He says he was an average player. But after studying free-throw fundamentals, Gary Boren now teaches them.When Mark Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, he was intent on making every facet of his team — players, coaches, the front office — more productive and efficient. Gary Boren, the free-throw coach, stood to benefit greatly. Cuban, he says, offered him an ideal seating position where he could watch players shoot free throws.
Any fan would have jumped at the offer of a courtside seat. Boren rejected it. “For my purposes, the front row is not attractive,” says Boren, 73, “and behind the bench is worse because the players are sitting there and I can’t see anything.”
Instead, he asked for seats in the corner stands, where he could have a clear view of players’ feet at the free-throw line. Cuban agreed to Boren’s request, and it seems to have paid off. During the last 13 years, the Mavericks have led the National Basketball Association (NBA) in regular-season and playoff free-throw shooting at 80.5 percent, well above the league average of 75 percent. That variance might not seem major, but as Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson says, “It is a very important component to winning playoff games.”
Boren believes that the free throw is a mechanical, not mental, shot composed of 39 different motions. Compared to a jump shot, the free-throw shooting technique is as different as chipping is from putting.
To assess players, Boren films them shooting and then analyzes the tape with them. “The key is to get them to listen,” he says. “They’re probably thinking, ‘What if this bozo makes me worse?’ ” He empowers them by telling them they serve as their own head coach — he’s simply the assistant. “Since I don’t control the player’s minutes, he and I become buddies,” Boren says.
A common problem for players is maintaining their balance from the time the shot is launched all the way through the release. Boren preaches steadiness. “It doesn’t make sense that their body is swaying off to the side as they’re trying to throw this piece of leather dead straight,” he says.
Another issue is proper arc. Boren says the ball should fall from its parabolic peak to the basket at a 45-degree angle and enter two inches behind the center of the basket.
“People think the middle of the basket is the target,” he says. “The only time it is is if you know how to dunk.” Boren advises against any lengthy pre-shot ritual. “Dribble once or twice and then get on with it before you can think,” he says. To help the athletes manage a frenzied crowd, he puts the pressure in context. “I bet 100 of the 20,000 people in the arena are doctors that have been busy saving lives today,” he tells them. “And here you are shooting a free throw?”