Learning from Chinanu Onuaku

This week, a rookie player for the Houston Rockets, Chinanu Onuaku, made headlines in a preseason game.  Any ideas why?  No, not an incredible dunk, or a 50-point game.  Not for an amazing trade deal, or comments around the pending election. For something far more innocuous.  A free throw.

Onuaku isn’t a phenomenal free thrower – his percentage was just 59% in his sophomore year. What’s incredible is the way he did it – Chinanu Onuaku has brought back the underhand free throw.

Popularized by Rick Barry – the underhand free throw is exactly what it sounds like. Also known as the granny shot, basketball players have shied away from this technique at the foul line, despite proponents claiming it improves accuracy.  Barry famously retired in 1980, with a 90% free throw stat, ranked first in NBA history (at the time, he’s now #4). He helped Wilt Chamberlain improve his free throw stats by 10 percentage points using the granny shot.  But Chamberlain reverted back to his regular stats and technique soon after, feeling like it wasn’t “cool” to shoot underhanded (even if it had better results!).

At my first hearing of this story, I thought it was crazy.  That professional basketball players would knowingly shy away from something that will improve their game because of perceptions seemed unbelievable.  Isn’t your perception as a professional player more important than being ‘cool’?  But Malcolm Gladwell ran a great podcast on the phenomenon this summer – you can listen to it here: http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/03-the-big-man-cant-shoot.  Gladwell examines the reasons why smart people do dumb things – it’s a fascinating listen, and made me realize now how different Onuaku is.  The season kicks off in a few weeks, and we’ll be watching him.

On another level, it made me think about our approach to everything a bit differently.  Do you usually run with running shoes?  Some people advocate you run barefoot.  Did you learn subtraction and addition using the carrying tens methods?  Educators now advocate a method that is faster and more intuitive.  Do you sit at a desk all day?  You can potentially improve your health outcomes using a standing desk.  For our scholars, educators, and broader team in Zambia – this means being open to new approaches to solving the education crisis facing Zambia today.  And it’s how we created the eSchool 360 model in the first place.