Ted St. Martin, holder of the Guinness World Record for most consecutive free throws made with 5,221, speaks about a lifetime of shot-making. Yet he never made the NBA, never played college ball. Although he used to shoot around as a kid, he wasn't the star of his high school team in Naches, Wash. In fact, the 55-year-old St. Martin had given up the game.
Shooting free throws were in St. Martin's sweet spot. He truly enjoyed this aspect of the game and made it interesting. His legend grew with his numerous journeys across the country. His halftime specialty made the sport feel pure with each swish. It was an era of dominance defined by a single shot, then another, and several more with the same result.
He didn’t shoot much in games. In fact, St. Martin did his damage without the ball, spearheading the team’s 1-2-2 press as a backup guard.
“I chased the ball. I loved to play defense. I always had an interest in shooting free throws, though. Here I was, 35 years old, a dairy farmer in Riverdale, Calif., and I got to thinking what a shame it was that I'd become rusty at the sport I loved so much as a kid."
So he nailed a hoop to the side of the dairy barn and started shooting. After a while, he found he was able to hit a couple hundred free throws in a row. St. Martin didn't think much of that—after all, he had always been able to shoot free throws. At age 13 he had placed third in a regional shooting contest. No, he didn't think much about it. But others did. St. Martin, having regained all his old form at the barnyard basket, proceeded one evening to amaze family and friends by firing off 514 free throws in a row.
"Then I called The Fresno Bee to see if they knew what the all-time record was," St. Martin says. "They researched it and came back with 144. And I said, 'Hold on there! I can beat that!' " But with everyone watching, he got off his stride and muffed his 87th shot. Reassembling the scoffers and doubters, he staged another attempt and this time shot an uncanny 200 in a row. Since then, the 5'7" St. Martin has set new records time and time again. On June 25, 1977, he upped the count to 2,036 without a miss.
The Jacksonville (FL) resident holds one of the most remarkable shooting records in the history of basketball. In 1996, he made 5,221 consecutive free throws, setting a Guinness World Record. The exhibition took more than seven hours to complete. St. Martin had wrapped up a shooting clinic on his home basketball court that day, before launching into a free throw bonanza.
“The shot that I’ve got is so mechanical. I just kept my mind on what I was doing. That’s always what I did when I was shooting baskets.”
St. Martin felt great joy in coaching. He would conduct clinics at home in Jacksonville and on the road. He never got the chance to mentor O’Neal, but he thinks that there could be a place for his expertise in the NBA.
“I’d love the opportunity to work with NBA players. Whether it’s Dwight Howard, LeBron James, any of those guys. Anyone who shoots 75 percent or lower, I’d love to work with them. I’d get them to 90 percent. It wouldn’t be much. Might be a slight bend of the knees or a nice follow-through. That’s all it takes. I could get them to 90 percent, guaranteed.”