(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NBA referees have called Dwight Howard for 10-second free throw violations in each of the last two games and three times this season overall. The most recent instance, Wednesday night in the Orlando Magic's game against the Charlotte Bobcats, drew plenty of attention because Howard earned his 18th technical foul of the season afterward, meaning he'll be suspended Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.
The NBA rulebook says a player has 10 seconds to shoot a free throw after receiving the ball from the official. If he takes more than 10 seconds, he is in violation of league rules, and is thus penalized. The opponent gets possession.
Orlando Pinstriped Post looks back on the three 10-second counts Howard has received this season. You are meant to notice a pattern.
December 25th vs. Boston Celtics: Howard steps to the foul line to shoot. As he goes through his meticulous breathing/dribbling/winding up routine for his first free throw, Celtics forward Paul Pierce silently counts the seconds on his hands, drawing attention to how long Howard takes.
Before Howard can uncork his second attempt, veteran NBA official Bob Delaney whistles Howard for a 10-second violation. In disbelief or frustration, Howard rolls the ball toward the baseline, away from all the referees, and walks upcourt. Delaney hits him with a technical foul.
After the game, coach Stan Van Gundy wonders why Howard received a technical instead of a delay-of-game warning.
April 5th vs. Milwaukee Bucks: Howard steps to the foul line to shoot. As he goes through his meticulous breathing/dribbling/winding up routine for his first free throw, Bucks coach Scott Skiles counts the seconds out loud. After the first free throw, Skiles calmly approaches veteran NBA official Dick Bavetta and says, "I counted 13, Dick."
Before Howard can uncork his second attempt, Bavetta whistles Howard for a 10-second violation.
April 6th at Charlotte: Howard steps to the foul line to shoot. As he goes through his meticulous breathing/dribbling/winding up routine for his first free throw, Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson counts the seconds out loud.
Before Howard can uncork his second attempt, veteran NBA official Bennett Salvatore whistles Howard for a 10-second violation. In disbelief or frustration, Howard rolls the ball toward the baseline, away from all the referees, and walks upcourt. Salvatore hits him with a technical foul.
At the risk of sounding obvious, Howard can avoid 10-second violations by shooting faster. His opponents have the right to call attention to how long he takes before shooting, just as the Magic have the right to tell officials if one of their opponents is taking too long to shoot.
He can avoid technical fouls by simply passing the ball to an official instead of rolling it away. Doing so shows up the officials in front of both teams, the paying fans in attendance, and the folks watching on TV. I understand the technical call, instead of the delay-of-game one, in this instance. He's not merely delaying the game, but expressing his frustration with the referees in an unbecoming way.
The NBA can avoid, or perhaps curtail, the frustration fans and players have with the rule by enforcing it strictly or not at all. The selective enforcement of the rulebook in professional sports--not just in basketball-rankles fans because rules are meant to be rules no matter the situation. Thus, violations like the NBA's 10-second count arouse suspicion when they're called.
What made the three foul shots on which Howard was called for a violation different from the 895 other fouls shots on which he wasn't? Nothing. More often than not, he stretches the limits of the rule with his slow, methodical routine. If the referees called Howard every time he violated it, he would have no choice but alter his routine. As it is, he risks losing more points in the playoffs. You better believe opponents will continue letting referees know if Howard is taking too long.