Why can’t so many big men hit free throws? Hack-A-Shaq, its offspring Hack-A-Howard and hack-a-anyone, who bricks it from the free throw line, has become an annoying distraction far too often. The solution seems obvious. Hire a free throw shooting coach to work with your suddenly short-armed big man or play small ball in the fourth quarter of tight games.
Free throw master Ed Palubinskas has been preaching his solution for decades and he proved it worked with Shaquille O’Neal way back in the 2000-2001 season with the Lakers. Palubinskas was the best U.S. collegiate free throw shooter in 1970 at 92.4 percent. He was the second leading scorer at the 1972 Olympics and the leading scorer at the 1976 Olympics while playing for the Australian National team.
This Australian-Lithuanian visited Lithuania for the first time recently and talked about his experiences as Mr. Perfect with Karolis Tiškevičius on SportoTV.lt.
“This is the first time (I’ve visited Lithuania),” Palubinskas said. “I know it sounds crazy. I have tried to get over here quite a few times, but never could make the right connection. I feel like home. Of course there is a big connection with Lithuanian people. When the Lituanians are playing the United States, I am just eating it up. They don’t even know where Lithuania is, most of the people.
“I was raised in Australia. My father was Lithuanian and my mother was Russian. (When) I broke my leg, my ankle and I was out for about 4 months and my mother didn’t want me to play football, Dad said, ‘Lietuviai won a World Championship in 1937, why don’t you start playing basketball.’ I never saw a basketball before, I never touched a basketball. Realistically, I got into basketball by accident.”
Palubinskas was always a good shot, but he attributes perfecting his understanding about shooting to a second accident that gave him the opportunity to study why he couldn’t be better.
“I was always a good shooter,” Palubinskas said. “But (in) 1981 – I had a car collision – I broke my arm, my leg, my ribs. I was in hospital for 2 weeks. At that time I was shooting 94 percent, everything was about perfection. So, I got out and was in a wheelchair and again an accident changed my life. The wheelchair helped me get to 99 percent and I have been shooting 99 percent for the last 30 years. It was revolutionary stuff and that is what I am trying to do now. I am taking this to the world. I am trying to improve the world. My concepts and scientific principles are doable. You can learn those principles. The problem with the world is they lack the knowledge. I am not physically special, but they don’t have the information to understand what makes perfect shooting happen. I have only missed 3 free throws in 18 years of competition.”
Exactly how many free throws Palubinskas may have missed in various types of competition since his accident may be the subject of some debate, but what can’t be questioned is the extraordinary shooting accuracy he has been able to demonstrate over the years. He holds a number of Guinness Book of World Records including free throws made in an hour and free throws made blind-folded.
In 2000, Palubinskas talked his way into the Lakers organization to help a floundering Shaquille O’Neal with his brick-laying performances from the charity stripe. The game’s most dominate big man at the time was being stopped by a technique dubbed Hack-A-Shaq. If you couldn’t stop him in the paint, you could definitely stop him by putting him on the line.
“When I finally got involved (with the Lakers), there was Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, Bill Sharman, Jerry West in the Lakers organization at that time and they invited me,” Palubinskas said. “Who in the world knew me and (Shaq) was 38 percent at that time. 38 percent with all the best experts in a $650 million franchise and no one could do anything. First game after one-month (Shaq) went 0-11 and I’m working with – here’s the TV, that’s his shooting coach right there, the last game of the year, 13-13. It was amazing and we improved 30 percent and of course we won the championship ring, a second championship, so it was a tremendous experience and he improved. It finally got to the stage where no one talked about Hack-A-Shaq. They didn’t talk about it because he was now level with the rest of the respectable (guys). We could have done better, but then he went to Miami and that was it.”
O’Neal raised his free throw shooting from 39 percent in November 2000 to 65.1 percent in April 2001 and that one season with the world class shooting coach Palubinskas put O’Neal on the right path for two more years in Los Angeles before the old Shaq returned to the stripe. At least for a while, Hack-A-Shaq wasn’t as good an option as before.
As far as Palubinskas was concerned, O’Neal didn’t continue to improve his free throw shooting because he wasn’t motivated to do so. The reality was O’Neal was famous for what he could do under the rim, there was nothing he could ever accomplish from the free throw line that could bring him the notoriety of overpowering another big man for a thunderous dunk.
“He called me Mr. Perfect and I called him Mr. Aristotle,” Palubinskas said. “One of the problems with Shaquille was the fact that he wasn’t emotionally involved. He made $20 million a year, he didn’t have the passion, the burning desire to really want to fix this part. He did what he needed to do, but he didn’t go above and beyond.”
Palubinskas still gets calls from time-to-time from other NBA big men in trouble at the foul line. Two summers ago Dwight Howard brought Palubinskas in as a shooting coach a year after Palubinskas had publicly offered his services. Unfortunately, it took a season to improve O’Neal’s stroke back in 2000, so a month in the summer obviously wasn’t going to be enough to fix Howard.
The most recent NBA team to hire Palubinskas is the Charlotte Bobcats. Palubinskas explained Owner Michael Jordan brought him in to work with big man Bismack Biyombo and wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Palubinskas says they took big steps in their shooting under his guidance. It will be worth watching them from the charity stripe this season to see what kind of improvement Palubinskas was able to make.
You can watch the entire SportoTV.lt interview with Edas Palubinaskas on YouTube. The commentary is in Lithuanian, but the interview is in English. Thanks to Mantas Bertulis, Administrator at Sporto TV for requesting that we write this article.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors