The NBA Cannot Become the World's Most Popular Sports League Until it Solves Intentional Fouling


January 20th, 2016: a night that will live in NBA infamy — when the eyes and emotions of basketball fans at the Toyota Center and abroad were suddenly and deliberately attacked by Houston Rockets Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

Within seconds of the second half starting between the home team Rockets and the Detroit Pistons, Houston Forward K.J. McDaniels committed five consecutive fouls on Pistons big man Andre Drummond, all of which were away-from-the-ball and intentional.

It was just the beginning:

What exactly happened here? Well, it’s pretty simple: the Rockets came into the second half trailing by 9 points, and decided the best way to erase this deficit was to foul Drummond every single time Houston didn’t have the ball.

Why would they do this? Because Andre Drummond is the worst free throw shooter in NBA history (of qualified players), sitting at an absolutely deplorable, unfathomable 35.5% on the season — and there is obviously a better chance of him missing them than making em. Here’s the video proof from Wednesday night:

Whether you think “Hack-a-(Insert Terrible Free Throw Shooter HERE)” works is a conversation for another day, but in this case — i guess it did (at the time), as the Rockets trimmed the Piston lead and Stan Van Gundy removed Drummond from the game. Ultimately, despite a Detroit victory: Drummond missed 23 free throws (on 36 attempts). To give you an idea of how absurd this is: Stephen Curry has missed 22 free throws FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON (on 237 attempts).

Once again: debating if this is a viable strategy to win an NBA basketball game is of no interest to me, I am simply fed up and genuinely upset with what I watched unfold on that court.

Even before I begin ranting, I have to admit: I am a defector. I am originally a supporter of the “Want ‘Hack-a-Whoever’ to go away? Stop complaining and make your damn free throws!” school of thought. At first, I felt no sympathy for the Andre Drummonds/DeAndre Jordans/Dwight Howards of the world because they are being paid millions of dollars to play basketball for a living and it’s their job to be the best at their craft — and to this day, I still don’t feel sympathy for them … however, I have come to the realization that no amount of time spent in the gym is going to fix their ineptness at the free throw line. Real-life basketball is not a game of Warcraft or any other popular RPG video game where if you spend hours training you progressively level up and become stronger — you can’t just lock Andre Drummond in a gym, tell him he can’t come out until he’s shot 100,000 free throws with a free throw specialist coach, and expect him to walk out Steph Curry when done.

Simply put: I am fully convinced Andre and the two other gentlemen mentioned above were bad free throw shooters, are currently bad free throw shooters, and will always be bad free throw shooters. Does that mean they can’t be great players? No, absolutely not. Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Ben Wallace are examples of egregiously awful free throw shooters who are NBA champions and life-long legends — they all turned out just fine last time I checked, so, for this reason: I do not feel bad for what happened to Drummond last night … WHATSOEVER … he can either try to get better there or find ways to dominate with him avoiding the free throw line.

However, we’re at a crossroads now. When I say ‘we’ I mean me, as an NBA fan, you, as an NBA fan, and the NBA as a business. You may or may not have heard but the NBA is rapidly approaching the NFL’s popularity in terms of ratings and economics.

The average NBA franchise is now worth $1.25 billion, up 13% over last year on the heels of a 74% gain the previous year after the national media deals were completed.

Thirteen teams are worth at least $1 billion, up from just three two years ago.

Things are growing so fast within the United States that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly expressed interest in implementing weekday morning games to accommodate and scale up international audiences

So here we are: an NBA product with more perennial superstars than its ever had, reasonable parity from the league’s best team to the fringe playoff ones, and a business model that works for just about everyone — the owners, the players, the refs, the front offices, and the fans.

The only thing holding it back? This annoying, relentless mosquito in the room known to many as ‘intentional fouling.’

Remember when I said “Before I go ranting…”? Yeah, that ends now.

Unless you are holding a gambling ticket on OVER the game’s total points scored number, watching “Hack-a-Whoever” for an extended period of time is legitimately one of the worst, most painful experiences a sports fan can endure. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. There is no excitement, no hype, no display of athleticism, no drama — it is truly the purgatory of sports with an uncanny ability to suck the soul out of any die-hard fan fiending entertainment.

If you don’t watch the NBA or aren’t a fan of basketball in general, think of it this way: you’re watching a football game, and one of the teams has the ball on their own 1 yard line. They’re losing, there’s only seconds left, and they refuse to snap the ball until the other team gives them a free first down. The opposing team declines, so, the team with possession just stands around taking delay of game penalties every 25 seconds because they can’t be backed up any further and the game can’t end unless they run a play. They’ll hike it when it’s convenient for them, until then: F you and F the fans, you can wait until this stalemate ends.

