Barry: Simple solution for Hack-a-Jordan tactics? Make ’em 

Suppose Major League Baseball decided intentional walks were making the game less exciting and implemented a rule that disallowed them. Or how about if the NFL decided too many games were being won by field goals, so they passed a rule that would not permit them in the last five minutes of a game? Those rule changes would be absurd because intentional walks and field goals have long been a part of game strategy.

Astonishingly, there has been recent talk among the media and even from Commissioner Adam Silver about the NBA considering something every bit as ludicrous as the baseball and football analogies.

We all know about the infamous Hack-a-Shaq strategy that was employed by many teams when facing Shaquille O’Neal during his playing days. His career 53 percent free-throw shooting was so bad that it made more sense to foul him and put him at the line as opposed to allowing his team to have an offensive possession. Well, that same strategy is now being utilized by a number of NBA coaches, most notably Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

On numerous occasions, Popovich has instructed his players to purposely foul the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who shot a ridiculous 40 percent at the free throw line in the regular season. The Hack-a-Jordan tactic worked in the Spurs’ 111–107 overtime victory in Game 2 of their playoff series, when he shot an abysmal 6 for 17 at the free-throw line.

This strategy is not new. In fact, because of what teams were doing to Wilt Chamberlain back in the 1950s and 1960s, the NBA put in the rule that, in the last two minutes of the game, a team cannot intentionally foul a player who does not have possession of the ball. Surprisingly, I have never liked the rule. I should love it since I usually had the ball in my hands at the end of a game and, 90 percent of the time, I made the free throw. However, one of the premises of any sport is to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition. By limiting who can be fouled at the end of a game, the rule gives an unfair advantage to teams with lousy free-throw shooters.

I say, if you don’t want a player to be fouled because he is a liability at the free-throw line, then he should be sitting on the bench in crunch time. If you recall, that is exactly what Shaq’s coaches did with him much of the time. Clippers coach Doc Rivers did the same with Jordan at the end of Game 4.

Why would any sport put in a rule that rewards ineptitude? Excellence at the free-throw line should be lauded. The free throw is the only offensive part of the game where an opponent cannot legally prevent you from being successful. Furthermore, the shot is always the same distance and the basket is the same height.

Professional basketball players should be proficient enough to make four of every five attempts — period. Even if they hit only three of every four, all of the controversy about fouling off the ball would disappear.

I do not understand how any player, especially a professional, can accept shooting less than 80 percent from the free-throw line. With proper technique and the willingness to practice, virtually anyone can become a proficient free-throw shooter.

Sadly, what I observed during my career was most players never fully dedicated themselves to becoming better at the foul line. Coaches didn’t help the situation by often telling them to shoot 25 free throws at the end of practice. So, most of them would just shoot as quickly as possible, not caring much about the result. Coaches should tell players that they have to make 50 before they can leave the practice. Honestly, that is not even enough. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect.

Hopefully, the time will come when more NBA players take personal pride in their free-throw percentages so fans won’t have to witness Hack-a-Jordan or anything like it in the future. Unfortunately, it may be a while before that happens.

Rick Barry played eight season for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.

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