Hack-a-DJ: the strange and terrible saga continues

Last summer, from my aisle seat on a plane leaving Kauai, Hawaii, I watched as a man attempted to stow away his suitcase in an overhead bin. The suitcase did not fit, but having brought a clearly oversized carry-on onto the plane, he had no choice but to and try to force it in. This went on for quite a while and it was painful to watch. He sheepishly grinned and chuckled at the poor lady whose face was stationed only inches from his outstretched body.

I felt the same way watching as DeAndre Jordan, one of the worst free-throw shooters in the league walked to the line and shot a NBA record 28 FTs in the first half on national television. None of the fans or announcers were directly impacted by the hacking of Jordan, yet just like watching a man fight a losing battle with a suitcase and a luggage compartment, it dragged on for what seemed like hours, steadily becoming more uncomfortable for everyone.

In what seemed like an attempt to prepare sports fans for the looming boredom of baseball, Houston Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale implemented the infamous “Hack-a-DJ” on Los Angeles Clippers’ Center.

The hack strategy was first used on Dennis Rodman. To prevent the Chicago Bulls from scoring at the ravenous rate they usually did, NBA head coach Don Nelson decided to have his players intentionally foul Rodman, sending him to the line instead of putting the ball in Michael Jordan’s lethal hands.

The hack strategy has certainly come a long way since those early days when Nelson used it as more of a way to stop the hemorrhaging than as an actual method of winning. Hack-a really caught momentum and notoriety with Shaquille O’Neal. This was when it actually became a thing and got its most well-known title of “Hack-a-Shaq.”

Yet besides the hack-a strategy just being all around awful for both fans and players alike — even James Harden of the Rockets said he does not like it when the coach tells the team to start hacking — it actually does not work.

Foul a guy shooting 43.7 percent from the line, watch as he probably misses both FTs, then gets the ball back. This keeps the ball out of the all-star hands of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin while simultaneously giving your players a break on defense.

How can this go wrong? While the reason it does not work very well is largely because of statistics and other such math stuff—which I will leave for ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight—there are some obvious reasons that anyone can see once they are pointed out.

Some may disagree or have their own opinion of why hack-a-DJ does not work and they might be right. There are countless arguments about why it is bad, most of which I agree with since I do not play favorites when it comes to reasons to hate hack-a-anyone. That being said, there is one main reason why “hack-a-DJ” does not work: momentum.

Momentum plays an enormous role in basketball. By running over to Jordan and hugging him, the opposing team completely destroys the momentum of the game.

Coaches intentionally try to call timeouts when they feel the momentum shift away from their team. They want to stop play and try to keep the other team’s momentum-snowball from turning into an avalanche. By intentionally fouling, coaches virtually do the same thing, but to their own team as well.

Imagine if a team hits two three pointers in a row at their home arena and the crowd goes wild—everyone is on their feet. They have the momentum; they sprint down the floor, ready to get a defensive stop… until their coach signals that DeAndre needs a hug. The momentum fades as both players and fans reluctantly watch Jordan throw the ball in what is hopefully the general direction of the hoop.

There has been lots of chatter about how to fix the league’s hacking epidemic, all of which benefits the worst shooters, like giving them a handicap. That is obviously a slippery slope that should be dismissed; the league cannot cater to every player who is not good at certain aspect of the game. Next they will tell LeBron James to stop driving to the hoop so often because opposing players have a harder time guarding him.

The answer is really quite simple: on the offensive side, make your free throws. On the defensive side, coaches, realize that you are killing your team’s momentum and stop hacking. Furthermore, if you ever decide to bring back a small container ship from Hawaii, do everyone a favor and just have it checked in.

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

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One Comment

  1. I still don’t understand how changing the OFF BALL fouls is giving bad shooters a handicap. The 2 freethrows for off ball fouls is just a bad idea period.

    “Foul the guy who doesn’t have the ball and we can get possession!” How is that good? Penalize the fouling team by giving the team with the ball 1 freethrow. Then give them the ball back. If that causes balance issues with the shotclock, maybe consider resetting it. Very simple, fair to all, AND IT GETS EVERYONE BACK TO PLAYING BASKETBALL!