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NBA Players Resist the 'Granny Shot'

After his 15 year career in pro basketball, Rick Barry had hit a remarkable 89.9% of his shots from the free throw line. But Barry also had one of the weirdest free throw shots—an underhand shot known as the "granny style" shot.

The stats don't lie—Barry's style seems to work better than the more familiar (and cooler looking) traditional free throw shot. As Barry said, "From the physics standpoint, it's a much better way to shoot. Less things that can go wrong, less things that you have to worry about repeating properly in order for it to be successful." In 2008, when Discover magazine asked a physics professor who agreed: the 45-degree arc angle and the natural backspin both increase the odds of the ball going into the net, relative to the more common method.

Wilt Chamberlain, a former NBA great who holds the record for the most points scored in one game (100), once tried it out. Over his career, Chamberlain made a pathetic 54% of his free throws. But on March 2, 1962, when he scored his 100 points, Chamberlain used the granny style approach and hit 28 of his 32 free throws.

So chances are, for many players shooting underhand is a much better strategy. So, why don't more players use this free throw style? (And why did Chamberlain give it up?) Rick Barry and Malcolm Gladwell propose a simple answer: because players are too embarrassed or too proud—or both. It looks silly, and most players would rather miss shots than look like a "granny" and score more points.

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