SI Vault
Peter Alson
January 08, 1990
Ernie Hobbie is watching me shoot the basketball. I am about six feet from the hoop, looking at the middle eyelet on the front of the rim, knees bent, feet spread shoulder width, perfectly poised to release my shot—except for one thing. "Look," says Hobbie, yanking my off-arm away and watching as the ball rolls off the fingertips of my right hand and onto the hardwood. "You see how you're using your left hand as a support rather than as just a guide? If you get the left hand too involved, you're going to have a shot that's more like a fling than a stroke."
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January 08, 1990

The Shot Doctor Is Happy To Make House Calls

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Hobbie says that the only way to make major changes in the shooting style of a longtime ballplayer is to work with him in the off-season. "That's because in a game the tendency is to go back to the way you have done things all your life," he says. "But if you take a month off and work on getting a real stroke, and every day you practice, practice, practice, then you have a chance to break bad habits. You get into games, and that stroke stays with you."

Repetition, of course, is more successful in combination with the proper technique. And technique, Hobbie believes, is of the utmost importance in free throw shooting. "Having a sound basic stroke is crucial to developing a positive attitude at the foul line," he says. "When you have a stroke—the kind I teach—there is less that can go wrong. It's grooved, always the same. You should be able to do it blindfolded."

In fact, Hobbie has a drill in which players shoot with their eyes closed. "Then, when you get up to the line, you're going to be very confident," he says. "I'm always saying, 'Stroke, and you'll never choke.' "

None of Hobbie's precepts, however, will pay off unless the players, and their coaches, are fully behind his teaching. "[Coach] Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech is great that way," says Hobbie. "When I write a prescription for a player, Cremins makes sure the player follows it to a T" Hobbie's work with a few of the New Jersey Nets' players last year did improve the team's performance at the free throw line, if only minimally.

After the Shot Doctor leaves, I practice what he has taught me. I can see that it will work, but I can also see that it's going to take time—a lot of time. I realize that I am not going to be a good patient. I wish I had learned the proper way to shoot 20 years ago. But I didn't. What I did learn, I became pretty good at—as good as I'll ever need to be for a once-a-week game.

So I step to the foul line and revert to my comfortable knuckle-ball fling. I think of that kid from my jayvee team with the perfect stroke. I think of Bird. I think the best thing about guys like that, really, is being able to watch them. If, in spite of my ungainly form, I can knock down nine out of 10 free throws, more power to me. Ugly as my reality is, I am certain the Shot Doctor would agree.

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