Anyone who has watched a basketball game run by referees has seen a blocking or charging foul occurred. Unlike reaching or shooting fouls, blocks or charges involve the position of the player’s body on the floor during the shot, and whether or not he was moving or had set his feet. The basic idea is that if the defender plants his feet and stands in front of the attacking player before the shot comes, and is not in the restricted area under the basket, the shooter has committed a charge. Conversely, a block occurs if the defender was in the restricted area or if he was still moving. If we think about this a little bit, however, it becomes evident that it really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
On the plus side, I can see why referees would call those fouls the way they do. The idea is that if the defender is set and far enough away from the rim, the shooter has ample time to see him and change directions. If the defender is moving, he seems to actively try to get in front of the attacker, which would mean he tried to block the shooter’s progress. Further, if he was in the restricted area (right under the rim) he would be blocking the shooter from landing, which frequently causes injury.
Let’s dig a little deeper though. It seems to me that in most instances where referees call a charge, logic would indicate it was really a block. Why? For starters, we’ve all heard the phrase “drawing a charge.” That basically means that the defender sees where the attacker is going and steps in front and sets his feet, trying to draw the contact. If the contact happens and the defender was set in time and didn’t move, the referee has to call a charge, because it certainly wasn’t a block. However, this does not logically make sense.
In these cases, the defender who successfully drew a charge actually blocked the attacker. He stepped in front of where the shooter was heading with the intent of blocking him from reaching the basket. The only difference is that he did so a half second before the shooter arrived, and tried to remain set in order to look as if he didn’t do it on purpose. Even more so, these incidents happen in a blink of an eye; when the shooter starts to drive towards the basket, the defender isn’t there, and by the time the defender is set, the shooter has too much momentum to stop or change directions. Frequently, the attacker may not even see the shooter because he is looking at the ball, at a teammate, or a different defender. Essentially, the league’s criteria for what constitutes a charge assumes that the defender isn’t trying to manipulate the rules and that the shooter had time to see the defender or change direction. Quite frequently, neither is true.
In addition, blocks are called in some pretty awkward scenarios. The Heat-Thunder Finals series in 2012 was widely criticized for what many considered overwhelming bias in favor of the Heat. On the whole the games seemed to be called pretty fairly, but there was one call in particular which highlights the whole blocking/charging issue. In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, James Harden got called for a block on LeBron James. What struck me about the call was that it occurred almost at half court, and that Harden was on LeBron’s right side. Harden was not moving and was in no position to impede James’s progress whatsoever. Harden was guarding LeBron and waiting for him to dribble. When James turned he sent Harden flying. Here, conventional wisdom would say that LeBron fouled Harden, but for whatever reason the league called a block. Perhaps Harden moved slightly? Either way, the call should have been a charge, because James turned that way purposely.
Another awkward call occurred in a Lakers game this season. The Laker player was in the air, turned backwards to catch a full-court pass. While he was in the air, a defending player ran up and set his feet directly under him. When the Laker caught the ball in the air and landed while turning, the rules dictated that it was a charge, based on the fact that the defender was set. But again, the offensive player clearly did not “charge.” He had absolutely no way of even seeing the defender.
Granted, many more blocks are called than charges, indicating, once again, the league’s overt emphasis on offense. The issue doesn’t get much attention because scoring stays high and blocks are called. Yet to my eye, it seems that when the league calls a charge, the defender intentionally positioned himself there; when it calls a block, the player committing the foul frequently didn’t know the shooter was coming and tried to get out of the way. Even though the scoring remains high in the league and this doesn’t appear to be a problem, the league needs to rework how it makes these calls, or at least rename them, because they really don’t make much sense at all. When a defender intentionally creates contact, the league somehow blames the shooter.