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The 15 Weirdest and Worst NBA Free-Throw Shooters

Meet the players who have taxed us from the charity stripe

Shaquille O'Neal free throws

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Free throws seem like they should be the easiest part of basketball – they're called "free" for a reason, after all. In the NBA, it's a chance for a player to catch his breath, hear some encouraging words from his teammates, and enjoy the mellifluous sounds of the Thunderstix.

Hear Phish's Free-Throw Anthem 'The Line'

Of course, even without a defensive player sticking his hand in the shooter's face, some players have trouble putting the ball through the net – while others have developed unusual methods just to get it there. Just in time for the NBA Finals, here are 15 of the wildest and weirdest free-throw shooters in league history, sorted by their lifetime percentage at the charity stripe.

Because, as we all know, nothing in life is free. By Gavin Edwards

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Ben Wallace: .414

Of everyone who has played in the NBA (and logged a minimum of 500 games and 500 free-throw attempts), Big Ben is the very worst free-throw shooter ever, suggesting that he might do better trying to stuff the basketball into a T-shirt cannon and taking that to the line.

But his most famous free throws were probably the ones he never got to take: On November 19, 2004, after getting fouled hard by Ron Artest, Wallace shoved the man now known as Metta World Peace, igniting the infamous melee known as "The Malice at the Palace." The game was called off in the aftermath of the brawl, but we assume Ben would've missed the free throws anyway.

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Chris Dudley: .458

This journeyman center stayed in the league for 16 seasons and compiled the second-worst free-throw percentage ever, which weirdly, turned into a campaign liability when he ran for governor of Oregon in 2010.

A lowlight: missing 17 of 18 free throws in a 1990 game. Another one: Getting five chances in 1989 to make a free throw on a single play (lots of lane violations) and whiffing on all five. "I wasn't good at free throws," Dudley reportedly said. "Neither was Shaq. So really, you could describe my game as Shaq-esque."

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Wilt Chamberlain: .511

The Big Dipper missed more free throws than anybody in NBA history. Of course, being one of the game's all-time greats, he also took the second-highest number of free throws, but the big guy just wasn't good at the line – and judging by old film, it appears he couldn't have cared less, lining up a few feet beyond the stripe and half-heartedly chucking the ball at the back iron.

The NBA actually changed the rules about off-the-ball fouls because a game with Chamberlain would devolve into a game of tag, with players running after him trying to foul him. Pat Riley said those fouling efforts were incredibly funny: "Wilt would run away from people, and the league changed the rule based on how silly that looked."

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Bo Outlaw: .521

The man with the gunslinger's name was anything but from the free-throw line, though strangely, YouTube seems to have all but ignored his, uh, ignominy (not to mention his hideously hitchy shooting style).

To be fair, one year, Bo did shoot .625 from the line – on 8 attempts – and Orlando Magic fans will no doubt remember him more for his tenacious defense and infectious energy, which made him an integral part of the "Heart and Hustle" era. Not to mention this amazing quote after he recorded a rare triple-double: "What's that, some kind of hamburger?"

 

 

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Shaquille O’Neal: .527

Such a dominant player – and such a horrendous free-throw shooter – that his presence on the court led to the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy: late in the game, opposing players would constantly foul him to shut down his team's offense. (He wasn't the first player the strategy was used on, but Dallas coach Don Nelson popularized it for a new era.)

Part of the reason O'Neal was so terrible at the line:? As a child, he fell out of a tree and broke his right wrist, which never healed properly.

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Dennis Rodman: .584

The hair color, the cross-dressing and the trips to North Korea all obscure the fact that Rodman was one of the greatest rebounders the NBA has ever seen, worming into the Hall of Fame by leading the league in rebounds-per-game for seven seasons straight.

But he was an indifferent shooter, and that indifference was never more obvious than when he was shooting free throws: he chucked them up with a nonchalant air of "We all know I'm terrible at this, so let's at least get it over with quickly."

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Anthony Mason: .709

The former Sixth Man of the Year winner's greatest accomplishment may have been his influence on the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication album ("I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason"), or the brick wall he helped form in the Knicks' frontcourt.

But the most unusual aspect of his play was at the free-throw line: he would basically shot-put the ball with his left hand, while his right arm went out to the side, rotating and moving as if it were a SETI satellite dish looking for transmissions from an alien civilization.

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Joakim Noah: .729

At the line, the Bulls' All-Star center releases the ball with a two-handed motion: at first glance, it's as if he's trying to throw a chest pass, or just trying to get rid of a hot potato. Closer examination reveals, however, that he's putting sidespin on the ball. Either Noah is playing a much deeper game than everybody else, thinking about how spin on the ball will affect a rebound off the glass, or it's just an inscrutable French/Swedish thing. 

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Karl Malone: .742

The Mailman made more free throws than anybody else in NBA history (9,787 over his Hall of Fame career), and each was accompanied by one of the most elaborate routines ever seen at the charity stripe: an extended sequence of dribbling and muttering (nobody seems to know what he was saying to himself) that sometimes got opposing fans to do an audible ten-second count, trying to get the referees to blow the whistle for delay of game.

If Malone used the full ten seconds every time he shot a free throw in a game, that would mean he spent over 41 hours of his life doing the routine. 

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Tony Parker: .752

Bad free-throw shooters will sometimes heave up an airball, but rarely are they as pathetic as this effort by Tony Parker. The Spurs' All-Star point guard is no slouch at the stripe, which is what makes this free throw, uh, "attempt" from January 2014 all the more comical: the ball squirted out of his hands and didn't make it even halfway to the hoop. The officials ruled that they had distracted Parker and gave him a do-over, which he made, but, damn, c'mon man.

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Bill Cartwright: .771

Witness one of the oddest examples of free-throw form in NBA history: the seven-foot-one Cartwright would stand at the line and hold the ball high over his head, as if he were posing for an awards statuette. Then, with the ball almost as high as the hoop (ten feet off the ground), he would bend his knees and release, sending his shot arcing through the air. Surprisingly, it worked a lot of the time. Unsurprisingly, he didn't have a lot of imitators.

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Gilbert Arenas: .803

At a certain point, free-throw routines can look like OCD compulsions: Rip Hamilton dribbling the ball twice in front of him and then once on his side, Steve Nash licking his fingers, or Jeff Hornacek stroking his face at the line as a subliminal shout-out to his children.

There's reasons for a routine besides eccentricity – it can be a way to put your body on autopilot – but leave it to Gilbert Arenas to figure out what it would look like if Monk was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters: at the line, he would roll the ball around his waist three times, dribble, pause, then shoot. We always thought he was called the Hibachi because he heated up quickly.

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Jerry Stackhouse: .822

Before a free throw, Stack would habitually take a knee bend so deep it looked as if he was about to sit on the wooden court, or a toilet (that's him at the 0:23 mark of this video, BTW). Of course, given his reputation as one of the baddest dudes to ever lace 'em up, we're willing to be no one ever laughed at him.

He credited the odd routine with improving his free-throw shooting from around 70 percent to around 80 percent, and claimed it was all because of his mother. "Every time I would miss, my mom would yell at me, 'You didn't bend your knees!'" Stackhouse said. "I overcompensated."

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Rick Barry: .893

No list of free-throw shooters would be complete without Barry, the Hall of Famer (and sixth-best free-throw shooter in the history of the NBA) famous for one of the least-dignified shooting motions ever: an underhand shovel more typically seen from second-graders learning the game.

Just as Barry didn't care if he was liked by his peers, he didn't care if he looked cool at the line, so long as his granny shot got the job done. Some of the other people on this list probably would have done better if they had tried the underhand motion themselves.