In the basketball world, free throws are also known as the charity stripe. The free throw line is called the charity stripe because they are free points if you can make them, which means that they are really important to take advantage of. However, there is no more individual aspect of the game of basketball than at the free throw line. Your teammates cannot help you, the coaches cannot help you, and the fans cannot help you. It is just you and the mental games that take place in your head.
For many players, the way that they calm themselves down from the rapid pace of the game to the stagnated pace at the free throw line is by going through some type of repetitious motion. Basketball games go 100 miles per hour, while the free throw line comes to a complete halt at 0 miles per hour. That can be a hard adjustment for anyone to make.
What repetition does is help players remain composed, even keeled, and it also triggers muscle memory whenever players step up to the free throw line. There is no discrepancy at the free throw line. The hoop is always fifteen feet away and because players do not elevate to shoot free throws, there really are no variables when shooting free throws. The only exceptions are the way you bend your knees and release the ball.
This has led to some of the most interesting and unique approaches at the free throw line. There is no standard way of going through a particular motion prior to taking a free throw. Every player is different and some are even superstitious. The only thing that is important is that the mechanics remain the same without too much variation. And if it is not broke, don’t fix it.
This is a list of the top 10 most famous and ugliest free throws of all-time. What sets these free throw shooters apart from everyone else’s free throws are the personalized touch and the uncommon peculiarity that they add to their free throw routines compared to everyone else’s.
10 Jermaine O’Neal
Jermaine O’Neal has shot anywhere from 50% to 84% from the free throw line. The reason for the discrepancy may be due to his unusual free throw routine. Prior to a series of injuries O’Neal was a 20 and 10 type of player, so he could always score with a high level of consistency. But whenever he got to the free throw line, he abandoned his shooting stroke for something that looked like Charles Barkley’s golf swing. Everything about O’Neal's free throw form looked good until he was about to release the ball. While most players have a fluid motion, O’Neal has a little stutter in his shot. Instead of releasing the ball in one motion, O’Neal holds it for an extra 2 seconds right before he releases, faking out even his teammates who are trying to box out for the rebound.
9 Karl Malone
Karl Malone was not a great free throw shooter when he first entered the league. He actually shot 48.1% his first season and 59.8% his second season. However, by the end of his illustrious career, Malone shot a respectable 74.2% from the free throw line. One of the reasons for his improvement from the charity stripe may have been due to his mysterious routine whenever he got to the free throw line. When the Mailman got to the line, he would spin the ball with both hands and whisper something under his breath as he was about to shoot the ball. No one really knows what Malone was saying, but his free throw routine took so long, opposing crowds from different arenas would start counting “One…Two…Three” to alert the refs how long Malone took to shoot free throws; not to mention throw him off from his fadeaway free throw.
8 Jerry Stackhouse
Jerry Stackhouse has a smooth stroke, but he also had one of the most interesting free throw routines ever. The fundamentals of basketball say that players are supposed to bend their knees as they shoot the ball, but Jerry Stackhouse takes this to a totally different level. When Stackhouse steps to the free throw line, he not only bends his knees, but he bends his knees so low that he nearly goes into a squatting position. But as exaggerated as his shooting form looked, it must have worked because Stackhouse was a 82.2% free throw shooter for his career.
7 Nick Van Exel
Nick the Quick had one of the fastest and smoothest releases in the NBA. However, his career free throw shooting percentage was under 80%. One of the reasons why Nick may not have been an elite free throw shooter is because he shot 2 feet behind the basket. The free throw line is fifteen feet from the basket, but Nick at Night shot his free throws seventeen feet from the basket. While most players want to be as close to the basket as possible, for some reason Van Exel shot his free throws the furthest away from the basket.
6 Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas had one of the longest free throw shooting routines in the NBA. The former point guard for the Washington Wizards would wrap the ball behind his back three times before he shot the ball. You only get ten seconds to shoot a free throw and Arenas took nearly all of those ten seconds to go through his shooting routine. But it must have worked somewhat for him because Arenas was a career 80% free throw shooter.
5 Michael Adams
Michael Adams had one of the ugliest shooting forms the league has ever seen. Adams rarely made use of his guiding hand, which made it look like he was shot putting the basketball. When Adams shot the ball, the ball never even made it up to his forehead. His shot was sort of off of his right shoulder and then heaved forward. The surprising part was that Adams was a career 85% free throw shooter. It just goes to show that even if a shot may look ugly, it does not mean that it is ineffective.
4 Jason Kidd
The Brooklyn Nets head coach had one of the most famous free throw routines when he was playing. Kidd would take a few bounces and then with his left hand blow a kiss to his wife and kids before he shot the ball. Kidd had a rocky relationship with his current ex-wife and was even charged with domestic violence during his playing days, so his free throw kiss was a message to his family every time he shot the ball. By and large, Kidd was not a great free throw shooter when he first entered the league. In fact, he shot below 70% for the first five seasons of his NBA career. However, by the end of his career, Kidd shot a respectable 78% from the free throw line.
3 Jeff Hornacek
Jeff Hornacek had one of the most personalized free throw motions in the NBA. Before every shot, Hornacek would wipe the right side of his cheek three times. The reason? It was a way of saying hello to his three kids without actually saying it. Hornacek was not only a good father, but also a good free throw shooter. Hornacek shot a career 87% from the free throw line. In fact, in his last season in the NBA, Hornacek shot a ridiculous 95% from the free throw line.
2 Wilt Chamberlain
While there is no video evidence for this because this was so long ago, Wilt Chamberlain was so poor at shooting free throws that he would attempt to dunk it from the free throw line every time he had to step up to the charity stripe. The rules have changed today, so that the free throw shooter cannot cross the free throw line prior to the ball touching the ball the rim. The reason for this rule today was because of players like Chamberlain who would jump from the free throw line towards the rim on his free throws. Can you imagine that happening today? What a spectacle that would be with today’s athletes.
1 Rick Barry
If you saw Rick Barry shoot free throws today you might laugh. That is until you saw the rate at which Barry was hitting those free throws. Rick Barry had a career average of 89% from the charity stripe. In fact, he shot over 90% in seven different seasons. How did he do it? Barry shot his free throws underhanded like he was playing in a game of horse. The really interesting part about Barry’s underhanded free throws was that he did not put his hands underneath the ball, but on top of the ball. Most people put both hands underneath the ball when they shoot underhanded, but Barry put it on top of the ball for more of a backwards spin.
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