NBA's Best: The Top 10 Free Throw Shooting Routines of All-Time
Whether it's going around-the-back, rubbing face, blowing kisses or humming some peculiar German pop song, you'd be hard-pressed to find an NBA player who doesn't have his own nonpareil routine at the foul line.
The following is a list of all the tributes, superstitions and, at times, outright zaniness of the pro baller formula for success on the charity stripe.
No. 10: Deep Free
Nick "The Quick" Van Exel shot a confident .794 at the line during his journeyman career, but some people think that his eventual stripe routine was born out of sheer cockiness.
After several years in the league as a noted streak-shooter, Van Exel realized that he was much more comfortable taking a couple steps back from the 15-foot mark and dropping them from 17 to 18 feet.
Van Exel was quoted as saying he "just felt more comfortable" at that range, and his stats from '99 to '02 definitely proved his point as he shot well into the 80th percentile.
Still, seen as moody and hot-headed at times, Van Exel was shopped around in his later years, in part, at least, because of a drop in FT/FG-percentage and the air surrounding his on-court brass.
No. 9: The Hitch
Left-hand shooter Anthony Mason's ritual wasn't so much in the pre-shot routine as the mid-follow through one.
This guy's shot had so much hesitation you might have thought Will Smith could've starred in a lame romantic comedy about it (i.e. Hitch). Mason dribbled a few times, held the ball up in his hands as if to release, then spent the remaining three-to-four seconds with the ball perched and paused like an annoying video game glitch as everyone sat dumbfounded.
He had so much glitch in his release that it's not too far-fetched to say he might have an as yet unsubstantiated NBA record for causing lane violations.
Okay, the guy shot 71 percent for his career, which isn't bad, but that's not what lands you on this list is it?
No. 8: Round-the-Back
Hailing from the superstitious player-friendly University of Arizona (just check out Jason Terry), Gilbert Arenas, close to but probably not the least popular player on this maverick's list, exhibits a successful but peculiar style of free throw shooting.
Arenas' custom is to wrap the ball around his waist three times before shooting which he developed as a young player. That has settled his mind enough to knock down 80 percent of his career freebies.
At least this new Orlando addition will prove a dead shot at the line (sorry!).
No. 7: The Ritual
Reggie Miller, who shot 89 percent from the line during his career and is the leading vote-getter for induction into the 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame, could pretty much shoot free throws with his damn eyes closed.
But not before completing his own patented formula for success at the foul line.
First, Miller would douse his hands in salt-powder, then he would press the ball left-handed against his left hip and extend his right hand upward in a shooting motion. Finally, he would take three dribbles and let the ball fly.
It's hard to argue when the your nailing nearly nine out of 10 from the stripe. Yeah, it's Miller Time!
No. 6: On the Side
With a sideways dribble, Richard "Rip" Hamilton put his stamp on the game and an 85 percent career free throw percentage in the record books.
Hamilton honed his one-of-a-kind formula while at UConn, where he led the Huskies to the 1999 NCAA championship. Over his 12-year NBA career, this NBA Champion has nailed free throw after free throw with the same deadly design.
First, Rip takes a deep breath, takes two dribbles in front (one on the side) and lets fly a dagger that has downed foes and teams who thought they were destined for victory.
No. 5: Face Time
On the short list of routine tributes, retired Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek is at the top spot. This gunner nailed close to 88 percent for his career, hit 67 freebies in a row at one point and sank a staggering 95 percent in his final season with Utah.
But this incomparable guard's acclaim comes from a simple gesture that now lives on video.
Hornacek simply took a few dribbles then rubbed his cheek in tribute to his children before launching his shot. A tribute to your kids? I couldn't think of a better reason for the ball almost always going in.
No. 4: Hum and Shoot
Of the unrivaled and weird habits of NBA players, Dallas' All-Star forward Dirk Nowitski's on-again, off-again musicality at the line probably has fans of Baywatch fairly interested.
In his first few years, and continuing infrequently through the present, Nowitzki was known to hum American TV star and German pop music sensation David Hasselhoff's tune "Looking For Freedom" while preparing to launch from the line.
Adoring that hit tune as a kid, the German-born Nowitzki—who shoots .876 for his career with several seasons over 90 percent—has clearly found freedom from bricking foul shots.
No. 3: Blowin' Kisses
Ten-time NBA All-Star and triple double specialist Jason Kidd, whose personal life has taken considerable blows in the past decade, paid tribute to his ex-wife Joumana and his kids Trey, Jason, Miah and Jazelle by blowing a kiss before shooting his foul shots.
Now with a new wife and life in tow, Kidd can continue his near 75 percent shooting with a clear conscience.
Now, there's a kiss for luck.
No. 2: Deliverin' Time
The Mailman gave us two trips to the NBA Finals, 36,928 career points and plenty of frustration that the NBA didn't institute a nine-second rule on the free throw line.
He would take a few dribbles, spin the ball up in the air in front of him a few times, set three or four times while whispering an indecipherable mantra, then, with Mason-nasty hitch, he'd release the ball with nine seconds and change on the clock. Phew!
Quite honestly, Malone, who attempted 13,188 free throws and made 9,787 of them spent—according to this writer's arithmetic—close to a day-and-a-half on the foul line. Seriously, do the math.
No. 1: The Big Flipper
The Big Dipper lands himself in the top spot on this list because his routine had, well, a sense of routine-less-ness. A notably horrid career free throw shooter with a 51 percent average, Chamberlain had many free throw shooting advisers over the course of his 14-year career.
He was known to have tried a variation on the hook shot, short dribbling routines, softer follow-throughs, more arc, less arc and even the Barry-esque under-handed variation.
One of the more unsubstantiated, but not too implausible charity attempts—probably due more to Chamberlain's Paul Bunyan-like stature on the court—was that Wilt tried, but more likely considered, dunking or laying it in on a few occasions. In fact this prompted rule changes that stated that a player could not cross the foul line in order to shoot his free shot. But just attempting it!
If that's true, and there's no film footage to back it up, the 7'1" 275 lb. Chamberlain would have undoubtedly been the first and only to attempt this feat, and for that consideration alone the late great lands himself at the top of this list.
Well, that's it.
If any of you out there have any other player suggestions whether international, college or pro, please let me know.
After all this, I know someone out there is scratching their face, dribbling low and throwing it in underhand. It may be ugly, but hey, if it goes in.
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