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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Style Versus Substance

Rick Barry is a perfectionist and can come across as a know-it-all--but no one can argue that he certainly knows a lot about basketball and that he had a stellar career: he is a Hall of Famer, a member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, the only man to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in single season scoring and his performance in leading the 1975 Golden State Warriors to the NBA title was nothing short of remarkable. A Sport Magazine cover around that time declared "Rick Barry is Superman." Barry used his trademark underhanded shooting style to connect at a .900 rate from the free throw line during his NBA career and has repeatedly offered to teach his method to Shaquille O'Neal, who sports a Superman tatoo but shoots free throws like the rim has been coated with Kryptonite. Here is O'Neal's response, delivered to Steven A. Smith and quoted in Tim Povtak's October 1 article: "Rick Barry's resume is not good enough to even come into my office to be qualified for a job. I will shoot negative-30 percent before I shoot underhanded." Nothing like having respect for one of the game's greatest players and valuing substance--making free throws that can help your team win games--over style, right?

posted by David Friedman @ 3:08 PM


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At Monday, October 02, 2006 12:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A mildly related, but interesting story I heard is: it was once suggested to Wilt Chamberlain by his coach, Alex Hannum, that a good way to try to improve his freethrow shooting would be to shoot them in a fadeaway style. Wilt struggled a lot at the line, but had an excellent fadeaway jumpshot from 10-15 feet, and Hannum figured Wilt might have better success at the line by using the same technique. Wilt didn't want to do this, hesitant to endure the ridicule that would be sure to follow such an unorthodox foul shot.

I'm not sure if shooting a fadeaway would even be legal at the freethrow line (and maybe this story is in fact bogus). In any case, in Wilt's defense, taking a fadeaway shot would probably be much more embarassing than shooting an underhand shot. Wilt actually shot underhand for a while, but it was presumably not as stigmatized in his day as it would be now.

Anyway, I don't see why Shaq should shy away from trying underhand shots. He already has demonstrated an ability to laugh at his ineptness at the line (see Scary Movie 4). Perhaps it's Rick Barry's bluntness that irritates Shaq. However, I think Shaq was out of line acting like Rick Barry has a weak "resume". For all his talk of respecting his "elders", Shaq has shown considerable lack of regard towards several older legends when they have been critical of his game (Chamberlain, Walton, now Barry).

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 3:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't recall hearing that story about Wilt, Hannum and the fadeaway. I don't see why it would be illegal as long as the player neither jumps over the foul line nor leaves the back/side of the semicircle before the ball hits the rim. Hal Greer used to shoot a jump shot free throw.

Wilt tried underhanded shooting and shooting from various locations within the semicircle but nothing helped. Supposedly, he shot a good percentage in practice. He did have a better outside shot than Shaq, so it is strange that he shot free throws so poorly. There have been some good three point shooters who did not shoot free throws as well as one might expect. Every player has a weakness; Russell shot free throws almost as poorly as Wilt did, but no one ever mentions that.

Barry's approach can be blunt and condescending at times but Shaq's response was in poor taste, in my opinion. Wilt at least tried different things to improve his free throw shooting, even if he never succeeded.

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 3:21:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

wow, congrats -- a posting about Shaq where you didn't mention that he shd've had foot surgery, while on LA!

instead, you manage to rip him for another OFF-THE-COURT remark, that had nothing to do with his team. So what's your rule again -- you only deal with off-the-court stuff when it serves your purposes of denigrating Shaq (Rick Barry or the infamous insincere quote on D Wade) ?

But when it comes down to other players, the off-the-court stuff is irrelevant, right? Unbelievable.

I guess you know for a fact that Shaq has never privately tried underhanded shooting? I guess Rick Barry's hands and physical makeup are similar to that of Shaq? I guess the underhanded style really worked for that phenomenonal free throw machine Wilt Chamberlain?

I think you should rename your blog to "AttackOnShaq" -- to at least be more upfront about your agenda.

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The last time I looked, free throw shooting happens on the court--unlike Kobe's rap album, his upbringing in Italy and the other irrelevant things that you are fond of mentioning.

Some players--Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, to name a few--actually work on their games in the offseason and try to improve their weaknesses. Others prefer to only do such work "on company time" or not at all if they don't think that it is "cool" enough.

Shaq has rebuffed Barry--and others--on numerous occasions. Spencer Haywood mentioned this to me, in disbelief, years ago. He couldn't understand how someone could shoot 50% from the free throw line and not even be willing to listen to a 90% shooter. As I mentioned, nothing seemed to help Wilt's free throws but he was not averse to at least trying to improve his free throw shooting. Yao Ming is 7-5 and makes more than 80% of his free throws. Kareem is at least 7-2 and never shot free throws as poorly as Shaq does. Julius Erving's hands are as big as anyone's and he made close to 80% of his free throws.

This is hardly an anti-Shaq blog or even a Shaq-centric one. My recent posts have covered subjects such as the Hall of Fame induction, Phil Chenier and Gus Alfieri's book on Joe Lapchick. My posts, articles and comments all appear under my real name and I've answered every comment posted here and every email sent to me regarding these posts, articles and comments.

