MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's talk basketball now. The NBA finals are this week, and during the games, you're going to hear commentators talk about the importance, not just of making big plays, but of mastering the details like making free throws, which brings us to the Barry family. Rick Barry is considered one of the greatest players of all time. He led the Golden State Warriors to the championships in 1975.
Barry's five sons all played basketball, and this includes his youngest 23-year-old Canyon Barry, who just wrapped up his college career. But this story isn't just about a basketball dynasty, but a unique free-throws style passed down from father to son. It's the underhanded free throw. It's sometimes called the granny, which is sexist, but there it is.
You will rarely, if ever, see it used on the court. But Rick and Canyon swear it's more accurate than any overhead free throw. And they have the stats to prove it. To tell us more, we called Rick Barry in Colorado Springs, Colo. Rick Barry, thank you so much for joining us.
RICK BARRY: My pleasure.
MARTIN: Canyon joins us from Gainesville, Fla. Canyon, thank you so much for joining us.
CANYON BARRY: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: This is the latest installment in our generation series. This is where we're taking a look at what's changed and what's stayed the same for family members growing up in different areas. So, Rick, tell us how you came up with the granny.
R. BARRY: Well, my father was a semi-pro player and coach, and he shot that way. And when I was in to - high school when he felt my hands are big enough, he was relentless in trying to get me to try underhanded thinking that I could become a better free-throw shooter. I was in the mid-70s probably at that time, which is OK, not great. I don't think you're really a good free-throw shooter unless you're shooting 80 percent.
And back in those days, girls shot that way. A lot of the girls playing basketball shot that way, and so I said I can't do that, dad, because everybody's going to make fun of me. And I always remember him saying like it was yesterday, son, they can't make fun of you if you're making them. And when I started doing it, I realized that, wow, this actually is pretty darned good.
So I dedicated myself to it, used it the next season. And for the first time shot 80 percent or more. In my last six years in the NBA, I refined the technique that my dad had taught me and took a lot of the wrist out of it. And I was able in my last two years - I showed over 94 percent.
MARTIN: So, Canyon, let's - you take the ball from here - pun intended. I know - what made you decide to start using it?
C. BARRY: For me, it was kind of one of those things where logic would dictate if you had one of the greatest free-throw shooters of all time is your personal free-throw coach, you should at least give it a try. So growing up, I learned the technique - kind of as my dad hinted to - you have to wait 'til your hands are a little bit big enough to kind of grip the ball in the right way.
So that happened for me around my junior year in high school. And, you know, I never looked back since. These past two seasons I've been in the high 80s and I'm just looking to continue to get better every year.
MARTIN: Do people ever give you a hard time about it or kind of ride you over the style of it?
C. BARRY: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of fun in college basketball, I think, part of the reason people love it is just the atmosphere of the games and part of that is the heckling. So, you know, growing up through the years, I've heard a lot of clever chants. It's kind of funny whenever I go to a new place, you know, people don't expect it if they haven't seen me or kind of heard of my background.
So whenever I shoot the first one, everyone's kind of in shock, and then they pay a lot closer attention to see if I do it again on the second one. Probably the cleverest cheer I ever heard was we were playing a high school playoff game in Colorado. I was playing pretty well. I made a bunch of free throws, and I finally missed one and the entire opposing students section started chanting you're adopted. So I thought that was pretty funny. I had to give them some props for that.
MARTIN: You have a good sense of humor. You know, this style does get a lot of attention. Very few people use it. And, Rick, maybe you can take this. Why do you think it is that more people don't use it if it's accurate, if you can...
R. BARRY: I don't understand. I really truly can't comprehend the aversion that people have to trying something that could be very effective for them. After all, the ultimate goal is to make the higher percentage you can. It's the only part of the game of basketball offensively where you're trying to put points on the board that no one's trying to prevent you from doing it.
You're not being guarded. It's the only part of the game that's a consistency to it. So how in the world do you live with yourself if you don't make at least four out of every five shots that you take which is 80 percent?
MARTIN: Because it's not about the logic. It's about how it makes you feel. And that's what I was wondering - this is where I want to go to Canyon. Canyon, do you think that maybe guys don't want to do it because they don't think it's macho?
C. BARRY: I think nowadays image is big. People are super in to fashion, you know, how they look, kind of how they're portrayed. But at the same time, is it macho shooting 40 percent from a line versus 80 percent from a line and your team winning six more games in NBA season? To me, I think that's more important than being macho or considered manly.
MARTIN: So since this is a generation's chat - and one of the things we were hoping to do with this series of conversations is talk to people, particularly people who are in the same field or have a similar experience to say what do you think's changed over the years?
So, Rick, I'll start with you on that. Is there anything from your playing days that you wish perhaps you could change?
R. BARRY: Well, first of all, I never live in the past. Everything in life happens for a reason, and you accept what it is. If it makes you sad, cry, get over it and move on. So I really don't. I mean, but if I had to do something over again, and I could still be where I am today and have an incredible wife that I have and have the incredible son, Canyon, and be here, and I could do it over, I probably would have never left the NBA.
MARTIN: Why did you leave?
R. BARRY: Well, in my second season, I was the All-Star MVP. I led the league in scoring. We came within two plays of winning the World Championship against one of the greatest teams in the history of the NBA, the 76ers with Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham. And I didn't have fun, and basketball had always been fun for me. I always enjoyed it. It was never a job, and so I had an opportunity to go and play in another league for a man who at the time was my former college coach and my father-in-law.
MARTIN: So, Canyon, what about you? Is there some lesson that you've drawn from your dad's career that you apply to your own?
C. BARRY: The one thing that I cherish that my dad has taught me is just to always give your best effort. If you give your best effort and everything that you do, you can always be satisfied with what happens win or lose because you know there's nothing else you could have done to change it. And you can live with yourself for that.
MARTIN: You know I have to ask about the shorts. So, Rick, if you're really honest with yourself, do you wish that the shorts had been longer in your era?
R. BARRY: Absolutely not. I hate the long shorts.
MARTIN: You hate the long shorts?
R. BARRY: Yeah.
MARTIN: Canyon, what do you think about the long shorts versus the short shorts? Do you wish you could wear the short dad shorts?
C. BARRY: I'm fine with the length of the shorts now. I think it's - my dad could use a couple more inches on those.
R. BARRY: Tell her what happened because of the long shorts for the underhanded free throw.
C. BARRY: Yeah. It was interesting, actually. That was one of the techniques I had to refine. The pants were so long and baggy when I first started shooting it that when I would kind of go down and drop the ball between my legs, the ball would get caught on the inseam of the shorts. So my technique - I kind of had to move the ball slightly farther away from my body just so it had a free path when I was shooting it so...
MARTIN: (Laughter) So...
C. BARRY: ...Making adaptations to the underhand free throw.
MARTIN: Exactly. Well that was Canyon Barry. He was a fifth-year player for the University of Florida Gators and Rick Barry joining us from Colorado Springs, Colo. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
C. BARRY: Thanks for having me.
R. BARRY: Our pleasure. Bye.
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