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The strange free throw rituals of NBA players

From odd to sentimental to downright icky, each man has his own version of the set up.

Houston Rockets v Washington Bullets Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Free throws are the life-blood of the NBA. Players who can make clutch game-closing points while the clock is stopped. Those who don’t hit them with grace face the fate of Shaquille O’Neal, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard.

It is a strange basketball moment as play is stopped, no one is guarding you, and everyone in the arena awaits your fate. So it should come as no surprise that players develop some strange rituals to get them into the headspace to shoot from the charity-stripe.

Some are strange, like Nick Van Exel backing extra feet behind the line. Others are sweet references to family, like Jeff Hornacek rubbing his face once for each of his children. Still many are just awkward, like Don Nelson’s one-handed push.

Here are a few that stick out. We’ll start with the ones you might catch this weekend.

Kevin Durant’s shoulder shimmy

Not quite sure what this is about, but KD looks like he caught himself a draft before he locks in. Whatever it is works, as the former MVP has maintained a free throw percentage in the mid- to high 80s throughout his career.

Russell Westbrook’s meditative breath

For a guy that spends most of his court time looking upset (he has a serious case of “I smell a fart” face), Russell Westbrook takes a moment before each and every free throw to close his eyes, center himself, and take a meditative breath before allowing three refs, nine court players, two coaching staffs, entire benches, and a few thousand fans to go on with their lives. No worries, after this weekend Westbrook will most likely be on vacation.

Steve Nash’s finger licking

In a move that should be reserved for an at-home night of KFC, Steve Nash licked his fingers after taking a few practice air shots. It goes without saying that this ritual should be outlawed in a post-pandemic NBA as it is unsanitary.

Karl Malone’s long-winded conference with the ball

Although he never shared what he said to the ball before each shot, I think we all have a good idea.

Jason Kidd’s creepy kiss

This one should be in the “cute” column as Jason Kidd blew a kiss as a tribute to his family. On the other hand, he’s a dude on a floor with other dudes and he’s blowing kisses. And if I’m not mistaken this was the wife for which he pled guilty to spousal abuse. Plus, he looks like Jason Kidd. I mean, if some dude looking like Jason Kidd was in a mall food court blowing random kisses in the air, mall security would be all over it.

Rick Barry’s granny shot

Ah, then there’s the motherload. There is no shortage of strange free throw rituals and technique. Perhaps there should have been. No better way to shoot that ball than the granny shot. Named so because granny’s are notoriously solid free-throw shooters. It worked for Rick Barry, but then again, what the hell else do you know Rick Barry for?

Who has the strangest free throw ritual? Join in the comments.

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