Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most unstoppable players in NBA history. Shaq was an absolute beast on both ends of the court and would dominate anyone and everyone in front of him. O'Neal stood 7'0 but was one of the most mobile big-men in the history of the NBA.
It looked like there was no way to stop Shaq from getting what he wanted in the NBA. And for the first few years of his career, that is exactly what happened. O'Neal won his first NBA championship in 2000, just 8 years after entering the league. And from there, he went on to three-peat with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But there was a weakness in Shaq's game; free throws. O'Neal was a poor free throw shooter, and couldn't consistently make his free throws at a modest rate. And teams began to take advantage of that.
In fact, the San Antonio Spurs began to use a strategy known as 'hack-a-Shaq'. Players would intentionally foul Shaq in order to send him to the free-throw line to get him to miss.
Gregg Popovich successfully used this tactic during the 2008 Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs consistently fouled O'Neal during their first-round series against the Suns.
The Spurs eliminated the Suns in 5 games, thanks in part to their tactics. So when the Suns and Spurs met in the following season, 'Hack-a-Shaq' was going to come into a play.
And that is exactly what happened, but not in the way many expected. As the game between the Suns and Spurs tipped off, Shaq was immediately fouled within the first five seconds.
Turns out that Popovich instructed his players to do that as a practical joke on O'Neal. Pop turned to the TV cameras with a big grin and two thumbs up. O'Neal couldn't help but laugh either, as it was a good prank on the former MVP.
'Hack-a-Shaq' became one of the most successful NBA strategies, especially to stop big men. But it is truly incredible the amount of success Shaq had despite people sending him to the free throw line. It truly speaks to the greatness of O'Neal that he did what he did despite this glaring weakness.