the game. Just describing the results of this tactic makes me want to shiver.

Basketball is a game of rhythm and momentum. Lesser teams can get in a good groove, whip the ball around the court on offensive, and take down a superior squad. The game is at its best when the ball and players are moving, and the teams are flying up and down the court. Defense is still played of course, but there is a palpable energy that you can feel in the arena. You just know when a team hits its sweet spot on the court. Hacking eliminates all that.

By slowing the game down and taking one team entirely out of the offensive end, all momentum and tempo grinds to a halt. The team who is fouling can try to push the pace and get in a rhythm, but the breaks taken for the free throw shots on every single opposing possession makes it virtually impossible to do so. So one team isn’t able to run an offense, and the other team is impaired in their ability to get anything going as well. Because of this, hacking is a losing strategy—most of the time, it simply isn’t enough to get a team over the hump to victory.

All hacking does is ruin the enjoyment of a previously fun game. Fans groan, Twitter gets annoyed, and the players on the court probably aren’t happy either. One team doesn’t get to play offense, and the other team isn’t trusted by their coach to play defense; they just stand around and wait for the free throws to end before play can begin again. Removing half the game isn’t a basketball strategy. It’s a travesty.

For all the supporters of hacking out there who say, “well, those poor free throw shooters just need to become better ones, and then they wouldn’t get fouled off the ball”: stop it. Stop it right now. Yes, hitting free throws is a fundamental basketball skill. And yes, we all wish DeAndre Jordan would make more than 50% of his foul shots. Nobody wishes that more than Clippers fans, trust me. But you know what’s worse on a fundamental level than hacking? Taking away half the freaking game and turning it into a free throw contest. This line of thought holds no water with me, and it shouldn’t for you either.

Even worse than all this, the best counter to the fouling off ball strategy is to simply take the poor free throw shooter out of the game. This ends the parade of free throws, and allows the game to continue as normal. But, BUT, it also removes a key player from the game. One might say, “this is a clever tactic. It got DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond out of the game. That’s a win for the opposing team”. That may be the case. However, it’s a loss for quality of play, and for the fan experience. Nobody wants to watch a lesser product on the court when a better one is available with one simple change.

Eliminate hacking in the new CBA. Do it for the players, for the game of basketball, and for all of us. End it. Please.