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The Big Man Can't Shoot


Wilt Chamberlain’s brilliant career was marred by one, deeply inexplicable decision: He chose a shooting technique that made him one of the worst foul shooters in basketball—even though he had tried a better alternative. Why do smart people do dumb things?

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
The greatest game of basque about anyone has ever played was in her she Pennsylvania March. Second, nineteen sixty two everybody's like it out: I'm gonna get you I'm gonna island ring. You know just over four thousand people understands Philadelphia warriors prices in New York, Knicks, honest sharers, another good, but marshmallow, shutting out the good man are the warriors was a man named? Will chamberlain? No. Now you ve heard of him seven four one hundred and seventy five pounds for sheer physical presence. There has probably never been anyone like what your loss, lots of seven footers who play basketball, who are basically on the court purely because their seven feet the clumsy and ungainly Chamberlain was not like that. He was his big in oak tree and graceful disgraceful, ballet dancer that season nine.
In sixty one to nineteen sixty two. He ended up encouraging more than fifty points again now it will never be broken set. Much second will was hung over been out all night with a woman he picked up at a bar, that's classic will too he would they claim to have slept with ninety thousand women in his life and when he said that lots of people the demand and said there was no way that was possible, given the fact the right before hours in a day willed to the eight sixty three, but even so It's were like well, maybe it's ten thousand or eight thousand. It was an argument over whether it was an unbelievably high number or merely Incredibly high number already wires in man and a leg ass night. If you like my name, is Malcolm Gladwell, your listing
revisionist history, where every we re examine the forgotten and misunderstood. This what episode is about will chamberlains most famous game, at the bottom of the issue, subject to the game in question. Chamberlain makes his first five shots and his twenty three points at the end of the first quarter at half time. He is forty one points. No one's thinking history just yet, but then at the end of the third quarter. He has sixty nine points, any keeps going and going and going one hundred points, the most anyone his every school. National Basketball game.
Here's the most incredible thing about it. He shot brilliantly from the foul line. Twenty one. Eighty may twenty eight thirty, thirty, two thirty two that's make merry speaking. He was a contemporary of chamberlains, also a hollow famer, an absolutely unstoppable score. I met him at his conduct in South Carolina where he lives. Are the years we can follow his Son Canyon, who play basketball for the College of Charleston various seventy two six foot, eight inches taller barrel, chest legs, look like he had special extensions put on them and thing. The great athletes have never seem to lose, which is a kind of glide across the floor like they have wheels on. A big part of this episode is about berry but other people too, because although this sounds like it's going to be a show about basketball, the truth is it's not it's a About good ideas and why have such difficulty spreading. But for the moment back to build chain,
he's made twenty eight out of his duty to shots from the free trial. On eighty seven point: five percent there is that's incredible is that when Chamberlain came into the NBA he was, horrendous Frito shooter, the worst. He was a man who could excel at virtually every physical feed under the son, who could score, will with and sometimes three defenders, draped all over his body put em, all alone fifteen feet from the basket and he was hopeless. He was shooting forty percent from the free throw light as terrible this season, Chamberlain changes, tactics he's to shoot his fell? Shots underhanded release the ball up by his forehead. He holds the ball. Between his knees and flicks it towards the basket from a slight crouch and all of a sudden he's. A pretty good free throat
he gets up to more than sixty percent and that special night in her she Pennsylvania, he's an incredible free ferocious. I got up the area, he needs twenty eight sweet rules, the most anyone has ever made in mba history, what Rick Mary To tell you is it shooting underhanded is simply a better way to make fell shots, and he knows that because He was one of the greatest foul shooters of all time, maybe the greatest Miss nine and ten, and one season and nine in another whole season to put that in prison. Active, Lebron James, the greatest player, the current basketball generation. Thirdly, MRS about a hundred and fifty free throws a season. Rick bury would miss nine or ten I think I shut ninety three five or something and ninety four seven, something like that and Rick bury only shot underhanded from physic standpoint, its
a much better way to shoot less things. They can go wrong unless things at you, have to worry about repeating, probably in order for it to be successful. But the other thing is: is that who walks around like this? their hands, and this is not a natural position. Why should underhand freezers were my arms hanging rate down the way they are normally so I'm totally completely relax. It's not in the situation. We have to worry about my muscles. Getting tensor tight and then the shot itself. It must softer shot So many of my shutting after a little off they hit so nice and soft, and they are still follows a vast out, much softer touch, and so you do. You have a little bit more margin for error. Some of those shots that are a little bit off line have em better opportunity of going into the basket. Then the issue over him so
Chamberlain switches to a better shooting technic. It pays off in the greatest basketball game ever played he's playing the way that Rick bury proved basketball players ought to play. Then something incredible happens. Will Chamberlain stops shooting underhand? and he goes back to being a terrible, foul shooter. Let's think about what he did for a moment. Chamberlain had a problem. He tested out, possible solution. The solution worked and all of a sudden he's fixed his biggest weakness is a player. This is not a trivial matter if you're a basketball player and you can hit your freedom you an incredible liability to your team, particularly at the end of close games. At his side. Simply follows you every time you touch the ball because
they know your MR free throughout and they'll get the ball back. If you can sure foul shots. It means you can't be used in a tight game what chamberlains coach said to him? if you were a ninety percent shooter, we might never lose, I got to know quite well. I got to know me, don't ever it I just joke to them. This said your technical term. When you meet had you stuck with it, no tell him what he would have done me. The numbers you would have put up would have been in saying because the only way they defended and was the fathom Chamberlain. Had every incentive in the world to keep shooting free throws underhanded, and he didn't. I think we understand cases where people don't do what they ought to do, because it ignorance, this It's not that this is doing something done, even though you are fully aware that you're doing something dump by the way there have been countless players, like Chamberlain,
mayors who could have been transcendent devastating if only they had been opened to taking fallow shots. A different way. Take Shaquille, o Neil up there with will Chamberlain as one of the greatest NBA centres of all time, but an absolutely her renders free, throw shooter bury tried to reason with him once you- and you owe you actually talking all I try to get back to change you killed only when I try to get a visa to forget. I'd rather shoot zero then shoot underhanded. I'm just fascinated by that. I dont understand it. Yet differences. If Shack was an eighty percent free, fro shooter, he becomes too two guy, I'm the court as opposed to to the bench guy, change. The dynamic of the gay, no one sheets underhanded, nothing, berries. Teammates followed. His lead people who saw him shoot that way every day and never miss one guy one only George Johnson Mighty made what the warriors he was.
