Now 62, he still looks as if he could come off the bench for an NBA team. Or at least the Knicks. And he can still sink free throws like cops sink doughnuts.
"I make so many in a row, I get bored," he says. His wife, Lynn, says, "I've seen him not shoot for a year and then stand up and make 100 straight. He can make 20 straight with his eyes closed."
"Eyes closed?" I scoffed. "Prove it."
He made 11 in a row his first try.
After about three hours he had me making gobs of them underhanded—12 in a row once, five in a row with my eyes closed. The shot is so soft that a lot more balls loaf around on the rim and drop in. And you think, Why don't more people try it?
"Because it's ugly," says my pal Bill Pearson, who played for Wisconsin in the '70s.
I stuck to it. Through snickers and punk kids muttering "gay" and an old guy at the Y one day shaking his head and then saying to his buddy, "That's how guys shoot when they can't shoot anymore."
Oh, yeah? Within two weeks I'd grannied my free throw percentage up to 78. Yes, I looked like Aunt Bea at the county fair, but 78%!
You want ugly? Let's take the stroke of Ben the Brick. At 41.9%, Wallace is the NBA's alltime worst free throw shooter. You could make 41.9% drop-kicking them in an Oscar de la Renta gown. Maybe Ben had that headband over his eyes. "If Ben were serious," Barry says, "I know I could get him shooting better than 70 percent."
Wilt Chamberlain, who for years held the record for the most pathetic free-throw-shooting season ever (38.0%), is one of the few guys to go underhanded in an effort to improve. He got better but then gave it up. "I felt silly—like a sissy," he wrote in his 1973 autobiography. So he went back to his old line drives.