Friday, January 21, 2011

Fouling is Not Basketball???

"Fouling is not basketball," was the statement shouted at me by a 21-year old kid at the health club where I play noontime. I pride myself on maintaining poise and not becoming unglued in the heat of a game. Yet, here was this statement being screamed at me, by a young man who had obviously lost his poise. The sheer intensity of his tirade and the volume of his scream forced me to think about his declaration. Is fouling not basketball?

In the competitive basketball that I have played, I was always the tenth guy on the bench, the garbageman, a taller player to rebound a little, play defense, and give a hard foul. In fact, whether you start or collect splinters on the bench, they still let you have five fouls to give! That's democracy. I've had coaches send me into a game directing me to stop a certain player, even if I have to foul him.

Viewing games on television, I hear announcers talk about a team having a "foul to give". The whole "Hack-A-Shaq" and "Hack-A-Howard" strategies are built around deliberately fouling a certain player. Smart coaches built these fouls into a game plan. It certainly would seem that fouling is not only a part of basketball, but a key part. Shooting, dribbling, passing, defending, and fouling.

Well maybe the hollering young man wasn't talking about real competitive basketball, maybe he just meant pickup ball. In pickup ball, there are no referees, the players call their own fouls. Different gyms have different protocols about who calls the foul, offense or defense. But make no mistake, fouls are a part of it.

When game point is on the line, it is commonplace to make sure that a player doesn't get off a winning shot by fouling that player. I've done that on defense and teammates have said "good foul!" It's pickup and fouls are still part of the strategy.

What kind of fouls are not part of pickup basketball? Offensive fouls. Charging. Loose ball fouls. Pushing someone or climbing over their back to get a rebound. These type of fouls are difficult to call, so they are seldom called in pickup basketball. That doesn't mean they aren't happening. The young screamer has climbed over my back several times getting a rebound. That's a foul and it's part of the game that he can get away with given the parameters of pickup ball.

Running people over in the lane when driving. Yes it's a foul, no it is never called in pickup. That's screamer's game. The best way to neutralize that imbalance between offense getting away with charging and the defense having to take it, is to foul the driving, charging player hard. Keep him from getting off a shot. And when the one giving the hard foul is a 53 year old man, there is also some psychology at work. In this case at work on a 21 year old with a 10 cent head.

Yes, fouls are definitely basketball. Although the next time the young opponent gets fouled, I doubt if he'll see it my way!