Hockey players tape their sticks, football players paint their faces, and baseball players have their own batting superstitions. But when it comes to the best quirk in sports, nothing beats the unique free throw shooting rituals of NBA players.
Since this is a topic that’s not often written about (outside of message boards), we decided to create a list of five player routines that have been the most memorable in our 14 years following the league.
[Important note: When creating this list, we did not consider or discuss routines that only had bad form, so guys like Shawn Marion, Chuck Hayes (literally the ugliest free throw shooting technique in history – kids should be banned from seeing it), and Bill Cartwright were automatically excluded.]
5) Tim Duncan: The Robot
Tim Duncan is often dubbed “The Big Fundamental”, but his free throw shooting is anything but. A career 68% free-throw shooter, people often state that Duncan’s one Achilles heel is his free throw shooting.
However, Duncan’s ritual at the line has always been one of our favorites to watch because it fittingly reflects his “robotic”, low-key personality on and off the court.
Seriously, Duncan is a four-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, and a two-time NBA MVP. He is arguably the best player of the 2000s along with Kobe and Shaq, but receives about 1/10th of the praise and admiration. What does he have to do, make a rap video like Tony Parker? (“Je suis le singe reddition manger du fromage qui triché sur Eva Longoria!”).
Go ahead and Google Translate it, you know you want to.
X’s and O’s of Basketball actually broke down Duncan’s free throw shooting technique, politely detailing why it sucks.
But we here at Off The Backboard aren’t coaches, so our observations were a little less technical:
- The way his right foot is bent in an angle makes it look like he was mangled in between his walk to the free throw line. Did he get attacked by Joey Crawford?
- Duncan clutches the ball for dear life near his own balls in a way that would make psychoanalysts beam with joy.
- He stares at the rim while robotically frozen for what seems like eternity. If anyone needed proof that Duncan is indeed a robot (the TimBot 3000), you now have the evidence.
- When he finally does start bending his knees and bringing the ball up to shoot, Duncan is clearly trying to shatter his own knee cap in hopes that he no longer has to witness Greg Popovich’s ghastly beard on a daily basis.
4) Jerry Stackhouse: The Squat
Besides his decent NBA career, I know Jerry Stackhouse primarily for three things.
- He was a participant in the 2000 Slam Dunk contest and had the misfortune of having to perform his dunks after each of Vince Carter’s iconic slams (seriously, listen to the crickets in the crowd after his 360).
- He landed about three punches to Jeff Hornacek’s face because good ol’ J-Ho (word to A.R Rahman) apparently talked trash to him. Yes people, Jeff Hornacek and his goofy haircut could actually talk smack. He probably mentioned something about how his hair is better looking than Stackhouse’s, which sent poor Stack into a frenzy.
Most importantly though, I thought Stack had one of the most bizarre free throw shooting routines I’d ever seen. I originally presumed that he was just trying to teach one of his teammates the proper form to use for a squat lift, only with a basketball.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
In his own words, Stackhouse explains in this video that the reason he shoots the way he does is because his mother often reminded him when he was younger to “bend his knees”. Well, Jerry got bent alright – all the way to a career free throw shooting percentage of 82.
There’s a reason why everyone should listen to their mother.
(:52 seconds in)
3) Jason Kidd: The Kiss (Pre and Post Divorce)
Kidd’s free throw routine needs no introduction.
Back when he was a superstar with the Jay-Z (er…New Jersey) Nets, Kidd used to blow a kiss towards the rim, which I assume was his way of getting himself stimulated in the middle of a basketball game with 19, 000 fans watching (actually, it was for his wife).
In 2007 however, the lovely pair divorced, and Jason Kidd found a particularly unique way to display his feelings for his now ex-wife. While scorned teenage lovers write on diaries and listen to ballads, the then 34-year-old changed his free throw shooting routine.
What was once a loving tribute to his wife turned into something hilarious for everyone else except Joumana Kidd (damn!):
Yes, that’s Jason Kidd telling his ex-wife to kiss his ass. I’m not sure if he still does this same routine with Dallas (let’s hope he does), but it is a genius way to be vindictive on the sly.
Hell hath no fury like an NBA player scorned.
2) Jeff Hornacek: The Eczema Itch
You may remember Hornacek and his goofy Bollywood haircut from earlier in this post. Well, there was more to Hornacek than just his flowing locks – he was also a great basketball player.
I began watching basketball at seven years old, right around the first time that the Chicago Bulls faced the Malone-Stockton-Hornacek Utah Jazz teams in the Finals. Some might remember these Finals for its classic game winners, clutch plays, WWF wrestling matches , and because it ended one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. And they’d be right.
But you know what else those legendary series’ introduced me to (other than Greg Ostertag)? Jeff Hornacek’s free throw routine.
If I didn’t already know the meaning behind it, I would automatically assume that Hornacek either had a really bad itch near his temple, or his eczema always inconveniently flared up when he went to the free throw line.
In reality though (and less dramatically), Hornacek was simply saying hello to his kids.
But I wonder: does this mean his kids scratched their faces back in return every time they saw him doing it on TV? Fortunately for them, Hornacek only averaged about 3.1 free throws per game during his NBA career, which lessened the need for the Hornacek family to heavily invest in lotions. Just imagine if Jeff Hornacek had averaged free throws at the same rate as Dwyane Wade in the 2006 Finals.
1) Karl Malone: The Curseout
He who was the hunter of “little Mexican girls” everywhere (his words, not mine).
Malone’s routine was by far my favorite to watch back in the early 2000s, simply because no one could ever decipher what Malone was saying.
Some people think he was reciting a prayer for someone who passed away, while others assume he was saying something to get himself going. I wouldn’t be surprised if either were true.
However, every time I see him doing his routine, I can’t help but think of less romanticized interpretations of what he might be uttering. I mean, for all we know, he could be talking smack about someone, complaining about a player (likely Dennis Rodman), or just cursing the Gods for Michael Jordan’s general existence.
I assume Karl’s conversations with himself went something like (in his Southern accent):
”Fucking Michael Jordan. Always blocking my goddamn path to the championship every year. He can’t pull off the bald head like me though – I’m the king! That’s right. The Mailman always delivers with the shaved head. Now let’s hit this free throw.”
“God damn Jeff Hornacek trying to outshine my free throw routine! I am the king of free throw routines on this Jazz team! Bollywood hair having motherfucker”
Here’s to hoping no one actually cites any of the above about Karl Malone as factual information.
And there you have it folks, Off The Backboard’s top 5 free throw shooting routines from past and present NBA players.
But enough about our list – what are your choices for the best free throw routines in the NBA?