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"That's a shot for sissies" -- why Shaquille O'Neal never shot underhanded FTs

Shaquille O'Neal-Rick Barry

Shaquille O'Neal-Rick Barry

Rick Barry hit 89.3% of his free throws, shooting underhand. Shaquille O'Neal only converted 52.7% of shots from the charity stripe during 19 NBA seasons. So why didn't Diesel at least try to adopt Barry's technique?

“That’s a shot for sissies"

Shaq's LSU coach Dale Brown was the first person to try to get him to shoot underhand. One day, during O'Neal's freshman year, he came up to him and said, "You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to get you to shoot underhand. Rick Barry,who is in the Hall of Fame, was the best at it.”

Shaq hated the idea. He begged the coach to allow him to keep his original free-throw shooting technique. In his mind, the embarrassment of embracing the granny shot wasn't worth the potential improvement -- especially since his father, who O'Neal looked up to his whole life, already stated his opinion on the matter years ago.

I really didn’t want to shoot them that way. When I was a kid, someone else suggested that approach before and Sarge told me to forget it. 'That’s a shot for sissies,' my father told me.

Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq Uncut: My Story

Instead of forcing Shaq to do it, coach Brown came up with a compromise. "Okay, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do," he said. "We’re going to chart your free throws every day, separate from the team. You are going to be assigned a trainer, assistant coach, or manager with you at the basket every day. If you keep practicing and can shoot seventy percent or
better, I’ll let you keeping taking them the way you are.”

O'Neal shot 72% leading up to the season. Once he got in the games, his percentage dropped to 56%.

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"I'm too cool for that"

A lot of it was mental. Shaq himself admitted he never really felt comfortable going to the line. He even pointed to a specific high school game that ruined him as a free throw shooter.

It was the beginning of my free-throw woes. I wasn’t a great free-throw shooter; I was always 75, 76 (%). So we’re playing against this team; I get into foul trouble; they’re just shooting the lights out of the ball. We come back, a couple of seconds left, down by one, they fouled me. First time I was ever nervous. All the stuff that I learned just went away. And then when you miss, and everybody’s laughing at you, now you get nervous again.

Shaquille O’Neal, The Rex Chapman Show with Josh Hopkins

Since that day, every time he would step on the free-throw line, Shaq got nervous. Fast forward a few decades later, he retired from the NBA with 5,317 missed shots from the charity stripe. Had he continued converting 75% of his attempts from 15 ft, O’Neal would’ve had 3,122 points more on the NBA's all-time scoring list, which would’ve put him in sixth place in front of Wilt Chamberlain and Dirk Nowitzki. It would’ve also eliminated seasons like these:

Shaq described his free-throw woes as "God's way of saying that nobody's perfect." And perhaps there's some truth to that -- had he been above average in that category, already one of the most dominant forces ever would've become even more unfair.

But it seems he never really tried to improve from the line. And I'm not talking about spending extra time in the gym to shoot hundreds of shots per day; I'm talking about a complete overhaul of his FT routine. Rick Berry felt the same way, but O'Neal nipped it in the bud.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

Shaquille O'Neal, Business Insider

He's still a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players we've ever seen. But what if Shaq was a better Free Throw shooter? The granny shot might've been the answer. It wouldn't have been a guarantee, but for a 52.7% career free-throw shooter, it sure was worth a try.

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