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Rick Barry: The master on Jose Calderon's free-throw streak

By Rick Barry
Posted Jan 14 2009 11:36AM

I was always mad at myself that I never made 100 free throws in a row. Sixty in a row was OK. However, I believe I would have been able to do better if earlier in my career I had made the change in my shooting technique that I discovered later in my career. The last six years of my career, I made an adjustment by taking the wrist action out of my shot. Once I made that change, I shot 93.5 percent from the line, which would be the all-time record.

On Sunday, Jose Calderon passed Calvin Murphy, one of the game's all-time great free throw shooters, for consecutive free throws made. Like Jose, Calvin had a great compact shooting form, along with a nice routine. I used to joke with Calvin all the time, trying to get inside his head. I told him, "Calvin, you'll never win the free-throw title as long as I'm playing the game." Sure enough, once I retired, Calvin broke my record for highest single season free-throw percentage, which was .947. As competitive as we were, I never wanted Calvin to miss, nor did he want me to miss. After all, we were teammates and misses would hurt the team. We did battle to have the highest free-throw percentage because whoever had the highest percentage got to shoot the technical fouls.

Jose, going into Wednesday night's game, has made 79 free throws in a row. He is now closing in on Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's streak of 82 in a row, before setting his sights on the all-time leader, Micheal Williams, and his record of 97. I don't think people really appreciate how difficult it is to sustain this type of excellence for a prolonged period of time.

The pursuit of Williams' record is a reflection of remarkable consistency by Calderon. To be this consistent with your shot, time after time after time, is extremely impressive. This consistency demonstrates a level of perfection to the highest degree possible and indicates a high level of confidence in his ability to make free throws.

Why has Calderon been so successful? Because he has what all great free-throw shooters must possess: technique, confidence, routine and a little luck.

Technique

The beauty of Jose's shot is that he has great shooting form. First, he gets his hand set properly under the ball. Then he shoots the ball "up," not "at" the basket. He also has a great follow through on his release. Rarely, if ever, will the ball miss to the left or to the right. Great shooters miss a hair long or a hair short. Missing left or right indicates a problem with the shooting form.

With proper form, it's easier to get a shooter's bounce. We saw that happen back in late December when Jose's streak was in the mid 60s and he almost missed in Sacramento. The shot went straight, but Calderon moved a little bit forward with his body, which he usually doesn't do. He had put a little too much effort into the shot, causing the ball to hit the back rim, then the front rim, before bouncing around and dropping in the basket. This is where the luck I mentioned came into play.

Confidence

I'm sure Jose believes he's going to make every free throw he shoots. I know I did when I made 60 in a row, which was then a league record. As Calderon climbs the all-time leaders' chart, many might automatically presume that the pressure is now mounting for him. Wrong, because there isn't any pressure when you have confidence. When your confidence wavers, that's when you start feeling pressure. Pressure only exists if you allow it to exist.

Routine

All great free-throw shooters have a consistent routine. Basically, they do the same thing every single time they shoot. They program themselves to the point that once the ball is handed to them at the free-throw line, whatever was in their mind goes away. The routine takes over immediately. The entire focus and concentration is on the routine, which has been repeated thousands of times. Having a consistent routine has allowed Jose to put together this outstanding string.

Jose's routine goes like this: Before receiving the ball, he'll spread his arms to the side, as if he's stretching them, loosening them up. Once he gets the ball, he takes a deep breath and then dribbles three times before focusing on the basket and releasing the ball.

My routine consisted of setting my feet properly to be in the middle of the basket, taking three low dribbles using both hands at the same time, relaxing my knees slightly, placing my hands on the ball on the same panel, relaxing my arms, taking a breath, then making a slight downward motion with my hands before bending my knees and going into my shot.

What is particularly impressive about Jose's streak is that he doesn't shoot very many free throws during a game. He's averaging a little over two attempts per game. Shooting only a few free throws per game is much more difficult as opposed to taking 10 or 12, where you can get on a roll and find your rhythm. To attain the level of accuracy that Calderon has reached is a testament to his excellence. I commend and admire what he has accomplished.

I believe Jose has a great chance to break Williams' record of 97. Get ready to witness history.

During his 14 seasons in the NBA and ABA, Hall of Famer Rick Barry, named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, earned the reputation as a player who could score from anywhere on the floor, averaging 24.8 points a game in 1,020 games. In addition to being one of the greatest free-throw shooters in pro basketball (90 percent in the NBA) with his old-fashioned, underhand style , the 6-foot-7 forward was a skilled passer, averaging more than five assists. Barry was the driving force behind the 1975 Golden State Warriors team that won the NBA championship.

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