Why don’t more basketball players shoot free throws underhand?


(Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY)

Florida Gators senior guard Canyon Barry broke a school record on Saturday by making his 39th consecutive free throw.

Barry, 22, shoots free throws underhanded, just like his NBA Hall of Fame father Rick Barry.

The younger Barry isn’t close to breaking Butler guard Darnell Archey’s NCAA record of 85 consecutive free throws made. However, Barry leads the Southeastern Conference in free throw shooting this season at 89.7 percent. He’s 87-for-97 from the foul line, which ranks 22nd in the country. Barry hasn’t missed a free throw in nine games.

Even though reporters have documented Barry practicing his underhanded shot from half court, he isn’t just a free throw specialist. The guard is Florida’s second-leading scorer this season at 12.7 points per game.

The elder Barry retired after a 14-year professional career in 1980 as the most accurate free throw shooter ever at the time at 89.3 percent.

It’s surprising more players don’t attempt shooting free throws “granny style,” given the success of the Barry family and the improvement of Louisville big man Chinanu Onuaku.

Onuaku shot 58.9 percent from the free throw line last season, which was an improvement from the 46.7 percentage the season prior.

In a podcast, New York Times best seller Malcolm Gladwell explored the potential outcomes if NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain had continued to shoot free throws underhanded.

Gladwell states in “The Big Man Can’t Shoot” episode of the Revisionist History podcast a coach once told Chamberlain his team would never lose if “The Big Dipper” could consistently shoot 90 percent from the free throw line. The episode documented Chamberlain’s free throw struggles during his 16-year professional career.

The New York Times also published a story earlier this month echoing many of Gladwell’s arguments for more players to try shooting free throws underhanded.

Canyon Barry and Onuaku were the only two active Division I college basketball players to shoot underhanded free throws when Gladwell released “The Big Man Can’t Shoot” last July.

Onuaku has since graduated from Louisville, and plays for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBA Developmental League. Using the underhanded technique, Onuaku is shooting 72.5 percent from the free throw line in 28 games this season.

Chamberlain shot a career high 61.3 percent from the free throw line during the 1961-1962 season, in which he used the underhand technique.

That season Chamberlain set two NBA records that still stand: Most points in an NBA game (100) and highest scoring average for a season (50.4 points per game).

In Chamberlain’s 100-point game, he used the underhand technique. Chamberlain shot 28-of-32 from the free throw line, which is also an NBA record for most free throws made in a single game.

“From a physics standpoint, it’s a much better way to shoot.” Rick Barry said in Gladwell’s podcast. “You have a little bit more margin for error.

“Some of those shots that are a little bit offline have a much better opportunity going into the basket than if you shoot overhand.”

Shortly after the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain abandoned the “granny-style” technique. He wound up shooting 51.1 percent from the free throw line in his career.

“Had (Chamberlain) stuck with it (shooting free throws underhanded), I mean there’s no telling what he would’ve done,” Rick Barry said of Chamberlain. “The numbers he would’ve put up would’ve been insane because the only way they defended him was to foul him.”

Chamberlain admitted in his autobiography “Wilt, 1962” that he was wrong to abandon shooting free throws underhanded, but said he felt “silly, like a sissy.”

Other poor free throw shooters such as Shaquille O’Neal and Andre Drummond have publicly refused to shoot free throws underhanded. O’Neal shot 52.7 percent from the foul line during his 21-year career, and Drummond is a 38.7 percent free throw shooter.

A larger sample size is needed, but perhaps coaches should teach their players to shoot free throws underhanded given the success of the few brave enough to try.

How many more consecutive free throws must Canyon Barry make for someone to attempt to replicate his family’s unorthodox success? If we changed the name from “granny style” to “Barry style” would more players attempt to shoot free throws underhanded?

“The first game I remember where I did it it was on the road in Scotch Williams, N.J.,” Rick Barry said. “I shot the free throw (and a) guy in the stands yells out, ‘Hey Barry you big sissy shooting like that,’ and the guy next to him, and I heard it very clearly, he says, ‘What are you making fun of him for? He doesn’t miss.'”

Even though it might look silly, who wouldn’t want to shoot the same way of a Hall of Famer? Who cares if Rick Barry wasn’t the NBA’s most beloved player?

Shooting at a near 90 percent clip from the free throw line explains itself, regardless of how the ball goes into the basket.

Canyon Barry’s next chance to continue his streak using an unconventional free throw technique comes Tuesday night when Florida takes on Auburn.

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