Perhaps you would like to post your comments using your real name and then people will be able to clearly see who has an agenda and who is contributing to a greater understanding of the game of basketball.

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 4:44:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

"Perhaps you would like to post your comments using your real name and then people will be able to clearly see who has an agenda."

alright, you've got me. I'm Shaq. Why are you always hating on me?

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 4:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Very funny.

At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 5:11:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

"The last time I looked, free throw shooting happens on the court"

yes, but the COMMENTS about Rick Barry, much like the (allegedly insincere) COMMENTS on D Wade, are mere COMMENTS -- that are stated off-the-court.

the truth is that for much of Shaq's career he has hit the clutch free throws in big games. This past year, in the Finals, was the first exception to that.

how much of talent is from birth, how much from work? you claim to know -- but I don't. All I can tell you is that on the court for most of Shaq's career, he has been a dominating player, who hit the clutch FTs when needed (or was benched during parts of crunch time, but that's another story!).

either way, if you want to choose October 2006 to write a column about Shaq's poor free throw shooting, then go ahead -- but it's not a new topic, and it hasn't stopped him from being a 4-time champion and an all-time great.

yet if you want to write about Shaq's COMMENTS on Rick Barry, then why do you exclude as irrelevant other off-court stuff?

Your perspectives on Kobe helped me to understand Kobe, and I'm appreciative of that -- in case you haven't noticed, I haven't said anything anti-Kobe since you & I ended our feud, by agreeing that the league's allowing Kobe to go pro so early caused a lot of the problem.

But I'm concerned that you've stayed so strongly anti-Shaq.

We don't know any of these people well off-the-court -- so why try to critique Shaq, for some dumb comments? What, the rest of the NBA (or sports) is full of heroes? MJ, who was Mr Diplomatic, has since been revealed as a vile teammate at closed-door practices. So why get caught up in what Shaq said?

You've just continually attacked Shaq: (a) dumb comments on R Barry, (b) allegedly insincere comments on Wade, (c) supposedly weak off-season or practice work ethic, (d) foot surgery issues (repeatedly), etc.

You obviously don't like him -- and i think that is irresponsible.

I had a beef with Kobe -- but I'm just a reader, not a journalist. Furthermore, I have no problem w/Kobe now -- I admire him more, after a lot of your perspectives clarified things for me.

You clearly dislike Shaq's personality, and it is becoming a big distraction for me.

At Wednesday, October 04, 2006 2:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The comments relating to deferring to Wade and not respecting Barry are relevant because they directly relate to oncourt performance and a team's ability to win. Shaq was unwilling to accept a situation in which Kobe would be perceived as the first option/leading scorer but very willing to do so with Wade--and also very eager to let everyone know about his willingness to defer. Robinson seamlessly deferred to the young Duncan without rancor and without seeking a lot of attention about it.

Shaq not only refused Barry's offer to help--showing an unwillingness to try to improve the weakest part of his game--but showed great disrespect for one of the game's greatest players. I think that it is important that the history of the game be respected. That is the focus of many of my articles and interviews. When someone as prominent and well liked as Shaq fires a potshot at Barry, then Shaq's young fans might think that it is "cool" to disrespect older players. It also shows hypocrisy on Shaq's part, because he often talks about how much he respects his elders and the history of the game.

Imagine for a moment that Kobe had said the exact same thing about Barry that Shaq did. Do you think that the national media would just ignore it or do you think that it would be blown up to be a huge story? I would find the comment to be disgraceful no matter who said it, but since Shaq said it I doubt that the story will have much shelf life.

Perhaps you have done a study of Shaq's free throws that shows that he makes "clutch" free throws. I know that he has always maintained that he makes them when they count but one obvious answer to that is that if you make them at a decent rate all along maybe the game isn't so close at the end (I would apply the same reasoning to Wilt and Russell as well). I'm not sure how a "clutch" free throw would be defined but I suspect that if we charted all of Shaq's free throws and then separated his "clutch" ones (based on time remaining and score) that his "clutch" percentage is not that much different than his regular percentage.

I'm not trying to distract you and I don't dislike Shaq. I disagree with the way Shaq has handled certain aspects of his professional career. I also believe that a substantial portion of the media gives him a free pass in a lot of areas because he gives good quotes and presents himself in a likeable manner. That is why most of the coverage of the Shaq-Kobe situation bears so little relationship to reality.

I believe that Shaq is a great player who could have been even greater if he would have taken a different approach in certain areas. I think that an astute observer can figure out that the way that Shaq wants credit for deferring to Wade at a point when age made such a change almost unavoidable and the way that Shaq slams Barry provides some insight into the attitude that he had toward Kobe when they were teammates.

At Wednesday, October 04, 2006 10:00:00 AM, Blogger alternaviews said...

i'd like to know more about the context about the Shaq statement on Barry.

Shaq is often jocular -- which doesnt show up in print.

who was asking about Barry, and in what context? what interview? did you see the video clip?

considering Shaq's contribution to Mikan and his other jocular antics, I would need more info to know that Shaq wasnt joking. the link that you had did not go through to any quote by Shaq, on my computer


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