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The Sacred Free Throw Ritual August 12, 2007

Posted by Marquis Chapman in Basketball, College Basketball, NBA, Sports.

The free throw is one of the most important aspects in the game of basketball.  The free throw line, or charity stripe, gives a player an opportunity to earn free points.  There are no defenders, just the player and the basket.  Making or missing free throws can sometimes determine the outcome of the game.  They matter the most at the end of the game, and can transform an average player to a hero, or give a superstar player the label of a choker.

Any good player will tell you that it is an absolute must that you have a free throw routine.  For 10 seconds or less, you do whatever you need to do to get relaxed and make your shots.  Making a routine and doing the same thing each and every time you step to the line is key.  It should become almost like a ritual in a sense, soon becoming something a player doesn’t even have to think about.

Most players roughly do the same ritual when stepping to the free throw line. There’s usually 2 to 3 dribbles, a couple of deep breaths, a short stare at the rim, and then a shot.  Some however, create very unique free throw rituals. Former Utah Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek’s free throw ritual consisted of stepping to the line, taking a couple of dribbles, and rubbing the side of his face.  It was later discoverd that Hornacek rubbed his face as a way to say hi to his kids.

Others use a more direct approach to say hi to family members. Jason Kidd used to blow a kiss to the rim before he shot his free throws, which was a way to say hi to his wife.  I always thought that  was a little weird and would be akward for anyone esle to try, but like I said, everyone has their own unique ritual.

One of the most famous rituals belongs to Karl Malone.  As mentioned above, a player only gets a maximum of 10 seconds to do whatever it is they do and shoot the ball.  Malone would use ALL of his 10 seconds. First, Malone would twirl the ball in his hands and take a couple of dribbles. Next, he would do a really deep knee bend, and his knees would almost be touching.  Next, came the most famous part of his ritual. Malone would talk to himself for quite a while, and then shoot the ball. No one else could hear what he was saying, and he would be talking pretty fast. Malone would later tell reporters that he was just reminding himself of what to do at the free throw line.  What he said exactly whenever he talked to himself remains a mystery.

Some players are so good at shooting free throws, that they are able to stray away from their usual free throw rituals.  Take Michael Jordan for example.  During a game against the Denver Nuggets, Jordan shot a free throw with his eyes closed. This was not an All Star game or a charity event, it was a real regular season game.  And of course, he made it. 

The most important aspect of the ritual is that is has to work for the player.  You can have the best ritual in the world, but if you’re not making your free throws, there’s going to be problems.  Sticking to the basics is probably best.  I wouldn’t recommend incorporating the eyes closed thing when working on your ritual.  Leave that to the professionals.


1. K.C. - August 12, 2007

One of the most unique routines that I remember was that of Harold Minor . Cant remember if he did it when he was with the Miami Heat as a pro, but when he was at the University of Southern Califormia he used to bounce the ball real hard, then rub and massage the ball and then the kicker he would craddle the ball behind his back from his right hand to his left hand before he shot his freethrow(Minor was a lefty) Also Minor was a heck of a college player who didnt have as much sucess as a pro. never the less his freethrow style was unique. After watching thousands of high school,college, and pro basketball games I beleive technique is important but I beleive the mental aspect is so underrated. Great freethrow shooters know they are going to make every freetrow whether its the start of the game or if its 2 seconds left and the game is on the line. Great freethrow shooters have supreme confidence in there ability to make a clutch freethrow they want to have the ball more than anyone else on the floor. They dont sense that fear of failure or consequences that most players feel in those pressure situations. thus the term” Ice water in his Veins”

2. The Mixtape Monster - August 13, 2007

Is it Agent Zero who rocks the around the back twice before shooting it?

3. Marquis Chapman - August 13, 2007

Yeah, I think Arenas does do that. Jalen Rose used to not even dribble the ball at the free throw line. I’m not sure if he still does it though.

4. tsos20 - August 13, 2007

A free throw is different than any other shot. It’s almost like bowling, the same shot every time with no defense. Like a pitcher throwing a pitch. A free throw is more mental than physical. Women are just as capable as men.

The rituals are to get comfortable mentally. To get “in the zone”. 3 point shots would improve if players could take their time and perform rituals; but defense prevents it.
The Sultan on Sports


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9. Waka - June 3, 2015

The best ritual in the world wouldn’t help Andre Drummond to become a better free throw shooter, lol. Or maybe his ritual is missing those free throws?
As for Karl Malone: I think he once stated that he constantly reminded himself to concentrate on the free throw. He sucked at free throws earlier in his career and a mental coach asked him what he was thinking about when taking those shots. Malone responded with “the game, the points, the next play” and the coach replied: “See? You are thinking too much. Just think about the free throw you are going to take and nothing else”.

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