A free throw might be the simplest and easiest shot in basketball, but that doesn't mean everyone can make it with ease. Although nobody is guarding you, and every shot is the same, particular guys just never quite managed to find their touch or routine. Most of the guys that have struggled from the charity stripe through history have been big men, and Ralph Sampson explained the reason behind it.
At 7'4'', Ralph Sampson was a center ahead of his time with his athletic ability and touch. But despite being able to shoot, Sampson couldn't translate to being a great free-throw shooter, shooting 66,1% for his career. But it's not so bad when you look at particular guys.
The two most dominant forces in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal might have been forces to reckon with in the paint, but when it came to knocking them down from the line. It would give the defenders an easy solution for contacting them by fouling and making them hit the free throw, rather than dunking all over you.
Shaq shot 52,7% from the line for his career, and Wilt was even a bit worse, hitting an astonishing 51,1%. When you combine that with 11.4 attempted free throws per game, it's no surprise that Wilt is head and shoulders above everybody in the statistics of total missed free throws. But I guess that is just one of many unbreakable records Wilt holds. Here are the best examples of how these two looked in the loneliest place in the world.
A few years ago, while appearing on The Dan Patrick Show, Ralph Sampson tried to explain why big men generally struggle from the free-throw line, using Wilt and Shaq as prime examples:
"It goes back even to Wilt Chamberlain, right? He couldn't shoot free throws. The Hall-of-Famer Shaq. His hands are so big, and the ball is so small, he so powerful. It's a different trajectory to the basket. It's not an arch like a McDonald's arch. You gotta have that touch. There are some big guys that just don't have that touch.
Ralph Sampson, The Dan Patrick Show
When you are a giant like Shaq or Wilt, the ball is simply too small for your hands to have the touch of a guard, making it immensely harder to knock them down consistently. Also, being so taller, playing in a position that doesn't require you to have a soft touch, makes for a pretty demanding task of making free throws.
But then it's also as much mental as it is about the sheer skill. They don't call in the loneliest place in the world without reason. I mean, that's why we see some of the best shooters in the world come up small at the free-throw line when the game is on the line despite their great touch or form. Being a great free throw shooter in any situation is simply a mix of many factors that is much harder than it seems from the eye test.