What Is Hacking in Basketball?

Two people playing basketball, blocking

In basketball, the term “hacking” refers to when an offensive player is hit on the arms while shooting, continuously hand-checked while mid-dribble or continuously hit while in possession of the ball.

Some teams use hacking as a strategy to produce an on-court advantage. Fouling an opposing basketball player who's a poor free throw shooter late in games serves multiple purposes -- ‌it stops the clock and hurts the other team's chances to score‌. This is particularly true when the player would otherwise be taking a high-percentage shot. Teams often take this approach when an opposing center or forward who doesn't shoot free throws well gets the ball near the basket -- it can be a safer option than giving up a dunk or easy layup.

This defensive strategy of intentionally fouling an opposing player quickly became known as “‌the Hack-a-Shaq‌” strategy, because it was often regarded as one of the only ways for opposing teams to contain the dominant Shaquille O’Neal, especially in the playoff games. Seeing that he finished his career as a 4-time NBA Champion, including three with the Los Angeles Lakers, the strategy didn’t always work.

Since O’Neal’s retirement, hackers have continued to use the same strategy on players like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, two big men who made their marks on several teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons. Seeing that this strategy was being used against them, however, both Drummond and Jordan have worked tirelessly on their free throw shooting, and often done so well on their free throw attempts that teams are discouraged from sending them to the free throw line.

Who first used the Hack a Shaq strategy?

The strategy of intentionally fouling a poor free throw shooter was first used by Dallas Mavericks head coach Don Nelson in 1997. Nelson used the strategy in a game against Dennis Rodman, but Rodman would end up going 9 of 12 from the free throw line in the game. Nelson then held off on using the strategy until a couple years later against Shaquille O’Neal.

Is the Hack a Shaq rule still legal?

In 2016, the NBA introduced new rule changes that made off-ball fouling less of an advantage for defensive teams. According to the new rules, off-ball fouls in the last two minutes of a game meant that the player would get one free throw, and the fouled player’s team would maintain possession of the ball. In addition, excessive, intentional fouls were to be deemed “flagrant fouls,” and result in more severe consequences, including possible ejection.

What is a clear path foul?

A clear path foul occurs if a fast break starts in a team’s backcourt, and a defender fouls any offensive player with a clear path to the basket, meaning there are no other defenders in front of the player with possession of the ball on his way to score.

Fouls Can Be Costly

Hacking is a very common foul call at the high school, NCAA and NBA level, as defensive players are so intense that they often get carried away with their hands, leaving the referees with no choice but to make a foul call. While coaches love the aggressive defense, fouls become costly when both personal fouls and team fouls reach a level that they change the way a player or team can play.