Shaquille O’Neal was a notoriously terrible free throw shooter. Legendary head coach Greg Popovich used this to his advantage many times.
Anyone who’s been watching basketball for more than 20 years knows that in terms of dominant players, Shaq stands alone. His scale of dominance was really on a whole other plane compared to any other player we’ve seen since.
In fact, many will argue that Shaq was more dominant than Wilt, considering the numbers he put up in modern basketball. By himself, Shaq slowed down the gradual shifting of the power balance towards guards for a few years.
However, the Big Aristotle had one significant weakness that cost his teams some games over the years. Shaq was a sub-par free throw shooter all through his career.
This meant that teams would target this sole weakness in his game as a center. Teams would load up their rosters with 2-3 unathletic big 7-footers just so they could rack up fouls on Shaq.
So whenever teams went up against the Lakers, Hack-a-Shaq was brought out in its full glory? You’re down 7 points against the Lakers? Hack Shaq. Tied game with 1:26 remaining? Hack Shaq. You’re leading the game by 20 and Shaq’s on the floor with 7 minutes to go? That’s right, you still gotta Hack Shaq to prevent a run.
Greg Popovich hacked Shaquille O’Neal at the start of Spurs vs Suns
Popovich was one of those coaches who ran into prime Shaq 4 times in his tenure with the Spurs. He was able to compile a 3-2 series split record against the big man. A part of that was the whole hoopla around Hack-a-Shaq – particularly effective in their 2008 playoff run.
Coach Pop wasn’t one to forget his tricks or leave them just for one exhibition either. He developed a relationship with Shaq over his years as a playoff rival. And so it meant that Pop got the chance to play Hack-a-Shaq one last time in a lower-stakes encounter.
Back in 2008, the Suns faced the Spurs in a regular season game the year after getting eliminated by San Antonio. Popovich used the Hack-a-Shaq within the first 5 seconds of the game as a joke.
The initial bewilderment on Shaq’s face as the ref blew his whistle is pure comedic gold. The big man then looked over to find a grinning Pop at the Spurs bench waving a thumbs up. It was just a reminder of their pleasantries from past battles. Shaq could not help but respond with his own infectious smile.