Free throw shooting has a somewhat chequered history in the NBA as it remains one of the most basic-yet-inconsistent fundamentals in the game.
Generally speaking, your typical player takes the foul, struts to the free throw line, shoots a generic stroke and repeats. Some guys swish with consistency, others make a fine living as brick layers; either way, there’s nothing more to it than just taking your shot, right?
Scientifically speaking, the art of shooting consistent free throws falls into behavioural science. If you repeat an action enough times, your brain will automatically guide your body; if you practice shooting free throws enough times, your brain will tell your body how to put the ball into the net.
Missed free throws are generally a result of a player tensing up in a pressure situation, second guessing themselves and not allowing their brain to go through the usual motions. With that in mind, the key to consistently shooting free throws is to shut off your conscience and let your brain do what you’ve trained it to do.
Alternatively, you can throw all that junk in the trash and try something else that has no proven relation to shooting free throws.
A small fraction of the players to don an NBA jersey in the competition’s history have tried to call upon the mysterious unseen forces to try and improve their performance from the line.
Whether it be a small gesture, an unconventional action, a hummed tune or a series of mind-boggling motions, these guys provide the top 15 weirdest free throw routines in NBA history.
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15 Don Nelson
Although this may not necessarily be considered a routine, legendary coach Don Nelson deserves to be outed for his deplorable free throw shooting technique. Sporting a technique no other player was remotely interested in attempting to apply to their own game, Nelson would hold the ball by his right hand while leaning towards the hoop on his right leg, leaving his left leg trailing. Nelson shot a respectable .765 using his netball-esque technique from the line in his five-time championship-winning playing career, before going on to win three NBA Coach of the Year awards.
14 Nick Van Exel
Why shoot a free throw from 15 feet when you can sink them from 18? Nick Van Exel had a reputation of being, to be nice, confident on the court; you could argue that shooting a free-throw percentage of .794 when standing at least a foot behind the 15-foot stripe allows you to be a little bit cocky. However, Van Exel's last five seasons would all see his free-throw percentage sit below .800, his lowest being .683 in his final NBA season with the San Antonio Spurs.
13 Gregory Kimble
Despite a forgetful three-season stint in the NBA, Greg "Bo" Kimble stakes claim to one of the most unorthodox free throw techniques ever, but for a wonderful reason. Without fail, Kimble always took his first free throw left-handed, despite being a natural righty. The act was a tribute to his best friend and teammate Hank Gathers, an NBA first-round draft prospect for Loyola Marymount University, who broke down and died of a heart condition midway through the 1990 West Coast Conference tournament.
12 Richard Hamilton
If subtle superstition was ever anybody's thing, it was "Rip" Hamilton's thing. Without fail, Rip would dribble twice in front and once to the right before taking his free throw. In a career spanning 14 seasons - nine with Detroit - Hamilton only ever shot under .800 from the line in a season twice and averaged .852 for his career. As a three-time NBA All-Star and a member of the 2004 NBA Champion Pistons, Rip began the routine early in his time with the University of Connecticut, leading the Huskies to the 1999 NCAA championship in the process.
11 Jeff Hornacek
As one of the best free throw shooters in NBA history, Hornacek once made 67 freebies in a row. Hornacek's career percentage of .877 from the line is the 15th-highest in NBA history. Although Hornacek's routine didn't necessarily affect his shot or preparation, the Utah Jazz great would stroke his cheek three times before every attempt. In an interview in 2000, Hornacek explained that the mannerism was a tribute to his three children -Tyler, Ryan and Abigaile - and a way of saying he loved them.
10 Alonzo Mourning
Best known as a notorious lock-down defender, Alonzo "Zo" Mourning's free throw routine also featured a tribute to his family. Before taking each of his shots, Zo would kiss his wrist and raise it to his forehead; not that it helped a whole lot, shooting just below 70% in his 16-year career mostly with Miami. Away from the free throw line, Mourning is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner, as well as a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame.
9 Jason Kidd
Much like Hornacek and Mourning, current Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd offered a tribute to his family when he took to the line. Kidd would blow a kiss before letting his foul shot rip as a way of telling his now ex-wife Jumana and kids Trey, Jason, Miah and Jazelle that he was thinking of them. It might not have worked out with his then wife, but Kidd has enjoyed a positive personal life since and brought surprise success to the Bucks in the 2014-15 season.
