Underhanded free throws have a long history in the NBA and basketball in general. From Rick Barry to Wilt Chamberlain, there have been numerous examples of basketball players improving their free throw percentage by transitioning to underhand free throws. Even Wilt Chamberlain used the underhand free throw technique during his 100-point game, going 28-32 from the line that game. This begs the question, why don’t more players shoot free throws underhand? Although most players shoot free throws well “normally,” there are some players that shoot poor percentages from the line and still refuse to shoot underhand. Many of them refuse to shoot underhand because of aesthetic and perception reasons.
Rick Barry’s Underhanded Free Throw
Rick Barry is the face of the underhand free throw. Barry played 14 seasons professionally, with ten seasons in the NBA and four seasons in the ABA. He averaged over 30 points per game in the ABA and around 23 points per game in the NBA. Barry shot free throws underhand to a percentage of 90% in his NBA career, as he was known as one of the best free throw shooters of his era.
Barry’s father taught him the underhand free throw at a young age, and even Rick had questions about it, worrying he would be made fun of for shooting that way. However, shooting free throws underhand worked like a charm for Barry. In an interview, Barry offered his reason for why more players haven’t adopted the technique, saying, “It’s all about the ego… They don’t think it’s macho enough for them, and that’s fine.”
Refusal to Adopt Underhanded Free Throws
In the NBA, many centers with larger hands have trouble shooting free throws, similar to how an average-sized person would feel shooting a baseball with their hands. Shaquille O’Neal was one of these players and struggled from the free-throw line immensely in his career. O’Neal was asked why he wouldn’t shoot free throws underhand, and he stated it was boring, later saying, “I’d rather shoot zero percent, too cool for that [shooting underhand].”
Wilt Chamberlain is another player who struggled with free throws for much of his career. He adopted the underhand technique for the 1961-1962 season and raised his free throw percentage by 11 percentage points. The very next year, he went back to his old shooting form, citing he felt silly shooting underhand. It seems that NBA players simply avoid this technique because they perceive it as weird since such a low number of players have used this style of free throw shooting over the years.