If you think about the greatest NBA free throw shooters of all-time, you’ll notice a few attributes in common. As is customary with any great athlete, they’re usually the first player to arrive at practice and also one of the last players to leave. They spend hours of time mastering the fundamentals and form of the free throw shot so they can shift to auto-pilot as soon as they step to the line. But the greatest free throw shooters of all-time not only master the physical portion of a free throw, but also the mental, which at times includes using a quirky routine to dull the pressure and boost confidence. When we witness these wacky free throw routines as fans, often our first instinct is to panic. We first let out a muffled yelp, then attempt to put our hand through the television and slap the player on the face for looking so ridiculous in an NBA game. Once the shot arches up and drops in however, suddenly the panic is replaced with admiration. At first we feel embarrassed for them, then the embarrassment turns to curiosity, and finally the curiosity transforms into downright amazement. Time after time we see these same players step to the line, face a hostile crowd in a high pressure situation and use their quirky free throw routine as a parting shot to everyone in the world who’s hoping they’ll miss.
Even though the free throw is perhaps the simplest shot in all of basketball, at times it can also be the most difficult, even for the NBA elite. Perhaps we’ll never find out why great free throw shooters sometimes use nutty routines. It could be a coping mechanism to deal with the high level of pressure, or an act of superstition, or it could be used as a strategy to draw attention away from the actual shot. Even though player free throw percentages have remained somewhat consistent over the last few decades, as players continue to face increasingly hostile crowds and more pressure situations, they will undoubtedly step outside of the box in the coming years to rediscover new ways to shoot the free throw. If history has taught us anything at all, it’s that there is no right or wrong way to do it. As long as it goes in, we’ll keep your name in the record books. Just for fun, let’s take a look at five of the greatest free throw shooters of all time and the quirky routines that made them popular. An article published in the New York Times five years ago stated that free throws make up nearly 2/3 of a winning team’s points in the final minutes, so I say anything that can help improve free throw accuracy is worth a try.
5. Karl Malone—Malone is probably best known for his athletic prowess and mid-range jump shot, but his outstanding career free throw percentage of 74% percent leaves little to be desired. Each time Malone stepped to the line he would utter a few secret words under his breath before shooting the basketball. I don’t think anyone has ever figured out exactly what Malone whispered in those moments, but whatever he said, it worked. It’s in the 20 second mark of the video below.
4. Jason Kidd—Kidd is undoubtedly one of the best point guards in NBA history and his strange free throw routine has only made him more famous over the years. After experiencing a few setbacks in his personal life, Kidd began blowing kisses at the foul line to let his wife and kids know he was thinking of them. While it didn’t work out with his wife, the free throw routine worked pretty well. Kidd ended up with a career FT average of 75%. Kidd’s free throw routine is shown at the 12 second mark of the above video.
3. Gilbert Arenas—Aside from being completely crazy and pulling a gun on his own teammate, Gilbert Arenas is a pretty decent free throw shooter. When he first begins his free throw routine, you’d think he’s about to work on a ball handling drill instead of shoot a free throw. He passes the ball around his body three times before finally heaving it toward the basket. Even though it’s odd, this routine helped him achieve a career FT average of just over 80%.
2. Jeff Hornacek—Similar to Kidd’s ritual, Jeff Hornacek would rub the side of his face at the line as a way to say hello to his children. Hornacek explained in an interview in 2000 that his famous face ritual was a way to let his kids know he loved them. I’m sure the routine isn’t the sole reason behind Hornacek’s success at the line, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. Nothing like saying hi to your children while knocking down a pair of clutch free throws. Check out the 5 second mark of the video below.
1. Rick Barry—Haven’t we all attempted a few Rick Barry free-throw shots while playing a game of H-O-R-S-E at the local park? Rick Barry used the underhand scoop method to shoot his free throw and did it with incredible consistency. His career average of 88% earns him the top spot on this list of quirky, yet successful free throw routines. Maybe once I have children, I’ll teach them all to shoot free throws like Rick Barry just for the heck of it. Couldn’t hurt right?