I don’t care how much of a “basketball traditionalist” or “purist” you are: nobody, and I mean NOBODY enjoys watching free throws. Even the kids who get off on whacking thunder sticks behind the hoop as the visiting team shoots get tired of them at some point; it doesn’t matter if a player shoots 33.5% from the line like Andre Drummond or 100%: you don’t spend your hard-earned money on tickets to watch players attempt uncontested 15-foot jump shots.

End of story.

Free throws are simply a necessary part of the game, which Tom Ziller from SB Nation describes PERFECTLY:

Free throws are a part of the game. Well, yes. They are. But why are they a part of the game? Free throws were created as a deterrent to fouls, not as a supplementary skill test to determine the best team. Free throws exist to prevent defenders from beating the Holy Hell out of prospective scorers on every possession. Free throws and the fouling system (including the six-foul limit) are simply deterrents against overly physical play.

We want to be “Ooh & Ahh’d” by Steph Curry’s magnificent ball-handling wizardry and jump shooting prowess … we want to shriek at the top of our lungs when LeBron James takes off from the free throw line and throws down a windmill dunk … we want to tilt our heads to the sky and release a primal scream when Russell Westbrook ignites the NOS cannons strapped to his quadriceps and unleashes a tomahawk dunk with an intention to rip the rim off the backboard. Every time some big man who can’t shoot free throws gets intentionally fouled, it deprives us of these moments. It is tedious enough to turn a casual fan away for good, and will forever fuel the NBA haters who want nothing more than to see the product fail.

By now, I gotta imagine you agree with me to SOME extent — so now, we’ve got to try and answer the most difficult questions of all:

  • Where do we go from here?
  • What can be done to solve this problem?

Everyone on Earth has their own theory, whether it’s “treat it like a clear path foul (two shots and the ball)” or “give the team the option to inbound the ball or shoot free throws” or “change the rule so that the ‘you can’t foul away from the ball in the final two minutes of each half’ to ‘you can’t foul away from the ball in the final five minutes of each half'” — honestly, none of them work … otherwise the NBA would have changed it already. Every proposal I mentioned has repercussions:

  • “Treat it like a clear path foul” will result in no more away from the ball fouls, yes, but, consequently: big men will get absolutely MAULED every time they touch the ball near the hoop, since it’s the only time the opposition can get their “Hack-a-Whoever” in. Injuries will increase, as will fights/altercations.
  • “Give the team the option to inbound the ball or shoot free throws”, now we’re approaching old-school “Indiana Catholic high school league rules” territory where there’s no shot clock and teams will refuse to take out their big man, just hold the ball the entire quarter, and shoot once without the opposition ever getting it.
  • You can’t foul away from the ball in the final five minutes of each half”, how exactly is anyone supposed to play defense and/or run through a screen away from the ball? What’s next, an illegal contact penalty enforced five yards after the dribbler crosses half-court?

The honest answer is: I don’t know how to stop this, and it scares the absolute shit out of me. My only goal in life, other than finding my wife on Tinder using only Darren Rovell tweets as pickup lines, is to be alive for when my beloved New York Knicks finally win a championship, and if the day comes when it happens and I don’t care anymore because I’ve lost some if not all of my passion for the NBA product — lord please take me now.

This is not going away, and it’s only going to get worse when guys like Detroit’s Center miss 23 friggin free throws in one game. As the NBA competition committee continues to sit on its hands hoping the three biggest victims of “Hack-a-…” : Drummond/DeAndre/Dwight suddenly become decent free throw shooters and kill this problem on their own, it’s simply not going to happen. With the exception of Dwight Howard, who is so apathetic about winning he probably spends his entire practice trying to eat a cookie off of his face…

…I am fully convinced all other poor free throw shooters in the league are putting in overtime trying to get this fixed — not only because it’s in their career’s/team’s/NBA’s best interest, but, for the sole reason that they are sick and tired of being disrespected by opposing coaches on national television every single night.

How does the NBA plan on expanding into Europe/Asia/Australia/Africa AND get brand new viewers to consume/care about a product where “Hack-a-…” happens nightly? The short answer is: it won’t, and it can’t. Would Americans have bought into following the English Premier League on NBC Sports Network or the Bundesliga on Fox Sports 1 if the entire 90 minutes of each fixture was just penalty kicks? No, and while intentional fouling is certainly not airborne viral rampant like The Walking Dead virus — this basketball feces is what Adam Silver is gonna have to sell to international audiences if he doesn’t get it fixed soon.

Anything is better than when Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers sent the Houston Rockets to the free throw line SIXTY FOUR TIMES in a Western Conference Semi-Final Playoff game last year.

Anything is better than watching NBA players shoot free throws for three straight hours.


Please help us, Obi Wan Silver, you are our only hope.

Thus, I sign off with the following: Commissioner, you’ve done it once before ex-communicating Donald Sterling from the NBA church — and I … no … we the people … beg you to use your executive power to implement an immediate rule change that you see fit. There’s going to be repercussions with whatever you decide, and we know that — but anything is better than what transpired in Houston last night.