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Kevin Durant's shoulder shimmy is another unique foul-line tradition, but does having a ritual help?

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, dmayberry@opubco.com Published: November 20, 2009
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photo - Kevin Durant's shoulder shimmy he does before every free throw is the latest in a long line of different foul-shot rituals by NBA players. He says it doesn't help him make the shots, but former Southern Nazarene University coach and free throw expert Jim Poteet disagrees. PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OKLAHOMAN
Kevin Durant's shoulder shimmy he does before every free throw is the latest in a long line of different foul-shot rituals by NBA players. He says it doesn't help him make the shots, but former Southern Nazarene University coach and free throw expert Jim Poteet disagrees. PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OKLAHOMAN
Other more popular rituals in recent years came from former Utah guard Jeff Hornacek, who would rub the right side of his face as a way of saying hello to his children. Jazz forward Karl Malone talked quietly to himself and took the entire allotted time of 10 seconds, or more depending on who you ask. And former center Alonzo Mourning used to pause just before shooting to kiss his left wristband and blot his brow.

“It doesn't help you miss or make a free throw,” Durant said of the rituals. “But guys just like to have their own unique little deal.”

Jim Poteet, a former basketball coach and athletic director at Southern Nazarene, disagrees. Poteet has won more than 300 medals in free-throw shooting competitions and wrote his doctoral dissertation at Oklahoma State on “The Paradox of the Free Throw,” contending that what makes the free throw look so easy actually is what makes it so hard. A ritual, Poteet said, is vital to successful foul shooting.

Too often, Poteet said, players think negatively by hoping they don't miss, add pressure by thinking they've got to make the shot or think nothing at all, which allows their minds to wonder aimlessly.

“When you step to the line to shoot the free throw, you want to become process-oriented rather than outcome-oriented,” said Poteet, who once made 489 consecutive free throws. “When you watch Kevin, he's one of the very best free-throwers in the NBA because you see him never change the way he takes a free throw.”

Poteet notes that about 21 percent of a all points in any basketball game come at the foul line, which is in line with the Thunder's totals this season. He estimates that over the course of an 82-game season, a team can win or lose between 15 games because of foul shooting. And for many teams, eight wins could be the difference between whether they make the postseason or not.

Thunder fans then would be happy to know Durant, a career 86.6 percent foul shooter, plans to keep his shoulder shimmy around for the rest of his career.

“I don't plan on changing it,” he said.