There's a mild
buzz of anticipation as Christopher Guilford Dudley—a graduate of Yale, the
grandson of a former U.S. ambassador to Denmark and, most notably, a bad, bad,
foul shooter—moves to the free throw line for two shots. The date is Jan. 29,
1989, the place is the Baltimore Arena, where the Washington Bullets are
playing a "home" game, and Dudley, a backup center for the visiting
Cleveland Cavaliers, is about to make foul-shooting history.
adequate in all other phases of the game, but from the line he's absolutely
awful. So no one is surprised when Dudley's first shot is a dud, which may soon
become standard NBA lingo for a bad free throw. Dudley misses his second try,
too. Ah, but Bullet guard Darrell Walker goes into the lane before the shot
hits the rim, and Dudley gets another try.
Dudley puts up
his third attempt. It misses, but ref Earl Strom calls a second Washington lane
violation, on center Dave Feitl. So Dudley shoots a fourth time. It misses, but
Feitl is called for yet another lane violation, again by Strom, a veteran
official who to that point thought he had seen it all. Dudley fires up throw
number 5. It misses. There's no lane violation. Washington rebounds the ball.
And Dudley has become the first NBA player to miss five free throws on a single
nightmarish excursion to the line.
Walker and Feitl,
like so many other players before them, were confused by Dudley's style. He
dips his arms and bends his knees, like most players, but does not release the
ball on his way up. Instead, he returns to the start-up position, sometimes
dips his arms again—he has a hitch in his hitch, as Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner
used to say about his baseball swing—and then releases the ball. The effect is
the same as when one of the Harlem Globetrotters launches a free throw and the
ball zips back to him on an elastic band, except that Dudley isn't trying to be
funny, and the opponents are the Washington Bullets, not the Washington
In an exhibition
game against the Miami Heat at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Oct.
16, Dudley was so exasperating, he was whistled for a "fake free
throw." Referee Darrell Garretson thought Dudley was trying to draw a lane
violation with his strange shooting motion. When there's no lane violation on a
Dudley free throw, there's at the very least a scene in which several players
struggle to keep from falling into the lane too early, a tableau that suggests
a bunch of kids trying to keep their balance on a log floating in a creek.
It goes by two
names: free throw, which it almost is when the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird (.880
for his career), the Milwaukee Bucks' Jack Sikma (.846), the Detroit Pistons'
John Long (.847) or any of a couple of dozen other players shoot it; and foul
shot, which it certainly is when Dudley, the Denver Nuggets' Jerome Lane, the
Pistons' Dennis Rodman, the Heat's Rony Seikaly, the Golden State Warriors'
Larry (Mr. Mean) Smith or the Los Angeles Clippers' Greg Kite shoot it. Most
At week's end
Dudley, who's in his second NBA season, and Lane, a rookie, were scuffling
around in the nether regions of bad foul shooting, down there where few have
laid brick before, not even the patron saint of the breed, Wilton Norman
Chamberlain, whose career mark was .511. Dudley, a .563 foul shooter last year,
was at .357 (35 of 98), while Lane was at .353 (30 of 85).
Smith, a career
.553 shooter, was right with them, but had attempted only 44 free throws this
season, so we'll withhold judgment. Dudley and Lane are outclanging another
foul foul shooter of recent vintage, the San Antonio Spurs' Ozell Jones (.398
in 1984-85), but they'll have to go some to beat Utah Jazz's Steve Hayes (.306
coaches will kill for a 90% free throw shooter, would be overjoyed if everyone
shot 80%, silently hope for 75%, accept 70% from certain players and even
endure 60% from one or two others. But 50%, 40%, 30%? Rarely.
Rodman was the
most celebrated bad foul shooter last season, having air-balled a couple in key
spots during the playoffs and having said, "I'm shooting fouls so bad,
frankly I'm amazed when I make any." But even Rodman, who worked with a
shooting coach in the off-season and was hitting .596 at week's end, must seem
almost Birdlike to Dudley and Lane.