This past Monday, LeBron James took on Dwyane Wade for the final time in the regular season.
The two had another classic battle which came down to LeBron defending Wade in the closing seconds. The Heat were within one possession, in part because the Lakers only shot 60% from the free throw line while the Heat shot 77%.
LeBron went 4-8 from the FT line and has had some recent issues at the free throw line but took a rather unorthodox approach when shooting a free throw in the final minutes of the game:
Bron trash talked the Heat... then missed the FT 😂 pic.twitter.com/2fREvQapqF- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 11, 2018
We all know LeBron is great in the 4th quarter and it might be foolish to challenge the King even if he did go on to miss. The Lakers went on to win the game but LeBron isn't the first legend to talk during a free throw:
"Hey, Mutombo. This one's for you baby." #OTD in 1991, MJ hit a free-throw with his eyes closed! 😳 pic.twitter.com/3WsIujPs9q- NBA TV (@NBATV) November 23, 2018
Jordan's blind free throw may be his second most notable moment at the line thanks to the 1988 Dunk Contest. It may also be the second most notable moment Jordan had with Mutombo. Jordan, despite being vibrant during games, was generally tame at the free-throw line though.
The same cannot be said about his predecessors or contemporaries. The unique take on NBA free throws essentially started in the bay area when the Warriors were in San Francisco. It was Rick Barry who started taking his free throws underhand and was consistently among the league leaders.
Although other players have dabbled with the below the belt approach, it hasn't quite taken off. Flash forward a few years and you had the likes of Jason Kidd and others addressing their families in the one moment on the court where they weren't actively guarded:
That's not to say we had an idea what every player was doing, or for that matter, saying. Karl Malone moved his lips and spoke to himself and subjected to taunts at the line in the 1996 Western Conference Finals.
The Mailman's approach was relatively effective as he shot 74.2% from the line throughout his career which delivered him some extra cash and a sponsorship deal with Hardee's.
Free throw habits will come and go and generally, all that matters is that you make them. It's always a little better of course when doing something new and different. Free throw routines are somewhat akin to a touchdown celebration in the NFL. Maybe not as celebrated (or fined for that matter), but they allow each player to display a sense of who they are.
For that reason, here's to (one of many reasons) rooting for Markelle Fultz to get back on the court.