My @WojYahooNBA Moment Shows NBA Free Throw Shooting Can Be Fixed

Before Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) became a nationally-known NBA writer with an uncanny ability to announce NBA Draft picks before the teams doing the picking announce them, he covered the New York Knicks as the beat writer for the Bergen Record.  Woj covered them during the ’98-’99 lockout season, the same season that I worked with Knicks’ backup center Chris Dudley on his free throw (FT) shooting.  Chris was notorious for his poor FT shooting and would be interviewed any time he made two in a row in a game.  So it’s no surprise that Chris made national news that season when, after we put in an adjustment the night I saw him miss two against the Bulls on national television, he had a made-FT streak that spanned four games, easily the best of his career.

At that time, “social media” meant having a drink with a reporter, so not many people saw Woj’s article.  I’m posting it below because, with some of the horrible free throw shooting seen in the NBA over the past few seasons, it’s time to get it fixed.

In addition to being able to tell that it was the first time I was ever interviewed (yikes!), you can see what is actually possible as far as fixing bad free throw shooting.  There’s no reason that anyone in the NBA has to shoot less than 70% from the free throw line.  But I can guarantee that if people try to fix it with the same methods that have failed for the past four decades, it’s not going to get any better.  This article, as well as my FT quotes page, shows that I know what I’m talking about.

Thanks to Woj for writing it and thanks to Chris Dudley for being a great client and for the great thing he said to then-mega agent David Falk about me that’s at the end of the article.

Here’s that “Vintage Woj” article from the Bergen Record (no longer on their site, so I can’t just link to it):

EWING FILL-IN HAS PROVEN HE’S NO DUD

June 5, 1999 Section: SPORTS Edition: All Editions Page: S1 The Record ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI

Chris Dudley was a success story, a fourth-round pick out of the Ivy League, turned over time into a millionaire center. Long ago, this truth was lost in the eyes of fools. They believed the lousy free-throw shooting made him a failure. As soon as he walked to the line for two shots, the anticipation of air balls and bruised backboards had everyone gearing for a good laugh. He was a “SportsCenter” staple, as clich’ed as the stock car crash and the snoozing fan in the stands.

Amazingly, Dudley never let people see his frustration. He just absorbed the humiliation and hustled back on defense, refusing to react to the taunts on his misses and mock cheers on his makes. Still, this sorry saga had to make him the most tortured soul on the floor.

Everyone’s favorite punching bag is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Knicks tonight, replacing Patrick Ewing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. He’s a $28 million insurance policy on a Hall of Fame center, an investment paying remarkable dividends in the playoffs. Slowly, there’s a growing appreciation for him, an understanding Dudley doesn’t deserve to be showered with a stooge’s shame.

All along, he never has fit people’s picture of the stereotypical NBA player. He was the third generation of his family to graduate Yale, the grandson of Guilford Dudley, an ambassador to Denmark in the Nixon and Ford administrations. For a man of privilege, Dudley, 33, has stayed a champion of the underdog.

He has committed several hundred thousand dollars to guarantee a college education for a class of 76 fourth-graders in Portland, Ore. As long as the kids get the grades, Dudley funds the free ride. Using his own affliction with the disease as a source of inspiration, he runs a summer basketball camp for children with diabetes.

Despite his struggles with something as silly as shooting free throws, Dudley never let himself become the charity case. Just maybe, his good faith will soon be rewarded.

“I think a lot of comedy writers are going to be getting some work now, because people are going to have to find something else to laugh about it,” Art Rondeau said Friday, just after leaving the practice court at Purchase College with Dudley. Rondeau is a 43-year-old computer consultant out of San Diego who, until last summer when he connected with Dudley, had been searching for a lost cause free-throw shooter to validate the theories bouncing around his brain.

He had worked with a few college players over the years, turning a 59 percent shooter into the Western Athletic Conference free throw champion in 1999. Over time, Dudley has witnessed an endless parade of gurus promising to remedy his 46 percent career free-throw shooting – prescribing everything from underhand tosses to the occult.

One day, Rondeau chased him down at a La Jolla, Calif., health club, preached his philosophies of proper balance and release, and Dudley was so intrigued with the ideas, he was willing to work with this perfect stranger.

“He’s been good for me,” Dudley said. As always, he’s much more comfortable working on his free throw troubles than discussing them. After Dudley missed five of eight to start the season, Rondeau could see on television that Dudley was reverting to his old problems. He called him, shared his thoughts, and soon started the best run of Dudley’s NBA career.

Almost immediately, Dudley connected on nine consecutive free throws. It was a snail’s streak, strung together in mid-March across several games, but it was uncharted territory for Dudley.

“And then he fell on his hip against the Lakers, hurt his hip, and then had a 2-for-12 run,” Rondeau said. “Take that early streak, and the one when he was hurt out of the equation, he’s shooting almost 80 percent for the season.”

Run that explanation by Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and listen to him laugh. His experience with searching for saviors usually has resulted in the finding of frauds. But, hey, Van Gundy is a Yale dropout, so he’s happy to let Dudley listen to Rondeau’s advice. If Dudley’s comfortable with a computer consultant, it’s all right with Van Gundy.

While understanding Dudley’s shooting percentage has improved little from a season ago – from 44 to 47 percent – Van Gundy agrees his center’s form and frame of mind has. “His shot definitely looks better,” he said. “You haven’t seen streaks of air balls like you used to see. When he does miss, it’s softer now.”

Dudley never has made it to the conference finals as a pro, and wouldn’t it be sweet justice for him to be the starting center in the NBA Finals? Every free throw he takes the rest of these playoffs figures to be the closest watched, most scrutinized of his life. For the first time, maybe Dudley isn’t so alone on the line anymore.

After Game 3 of the Atlanta series, Dudley and Rondeau were standing in the hallway outside the Knicks dressing room. Dudley had the best playoff game of his life, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, prompting super agent David Falk to call out to the hero of the day: “Hey, Chris, what’s happened to you?”

So, Dudley smiled and nodded over to Art Rondeau, saying: “It’s him.” As usual, Dudley was trying to be generous. Just maybe, the computer consultant is right that people will have to get a laugh at someone else’s expense now. Finally, they can rub the silliness out of their eyes and see the truth they were missing all along: Chris Dudley is nobody’s stooge.

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