'Granny-style' free throw makes a comeback, thanks to NBA rookie Chinanu Onuaku

Don't call it a "Granny-style" free throw — at least not to Rick Barry. The NBA Hall of Famer ignored the relentless teasing when he used to shoot underhand free throws. And now, more than 30 years since the technique was last used, a Houston Rockets player brings back the move.
Houston Rockets forward Chinanu Onuaku (21) shoots his free throws underhanded in the second half of an NBA basketball game on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 in Houston. (Bob Levey/AP)

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The long-lost technique hasn't been seen on an NBA basketball court for more than 30 years. But that didn't stop rookie Houston Rockets power forward Chinanu Onuaku from unleashing his secret weapon on Monday night: the underhand free throw. Or, as a ridiculing fan might call it — the "Granny-style" throw.

Rick Barry knows all about the unorthodox shot. The NBA Hall of Famer was a master of the technique before he retired from the sport in 1980. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about why he thinks more players should adopt the unique shot. Here is part of their conversation.
NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry was a master of the underhanded free throw technique. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Helen Mann: Mr. Barry, did you feel a surge of pride on Monday night when you saw someone resurrecting that underhand free throw?

Rick Barry: Well, actually, [Onuaku] did it when he was in college. His form is not what I would recommend. I think he's doing a lot of things that will prohibit him from ever really being super proficient at it. I admire and respect what he's doing — that he's willing to try something to get better. He has gotten better. But the fact that you're a 60 something per cent free throw shooter doesn't make it. That's not good free throw shooting.
I just hope that players will realize that there's no stigma to shooting it that way. It's whether the ball goes in the basket or not — that's all that really matters at the end of the day.- Rick Barry
HM: What's wrong with Chinanu Onuaku's technique?

RB: There's a lot of things wrong with it: his feet are too wide, he's got too much wrist involved, he takes his hand off the ball. Again, I'm not saying this to disparage him. I respect and admire that he's done this on his own and gotten himself 20 per cent better at the free throw line, which is a complement to him.

HM: Explain to us the advantages of this underhand throw because most players aren't using it.

RB: I don't know why people have an aversion to doing it because in the old days men used to shoot that way and nobody made fun of them. Now, all of sudden, it's like, "Wow! You can't shoot that way. That's not masculine." I mean, it's ridiculous.

HM: So what makes it so accurate?

RB: It's a very soft touch shot. Physicists have done studies on it and you can Google it and find the reports that they did. They all came out and said it's the most efficient way to do it. There's less moving parts. I mean there's so many positives to it. Why in the world wouldn't someone want to go and do something that experts in the field of physics have said is the most efficient way to do it and then learn the technique and go practice it? Everybody has been copycatting everything else in the world to try to do things that other people do exceptionally well, other than the underhanded free throw, and the way I did it.
Chinanu Onuaku of the Houston Rockets surprised the basketball world when he brought back the underhanded style of free throw shot. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

HM: Do you think it's just more important to these guys to look cool than to be accurate?

RB: Obviously it is. Shaquille O'Neal told me that. He said, "I'm a hip hop kind of guy and it would ruin my image." He didn't want to do it. The bottom line of it is that you have to have enough personal pride to want to be the best you can be in whatever it is that you do in life. That means you should try anything that's not against the rules in order to go and get more proficient at it. How do you live with yourself if the most simple thing, the only thing that's a constant, same size ball, same size basket, same distance every single time you get to the line, with no one trying to prevent you from doing it, and you can't make four out of every five? You should be ashamed of yourself.

HM: How did people react when you first unleashed this move in a game?

RB: The first time I remember was in Scotch Plains, New Jersey on the road when I was a junior or senior in high school. I shot the ball and I was making my free throws. I heard a guy call out, "Hey Barry, you big sissy, shooting like that." I heard, as clear as a bell, the guy sitting next to him said this: "What are you making fun of him for — he doesn't miss!" I just hope that players will realize that there's no stigma to shooting it that way. It's whether the ball goes in the basket or not — that's all that really matters at the end of the day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Rick Barry.


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