Independence Day


Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points a game during one NBA season. He scored 100 points in one game. He was over 7 feet tall and ran gracefully as if trained by dancers. But he could not shoot free throws. He averaged about 40% or less.

Rick Barry was his contemporary. One of the game’s historic finest players. He was classy and smart. But he was different. He shot free throws underhanded. Here’s this guy shooting jump shots from all over the court, but at the free throw line he shot underhanded. In the WBA, they are called “Granny shots.” He almost never missed.

Barry makes the point that shooting free throws is a more natural way as well as generally more accurate. In the early days, shots from 3-point range would usually be shot two-handed underhand. LaBron James missed over 100 free throws this season. Barry regularly missed 8-10 free throws all season. Shaq comes to mind as a self-admitted terrible free throw shooter.

Chamberlain could be taken out of the scoring flow by putting him on the free-throw line. Forty-percent or less. He decided to try underhanded free throws. Immediately his percent leaped to 60% and climbing. Chamberlain for an unaccepted reason reverted to his old style of free-throw shooting and old numbers. Chamberlain sacrificed points for his team rather than look “sissy” or different. Shaq said he would rather shoot -0- than shoot underhanded.

Rick Barry was shooting 70% when he discovered he could shoot near 100% by shooting underhanded. His dad suggested it and Barry told him he didn’t want people making fun of him. “How can they make fun of you when you are making points?” He was right.

Barry is said to have been disliked by half of the league players and hated by the rest. He was deemed arrogant. He demanded that everyone do their best, play up to their potential and work to expand their potential. Rick Barry didn’t care one bit what people said, or thought about him. His personal demands on himself was what he listened to. Nothing else mattered.

The under-hand, two-hand shot looks old-fashioned and doesn’t make it to the newsreels in a run and gun, slam-dunk game. That style is so embarrassing (apparently) that only two NBA players during the Rick Barry era asked him how they could make it work. Today only two college players shoot that style. One is from an African nation and the other is Barry’s son.

The cost is the loss of cool.

One of the greatest experiences is to slam dunk after becoming airborne at the free throw line. I’m told. The other great feeling is to lace up your tennies and hit a jump shot from the corner. I’m probably past my prime on the court, but if I could help the team and put points on the board by shooting free throws with both hands, underhanded, I’d risk the snickers and ridicule. I think.

Personal independence is not something I want from my family. Interdependence is an admired trait for marriage and tribes. But independence from what others say is admirable.  It is not allowing someone or culture to dominate your action when you pursue your calling, gifts, goals, potential.

All of this is dependent on making your free throw shots.

This information comes from a Malcom Gladwell podcast which includes slices of Gladwell’s interview with Barry. I think Barry would be a marvel to watch play, but maybe difficult to live with. It has sent me thinking about what “underhanded shooting” changes I could make that would make me more effective in my calling, goals, gifts and expand my potential. What more natural, but not necessarily more stylish habit would add more points for my tribe.

Happy Independence Day.

©2016 D. Dean Benton                                                                                                                                    writer & wonderer                                                                                      —Benton Books & Blogs.

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