Shaquille O’Neal’s horrid free throw shooting is legendary. His best year came in 2002-03 when he shot 62.2 percent from the line, and he finished below 50 percent in eight seasons.
His shooting hasn’t changed in retirement. A recent free throw contest with a 77-year-old CEO ended in a tie.
Many people have theorized why Shaq is such a terrible free throw shooter. But if you ask O’Neal, “the man way upstairs” made him miss free throws to keep him humble. Here’s what he told For The Win’s Nina Mandell:
“The theory is, it was the man way upstairs’ way of keeping me humble,” he said. “Seriously. Because the way I played, the way I made everyone else around me better, all of the publicity I was doing — imagine if I was doing that and had shot 90% from the free throw line. I would have been arrogant. I’d probably be so arrogant. So it was just his way of saying ‘hey, buddy, you’re just like everybody else.’”
Shaq isn’t the most humble guy anyway — and he still needs his mom to help settle disputes — but who could be after four titles and an MVP? And maybe his theory holds some water. Some people blame Shaq’s free throw shooting on not practicing, but he said he practiced plenty:
“I tried to make 200 a day,” he said. “And then when I got really big time and was able to build gyms in my house, I shot all the time. But there’s a difference between playing craps at your house with your boys and going to Mr. Cordish’s casino and playing craps. When I’m by myself I shoot like Steve Kerr. But it’s just something about when I’m in a game, there’s pressure, I just tighten up.”
One option he never looked into was seeing a sports psychologist:
“No,” he said. “I don’t believe in that.”
But fortunately, he did have an in-game strategy for free throws in clutch situations:
“I would always try to find a kid (in the stands) and I’m looking at (the) kid and I say ‘oh, he believes in me,’” he said. “And then my confidence goes up. On the road, that was hard … so you have to think of something else.
“But like in LA, I took three my dribbles, I’m just looking up and I see a kid and I’m like ‘OK, little baby watch this.’”
Shaq may never fix his free throws, but we know he’s still absolutely dominant in the paint.