Shaquille O’Neal played nearly two decades in the NBA, where he firmly established himself as an all-time great. However, O’Neal‘s biggest weakness sat at the free-throw line. Despite these persistent struggles, the star big man held a prideful reason for turning down shooting underhanded to improve that area of his game.
Shaquille O’Neal’s Hall of Fame career
The LSU product quickly became one of the best big men, leading to an illustrious 19-year NBA career.
O’Neal dominated the league for several years behind his size, strength, and skill in the low post. Those traits guided him to earn four NBA titles and three NBA Finals MVP awards, receive 15 All-Star Game selections and 14 All-NBA selections, and garner a regular-season MVP award. He also has his jersey retired with the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic.
The tremendous success aside, O’Neal never managed to overcome his free-throw-line struggles. His career even featured him turning down one unique method to improve his efficiency at the charity stripe.
Shaquille O’Neal pridefully rejected shooting free throws underhanded: ‘I’m not looking like a sissy like that’
During O’Neal‘s prime, he dominated the game through his sheer power and strength, making him an unguardable force in the paint.
However, the star big man notably struggled at the free-throw line throughout his illustrious career, shooting a mere 52.7%. O’Neal shot above 60% once while dipping below 50% eight times in his 19-year run.
His infamous charity-stripe struggles didn’t come without his teammates attempting to offer him help. Former NBA guard Jon Barry recalled one of those instances during his lone season with Los Angeles in the 1997-98 campaign.
He is the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who excelled at shooting underhanded at the free-throw line, hitting at an 89.3% career mark. It led the younger Barry to suggest to O’Neal that he should take the approach his father did, which O’Neal swiftly shot him down, citing prideful reasoning.
“I played with Shaq in ’97, and I used to joke with him about it,” Barry recalled during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show in July. “And he’s like, ‘I am not looking like a sissy like that. I am not going that. That’s embarrassing.’ What’s more embarrassing than shooting 18-for-39 from the free-throw line in a game? Or doing that”
O’Neal’s reasoning is one that many players share as shooting underhanded isn’t perceived as the most visually masculine method. However, the proof was in the pudding for Rick Barry as he never dipped below 86% in any of his 14 NBA seasons. He hit north of 90% seven times in his final eight campaigns.
Nonetheless, O’Neal’s pride prevented him from potentially improving the weakest part of his game.
Achieved championship success despite free-throw struggles
Although free-throw struggles remained prevalent throughout O’Neal‘s career, they never prevented him from finding success.
The Hall of Fame big man dominated other realms of the game that established him as one of the greatest players in league history. He anchored the Lakers’ push to three straight NBA titles.
Opposing teams employed the “Hack-a-Shaq” game plan to send O’Neal to the free-throw line, but his teams worked past those issues. He even attempted a playoff-record 39 free throws, making 18 as part of a 40-point performance in the Game 2 win of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers.
Despite all that, O’Neal still finds a way to comically poke fun at his free-throw issues, stating they were God’s way of keeping him humble.
“I think it was the man upstairs’ way to just keep me humble,” O’Neal stated in 2017 to Business Insider. “‘Cause imagine me with the game that I had, shooting like Steph Curry from the free-throw line. I’d probably be a difficult man to deal with because in my mind I would know that I’m the best player ever created.
“Better than Mike, better than Wilt … so it was just a way to keep me humble. But when it came time to really buckle down and concentrate and you got a whole crowd doubting you and the whole crowd supporting, I always knock ‘em down.”
Ultimately, it’s part of O’Neal’s legacy that he forever embraces.