8 Steve Nash
Steve Nash is not only the best ever free throw shooter in the eyes of the majority of NBA fans, he is the best free throw shooter in the NBA record books. After retiring at 41 years of age, Nash shot a record .9043 over an 18-year career, narrowly taking the top spot from Mark Price with a percentage of .9039. Although subtle, Nash would lick the tips of his fingers and use that hand to comb back his hair. After losing his iconic mop, Nash continued licking his fingers without the motion through the hair and continued to knock down freebies like nobody's business.
7 Jerry Stackhouse
Ever wondered what it would look like if an NBA player simulated what someone does when going to the bathroom in the woods? Look no further than Jerry Stackhouse. As a .822 career free throw shooter, Stackhouse's routine stood out due to how low he lowered himself to the ground. While sizing up the basket and preparing to take his shot, the 19-year recently retired veteran bent at the knees until a small breeze would have toppled him onto his backside before firing his shot.
6 Gilbert Arenas
To state that a guy who has more relationship trouble than any cast of Real Housewives combined, threw a $1 million birthday party for himself, pulled a gun on a teammate and as recently as two years ago was arrested for possession of illegal fireworks is a little weird would be pointing out the obvious. It only makes sense that Gilbert Arenas would have an odd free throw routine to go with, well, everything else. Arenas developed the routine of wrapping the ball around his waist three times before shooting as a young player, and his NBA free-throw percentage of .803 at least reflects that not all of his weird qualities have negative results.
5 Reggie Miller
Miller is a five-time NBA free throw accuracy leader, five-time NBA All-Star, 1996 Olympic gold medal winner, Hall of Famer and once led the NBA for most career three-point shots made, now second to Ray Allen. But what Miller may be remembered for over all else is his odd routine at the line: Miller pressed the ball against his left hip, extended his right hand in a shooting motion, took three dribbles and watched the ball sail through the hoop nine times out of 10. The 18-year Indiana Pacers legend shot .888 from the line over his career and over 90% in eight seasons.
4 Dirk Nowitzki
To hum any tune at the free throw line is odd enough; to hum the tune of Looking For Freedom by David Hasselhoff pushes the boundaries of oddness. The German admitted to humming the obscure tune in a 2006 interview. In 2014, Nowitzki featured in a number of TV appearances, both in America and internationally, where he played the guitar and belted out a rendition of the song unknown to anyone who isn't Dirk or a 45-year-old housewife. Nevertheless, shooting .879 from the stripe doesn’t exactly prove that it doesn’t work.
3 Rick Barry
Not only is Hall of Famer Rick Barry the only player ever to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring, he shot a free throw career average of .900. If that wasn't impressive enough, Barry used the out-dated - even in his playing time - method of shotting his foul shots underhand. Barry bounced the ball three times in front of himself before placing both hands on the top side of the ball, heaving the ball upwards at the basket. A well-known story features Barry and Golden State teammate George Johnson, who was a notorious brick layer from the line as a traditional-style free throw shooter, shooting just 53% in his first two years in the NBA. He improved to 65% over the next two years and after allowing Barry to teach him his technique during the 1976-77 season, Johnson eventually started making 80% of his attempts. The technique was the only way foul shots were taken in the 1930s.
2 Wilt Chamberlain
It's no secret that big men in the NBA have notoriously been poor foul shot shooters, but most are consistent with their routine. The difference between them and The Big Dipper was that Chamberlain had no routine. Despite having multiple advisers over his 14-year career, Chamberlain shot .511 from the line throughout his career, registered six seasons below 50% and one season at a hilarious .380. Chamberlain's playoffs career percentage was even worse, converting below half of his chances at .465. Chamberlain was suggested to shoot with more arc, less arc, more hook, less hook, with and without dribbling routines and underarm, all to no avail. But hey, a guy who once averaged over 50 points a game through a season is allowed to suck majorly at the line.
1 Karl Malone
If the "Mailman" delivered mail as slowly as he shot free throws, carrier pigeons would be back in style. Not only did Malone push the 10-second free throw time limit with a number of unnecessary dribbles and ball tosses, he would mutter a sequence of words under his breath at a rapid rate, making him look like a cross between a possessed witch and a speed-rapper. Considering Malone led the NBA in free throws made in a season a league-record eight times, NBA fans have the right to ask for their lost time back. Some reports say Malone was using his family as inspiration to hit the shot, but was more than likely rattling off generic self-complimenting statements. Malone shot a respectable .742 from the line over his career, though he never registered over 80% in a season.
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