We start basketball camp at WCS in about a month. The following is about my annual lecture on the art of the free throw. It ran June 22, 2006.
Today is Thursday at Westbury Christian School Basketball Camps so that means two things:
1. Cookie Day
2. Coach Hawley's Free Throw Clinic
I'm not sure how it began that I would deliver the demonstration on free throws but it has worked out that way for years. Apparently the job is mine by default. Some campers have heard it so often they could handle the presentation themselves. It's more than just how to put an unguarded shot into the rim from fifteen feet. I talk about routines in our lives and how we are comfortable with the manner in which we perform simple tasks. I mention distractions and their influence on shooters, especially at the college and NBA level. I speak of kids I've coached and how some were good shooters, some were poor, and one was great. I tell about my Grandfather Chesshir's well on his Arkansas' farm and its relation to being a high percentage shooter. But in the end, it boils down to two players, Rick Barry and Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq is regarded as the worst free throw shooter of any legitimate player and the recent NBA finals gave credence to that argument. Barry, on the other hand, was chosen as one of the NBA's Fifty All Time Greatest players and ranks second in career free throw percentage. In fact, Barry one year shot at a 94.7% clip, at the time the highest single season mark in professional basketball. Compare that to Shaq's absolutely horrible free throw percentage in the recently completed finals when he shot, are you ready for this, 29.2%! That isn't the focus of my talk to the kids, though. It centers on the way Barry shot his free throws- underhanded, like a little old lady. It wasn't that he couldn't shoot the conventional way. Barry was a terrific jump shooter. Early in his career, his father, a coach, convinced him to give the underhand method a try. Each year, I ask the boys on our very successful high school team this question: if you could be the best high school free throw shooter in America but with the proviso that you had to employ the Rick Barry underhand method, would you do it? The answer invariably is NO. Now take into account that being the best shooter in the country might pay for your college or move you up to the highest level of collegiate competition. It doesn't matter. Why would they pass up the chance to be the best in the country? Because it isn't cool and people would laugh at them. The reality is that many players would rather be average and cool than the best in the United States and out of step with peers. Let's not be too hard on the kids. Shaq, when approached by Barry, said the underhand technique would be hurt his public perception and he told Esquire Magazine he would "shoot zero per cent before I'd shoot underhanded." Image is everything, isn't it?
Don't get me wrong- I like Shaquille O'Neal. He works very hard and is a tremendous player, one of the best ever. I also think he is one of the good guys, not just in the NBA, but in sports in general. When George Mikan, one of the NBA pioneer greats, died last year, his wife was struggling to meet the financial arrangements for the burial. Guess who stepped in and paid for the funeral? The Big Diesel himself, poor free throw shooting not withstanding. I asked the kids today if they cared what people thought of them and most said no. I told them they were lying; we all care what others think. It's what holds so many of us back from accomplishing what is possible. In the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler, the man told Jesus how badly he wanted to gain eternal life. In his famous response, the Master told him to sell his goods, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. The man wanted to but couldn't do it. He knew he needed to but there was something he couldn't turn loose of- his fortune. With so many of us, it isn't the money. It's our image in the eyes of the world and it starts at a very early age. Just ask Rick Barry and our campers.
Applicable quote of the day:
"You could send him to the United Nations and he'd start World War Three."
Mike Dunleavy (NBA player and coach) on Rick Barry
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org