Taking a charge isn't free of chargePlayers have been more willing in the past decade to pay the price and take a charge in an effort to dissuade opposing players from attacking the basket.
BY ISRAEL GUTIERREZigutierrez@MiamiHerald.com
It takes vision, courage and a pinch of foolishness.
It requires good basketball instincts, but a complete disregard for all human instincts.
It is arguably the most unnatural act in sports.
And, really, all it entails is standing absolutely still -- and bracing for a painful collision.
Taking a charge in the NBA is the sports equivalent of jumping in front of a moving vehicle and simply waiting to absorb the impact. It's literally taking one for the team.
It is a fundamental defensive play that has become about as common in basketball's trenches as blocking a shot. Although the NBA does not keep charges taken as an official statistic, it appears to have become a more common practice in the past decade or so, with more players realizing the benefit of taking the hit to keep points off the board.
''It's a way you can play effective interior defense without being a shot blocker,'' Heat center Michael Doleac said. ``Being a shot blocker is a hard thing to do.''
Taking a charge is no cakewalk, either. But as scorers continue to find ways to avoid getting their shots blocked, taking a charge has become a more effective way of defending against a driving guard, a big man with a head of steam or even an oncoming fast break.
''[The charge] has become more prominent now,'' Knicks forward David Lee said. ``I think it's just because guys have gotten crafty on offense with their shots and avoiding the block. You've got to find a way to play defense on that.''
It might seem like an easy concept, standing in front of another player and drawing an offensive foul. But there are several elements that make it fairly complicated.
In most cases, taking a charge involves a help defender anticipating an offensive player's movement, beating him to that spot and establishing a legal defensive position with his feet set before contact is made.
''Being able to take a charge, it's like you see the play a couple of steps or a couple of frames before it actually develops,'' Jazz guard Derek Fisher said. ``Especially now with the athletes we have in the league, if you're a half second late in getting there, you're either going to get dunked on or they're going to call a blocking foul.''
In most cases, those collisions are coming in the paint. So that semicircle right in front of the basket adds another component. Inside of the semicircle is called the restricted area, meaning a player attempting to take a charge cannot be standing within, on or straddling over that boundary.
''That's the biggest thing I fight with taking charges is getting out of [the restricted area] early enough,'' Doleac said. ``I'm not the quickest guy in the world, so when plays happen I've got to be right on top of it and come quick just to get out of there in time.''
Then there's one final element that always completes the charge process: falling backward.
''If you don't go down, you're not going to get the call -- which doesn't make any sense,'' Doleac said. ``You have to go down and go down hard like you got hit by a truck.''
The combination of taking a hit up front and falling on your behind can make for some painful, often memorable collisions.
''In practice in L.A., I took a charge on [Shaquille O'Neal] one time, and that was the last time I ever tried to do that,'' said Fisher, a former teammate of O'Neal's with the Lakers. ``It probably took me two to three days to feel normal again, or to feel comfortable standing in front of a big guy coming through the lane. He was coming with a lot of speed that day.''
Some players have become particularly skilled at drawing charges. Houston's Shane Battier has built a reputation as a strong defender in large part because of his penchant for drawing the offensive foul. James Posey and Udonis Haslem are probably the best at it among Heat players.
''If somebody knows I'm going to be there to take a charge, I'm pretty sure they're going to think before they go to the basket,'' Posey said. ``Therefore, they're shooting jump shots. If that's the case, they'll have to shoot a high percentage on their jump shots. That's part of the game, that's how I play.''
MAKING A CHANGE
For others such as Antoine Walker, it's an act forced upon them. In his previous 10 seasons in the league, Walker has never been a take-charge guy. Last season, his first with the Heat, he estimates that he took one the entire season. So after a few strong words from Heat coach Pat Riley this season, Walker is near 20 for the season, according to stats the team keeps, and among the team leaders.
''I just never really had to do it in my career,'' Walker said. ``When I watched film, there were so many opportunities for me to take charges. [Riley] told me I should start taking hits. He felt like I was cheating the team by not taking hits because everybody else was willing to do it.
``It's painful. Sometimes you get hit in the wrong areas. But it's not as bad as I thought it would be.''
For offensive players driving the lane, avoiding the charge has become its own skill. It takes creative footwork, adjusted flight patterns and sometimes body contortion.
But the biggest adjustment is simply getting used to the whole concept. In pick-up games, there's no such thing as a charge. So some players still consider it a cheap way of playing defense.
''I used to [think that way],'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. ``But now I understand because I'm on a team with guys that take a lot of charges and we did it at Marquette. I understand it's part of the game. It's a smart part of the game. But as an offensive player, you hate it.''
O'Neal believes there is honor in going for a blocked shot rather than taking a charge -- particularly for the big men.
''A lot of big guys take charges because they know the referee knows they're inferior to the guy that they're guarding, so they're going to flop and they're going to get the call,'' O'Neal said. ``A lot of these charges shouldn't be charges.''
Much to O'Neal's chagrin, however, the unathletic act of standing still and taking a beating has become an increasingly common practice.
And to the ones withstanding the pain, it hurts so good.
''I think on this level and in college, it's got to be a part of the game,'' Lee said. ``I don't think there's anything cheap about it. Not everybody's athletic enough to block shots, and there has got to be a way, when a guy takes off, to get the defense to stop him. It's a good play.
``There's got to be a sacrifice.''