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Sheldon Hirsch - March 02, 2015

The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs recently turned games against the Los Angeles Clippers into unwatchable bores with incessant, purposeful fouling of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. A 42 percent career free throw shooter, Jordan shot 54 free throws in the two games, making only 22.

We’ve seen the intentional foul strategy before; utilized against Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal (the “Hack-a-Shaq”) and Dwight Howard, among others. It lies within the rules, but let’s call it for what it is — a noxious loophole.

James Naismith and subsequent wise men defined fouls to dissuade defenders from preventing baskets through means deemed unworthy. They intended foul calls to punish fouling defenders, not reward them. They also aimed to make the game more enjoyable to play and watch.

“Hack-a-Jordan” turns all that on its head.

“Hack-a-Jordan” has only been used a few times this season, but that’s small solace to the 20,000 fans who wasted big bucks at each of these depressing affairs. Nor will the scarcity ease our pain when the strategy eventually ruins a playoff game.

But that’s not the worst of it. The problem goes well beyond DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers. The deliberate fouling of a bad free throw shooter is only one example of intentional fouling. Much more commonly, defenders grab players near mid-court to prevent a breakaway. Or they deliberately wrap up a player about to make a layup or dunk. This occurs even more frequently in the playoffs,... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - February 15, 2015

Allonzo Trier started on the U.S.'s undefeated U-18 basketball team last year and was recently selected to play in the 2015 McDonald’s High School All-America Game.

The name may ring a bell. Writer Michael Sokolove profiled Trier in the New York Times Magazine in March 2009. At that time, Trier ranked No. 1 in the country among sixth-grade hoopsters. Someone ranks at the top every year in every age group (even sixth graders!), but Trier’s unusual devotion to basketball at that age seemed newsworthy. He practiced seven days a week, sometimes for nearly seven hours in a day. He shot every morning until he made 450 baskets without hitting the rim. Allonzo also trained with a private tutor and played with various AAU teams, often flying around the country to compete in different events.

Sokolove praised Trier as a good kid - curious about the world around him, with people skills and “a sweetness and a concern for others.” Even on the AAU circuit, Trier resisted the pressures that drove so many other elite young players to shot-crazed styles. Instead, he passed the ball willingly and showed a sophisticated feel for the game. Trier appeared self-motivated, simply pursuing his dream.

Anticipating a backlash to Trier’s early-life monomania, Sokolove noted that Trier’s training did not really differ in nature from that of Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods as children. And he considered that “… (Trier’s) arduous schedule... read more »

Samuel Chi - February 11, 2015

My first job as a professional journalist was to deal with all the miscreants in Little League baseball. It set me up well for my future career covering the NFL.

While I was still a senior in college, I landed a plum assignment as the "Youth Sports Columnist" at the Pasadena Star-News. It's a pretty big deal because the Rose Bowl only comes around once a year but attention must be paid to the goings-ons at the AYSO and Pop Warner proceedings the other 364 days.

My first encounter with the shady nature of youth sports came courtesy of the area's Little League championship game. It was a taut affair, with the score tied in the bottom of the sixth. Two outs, bases loaded. Then drama ensued.

As the pitcher went into his windup, the batter put his bat down to rub his eyes and then stepped out of the box. Seeing this, the pitcher halted his delivery without throwing the ball. Since the batter never asked for time, a balk was called and the winning run scored without a play.

Yes, this actually happened. The whole thing was a ruse orchestrated by the coach. The losing team was rightfully outraged but the umpire had to make that call according to the letter of the rule.

I recounted this incredible tale in my column in the next day's paper. Later that day, my editor received a call, from the mother of a kid on the winning team. She vehemently complained that my story was biased, and my editor asked her how so.

"Just look at the name of your writer," she sniffed. "And the kind of kids they have on (the... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - February 07, 2015

After Thursday’s decisive loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers star guard Chris Paul criticized referee Lauren Holtkamp, “She gave me a (technical foul) and that’s ridiculous … If that’s the case, then this (refereeing in the NBA) might not be for her.” Immediately, social media lit up, lambasting Paul for sexism. He also drew a rebuke from the NBA’s Referees Association, which “deplored the personal and unprofessional comments made by Chris Paul.”

That’s ridiculous. Paul has nothing to apologize for or defend. He criticized a referee — for good reason or not, no news there. He did not single her out for her gender; she’s the one who gave him the questionable technical foul. He made clear, at least shortly afterward, that “might not be for her” referred to her struggling (in his opinion) as a first-year NBA referee, irrespective of gender. The bogus brouhaha illuminated only those who took offense — their bias toward imagined slights and their yen for a fight.

And it obscured a real basketball issue. Paul’s post-game comments reflected his in-game frustration. In a nationally televised game, the Clippers got drubbed, trailing by as many as 32 points in the third quarter. Paul shot 4-for-14, scoring just 10 points. The referees assessed five technical fouls on his team. The Clippers, of course, claimed the technicals were unwarranted, but in the most favorable view of their response to a thrashing, they lost their poise and provided fodder for... read more »