rookie, is only doing what players from his alma mater are supposed to do from
the foul line, which is miss. Free throw scientists now believe that the city
of Syracuse, N.Y., was built on an ancient Iroquois burial ground that carries
an eternal curse on foul shooters. Seikaly was at .513 (138 of 269). And
Syracuse...well, the '88-89 Orangemen were filling it up at a .609 clip.
The classic foul
foul shooter would seem to be a player like Kite, a glass-banger with a
lifetime .458. He's a big, awkward reserve center who lacks offensive finesse.
But don't rush to judgment. Yes, Dudley is out of that mold, but he's much more
athletic than Kite, and Seikaly is even more athletic than Dudley. Two other
centers, Joe Kleine of Boston (.907 this season) and Danny Schayes of Denver
(.832), aren't exactly panthers, yet they are excellent foul shooters. And two
others, Sikma and Philadelphia's Mike Gminski (.847) are among the
softest-shooting free throwers in the league.
and Rodman are foul line masons even though they're versatile, midsized
players. So is Cleveland reserve swingman Craig Ehlo, who has a decent shooting
touch from the floor but an unacceptable .573 percentage from the line this
year. Has he been watching Dudley too closely? Not really. Ehlo was a .621 foul
shooter in his two years at Washington State. The Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen
is often compared with Rodman for his versatility, a comparison that extends to
the line; through Sunday, Pippen was shooting .657. Seattle's Nate McMillan, a
heady point guard who knows the game, was a disappointing .626, a few points
below his career .657 percentage.
If it's difficult
to identify a classic type, it's nearly impossible to pin down a single classic
cause of bad foul shooting.
concentration, nervousness, other psychological factors," says Denver
assistant coach Allan Bristow, who works with Lane. ''At some point they all
interact, and it's hard to tell what the problem is." And then?
you've got a mess," says Bristow.
word here, obviously, is choke. Whatever a free throw shooter's original flaw
may have been, sooner or later he starts missing because he's gagging. The free
throw line is basketball's putting green, a spot that brings on the yips.
"The foul line is the one place on a basketball court where you can
choke." says Bob Cousy, an .803 career foul shooter. "Everything else
is action and reaction. You don't have time to choke." Cousy still
remembers the night of April 13, 1957, when he got the yips at Boston Garden
during the second overtime of Game 7 of the championship series against the St.
Louis Hawks. He threw up an air ball free throw that hit former teammate Tommy
Heinsohn on the shoulder as he stepped into the lane to box out. (The Celtics
won anyway, 125-123.) "If you don't get steel," says Cooz, "you've
you may recall the era of Cousy and Heinsohn, the players back then weren't
superior free throwers. The league-wide percentage was .675 in 1947-48, .747 in
'57-58, .720 in '67-68, .752 in '77-78 and .766 last season. And just as
yesterday's great players (Chamberlain and Bill Russell notwithstanding) were
at the very least good foul shooters, so are today's. Bird has steadily
improved over his 10 seasons in the league, which is remarkable considering
that he was an .822 shooter in college.
Michael Jordan is
almost 10 percentage points better as a pro than he was as a collegian (.845 to
.748). Magic Johnson hasn't been below 80% in his last six seasons and is
currently enjoying his best year from the line (.906).
absolutely inexcusable not to shoot 80 percent from the foul line," says
Mike Newlin, who in his 11-year career with the Houston Rockets, the New Jersey
Nets and the New York Knicks averaged .870, the NBA's fifth-best career free
throw percentage. "Any player who does worse may as well come up to the
coach, put his arm around him and say, 'Coach, I'm going to lose some games for
you this season from the foul line. And, Coach, maybe it's going to get you
fired.' Yet it's not stressed nearly enough."