Why Big Men Can’t Hit Free Throws

02.02.09 10 years ago 46 Comments

Why can’t big guys hit from the stripe? It seems like a simple question, but after Wilt Chamberlain (51.1%), Shaq (52.7%), Chris Dudley (45.8%) and Ben Wallace (41.8%) struggled for years, it seems to have gone unanswered.

Attempting to answer the age-old question, former college basketball player John Fontanella, who teaches physics at the U.S. Naval Academy, wrote “The Physics of Basketball,” explaining why tall guys have trouble.

In his book, Fontanella writes that the “window” for the ball to get nothing but net becomes slightly smaller as the height of release increases. However, he goes on to write that with some fine-tuning, such as adjusting the launch angle to lower values, they should be able to achieve an even higher percentage.

So why don’t they? Well, it’s the coach’s fault.

“This gives an extra reason that Wilt and Shaq are poor free-throw shooters,” Fontanella wrote in an e-mail. “If they were trained by people of average height, they were probably trained incorrectly. They were probably taught to shoot like a shorter person and that’s wrong. A big man needs to shoot the ball in a slightly different way in order to take advantage of the physics.”

So basically for Shaq and every other seven-footer (sorry Ben), it’s a vicious cycle. If centers have long been poor free throw shooters, how are they to find one to teach them?

Source: Kansas City Star

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