Posted by: Jarom Whitehead on Aug 19, 2019

Wilt Chamberlain is widely considered one of the best professional basketball players to ever play the game. For those of you who don’t know, let me explain. Affectionately known as “Wilt the Stilt” or “The Big Dipper”, Chamberlain was 7 feet 1 inch tall and dominated the game in a way that has not been matched by anyone else to this day. If you took 1960’s Chamberlain and slotted him into any current team roster today, he’d still dominate. Here’s a few stats to chew on: When he retired in 1974, he held 128 NBA League records. As of today, he still holds 68 records (by himself, 72 jointly) and can claim top-tier ranking in most other measured categories. When Larry Bird was once asked to define the greatest NBA player of all time, his answer was simple. “Open up the record book and it will be obvious who the greatest is.” Bird wasn’t kidding. Chamberlain was amazing on the court. His work ethic and stamina were legendary. He still holds the record for averaging 50.4 points per game, 22.9 rebounds, and the highest average minutes played per game at 45.8. For reference, that’s barely a minute and a half off of total regulation game time. Those are his averages! His “Airness” Michael Jordan averaged a paltry 37.09 points per game by comparison.

Despite his greatness, Wilt was terrible in one important aspect. He couldn’t shoot a free throw. Free throws are the penalty shots in basketball and will often decide the winners and losers of a game. Large, powerful players like Wilt who can’t really be stopped close to the basket will often become the targets of intentional fouls as a tactic to slow them down.  Remember the “Hack a Shaq”? It was really invented for dealing with Chamberlain 30 years prior. Wilt has the 2nd most attempted free throws in a career at 11,862. He got fouled—a lot. He missed 5,805 of them.  His career average was just 51.1%. (For comparison, the league average is 75% and the top 250 players averaged better than 80% over their careers.) Wilt is in the bottom 5 worst players. Even for big players, Wilt was bad and everyone knew it.
So what’s the point of telling you this? After a dismal 1960-61 season of shooting just 50% from the line, The Big Dipper decided to try something different. He adopted a free throw style affectionately known as “the granny shot”. Rather than shooting the ball from a strong position with elbows down and hands up, the ball is held low between the legs with arms straight. Most people who play the game think it looks ridiculous, and it probably does. But it really works.  In the 1961-62 season Wilt improved to 61% overall and in one game made 28 of 32 free throw attempts shooting underhanded. Incidentally, he scored 100 points in that same game—a league record that no one has even come close to matching.
“That’s great,” you say. “Wilt really was the best, so what does that have to do with me, the law, or the price of tea in China?” The take-away, my friends, is this: Wilt Chamberlain’s record-breaking year and unmatchable game was attained because he was willing to identify his weak spots and try something new and different to fix it. Before adopting the granny shot, Wilt had probably shot thousands of “regular” free throws but was unable to improve doing it the “normal” or usual way. Statistics show that shooting underhanded free throws is remarkably more accurate across the board than the traditional style. Yet few players ever adopt the technique—let alone try it in a real game. Even Chamberlain, after the demonstrated success with using it, stopped after that season and returned to his awful average. Why? Well, according to him, he felt like a “sissy.”
Now, I think there’s a lot to unpack about the motivation in that statement, and I am neither qualified nor have the space here to do it. But, what about our own lives and practices? How often do we ignore our own weak spots—for whatever reason? How many of us continually shoot overhanded on things we should be trying “granny style” simply out of habit, routine, or pure laziness? Shooting “granny style” for us should translate into taking time to really consider what changes you can try that will help you improve on something that is holding you back from being better. Much like the great Wilt Chamberlain, even at the top of our own game there is room to be a better friend, partner, lawyer, daughter, etc.  You may have been avoiding doing it for any number of reasons—appearing “weak” among them. Don’t let it stop you. Try something different and up your game.