I think he was a forty eight, fifty percent, something like that. I worked with him for one season. I didn't get this day was a meeting the technique down as light as much as I'd like it, but I think, eventually, season or two later think, George actually shot. Eighty percent- I can actually look it up- would be interesting to see what he did. I get George Johnson Statue large, Johnson's stats, stats for George Johnson and beer, Here are George Johnson starts from the two thousand fifteen NFL season. Wrong guy wrong season and we get They will look it up. It's it's interesting, I think. But what about on you're on your head? quoting that anyone found no nobody ever. Have one guy ever come to me. An mba guy came to man, will tell you name it to me asked me to work with them. I did it. I work with them. I had shouldn't really well and he never had the nerve to go back and do it now it is not fair to him.
I don't wanna say his name: it's not fair to him like it's, some kind of dark, shameful secret college basketball is no different out of the thousands of college basketball players. Today there are just two who show Underhanded one is a nigerian American who place for level called Chinedu unwelcome the other canyon, bury a place for the College of Charleston and who, in case you missed. This earlier happens to be Rick, bury son In other words, there are only two conditions under which people will try the underhand free, throw one, their families from another continent and two, if there an offspring of Rick Berry, And what do I do this quickly describe like wary arm or doing that's my producer, Jacob Smith hung out with some players on the Columbia University, women's basketball team and tried to get them to shoot underhanded. Our theory was Maybe this is just a dumb man's thing.
Maybe women are more rational and there on the court. So in Colombia is basketball, Jim and we are going to compare overhead, shooting to underhand shooting that's era: telco Junior in the tea she mister. Firstly, I think you could bend and then the alone more than that Then she makes in x two shots her first to ever shooting underhand, but you couldn't get any of the Columbia players interested in switching over her Sarah made Senor pinker ever since we were young, we are taught to shoot at overhand and you know as kids you gotta play around with the idea. Grannie shatter underhand, but yeah, I'm not sure if ever taken at sea hastily, she calls it rainy shot a shot, It is by one of the greatest players ever to play. The game will as bad as men? We like to think that good ideas will spread because they're good
because their advantages are obvious, but that's not true, so why don't they or to put it another way. What is it about Rick Mary that allowed him to shoot this way and what is it about? we'll Chamberlain and all the others that stands in no way. If you don't know your numbers, you don't know your business. What's the problem growing businesses have to keeps them from knowing their numbers. Is there a hodgepodge of business systems? They have one system for accounting, another for sales, another for inventory and on and on it's one big inefficient,
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now get all details on three for thirty dollars. By going to the great courses plus dotcom, Slash Gladwell, that's the great courses plus dot com. Slash Gladwell Let me try Yoda a theory renewed its it's from a sociologist name, Mark Graniteware, Grena, better is the greatest social theorists of his generation. If you and academic We, like, I, am granite better, is like James Dean, so grand and come up with something called the threshold model of collective hey, he was trying to answer the question of why people do things out of character, use riots as his big example. Do otherwise law abiding citizens suddenly throw rocks ruined us, before granting better came along Social I just tried to explain that kind of puzzling behaviour in terms of beliefs So the thinking when you and I
have a set of beliefs. But when you throw the rocks through the window. Something powerful must have happened in the moment to change your beliefs, something about the crowd transforms the way you think. Here's Grana better explaining that idea. Was a lot of intellect tradition. That said that when people got into a crown there independent judgment went out the window and they somehow became creatures of the crown and that those some kind of Miasma irrationality would settle over people and they would act, and we Does it would never act of terror by themselves or their weren't employers, but MA, in grant about a dozen by. He doesn't think that part of the mob casts some kind spell, it makes everyone irrational to his mind, it's much more subtle and complicated the net. People are pretty much who they are but situation develops in a certain way. Then there's a domino effect people some people act
They did not act of each other people, activists, other people and all happened so fast. Grandmother says that the issue and about people having beliefs about what's right and then suddenly losing nosebleed because you're in a mob the issue is about thresholds now. What does gonna get a mean by that word threshold. A belief is an internal thing. It's position we have taken in our head or in our hard, but unlike beliefs, thrust our external hereabout peer pressure, Threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you join it renovated. Two crucial arguments. The first is a thresholds embassy sometimes overlap, but a lot of the time they don't. When your teenage son is driving a hundred miles an hour at midnight with three of his friends. It's not because he leaves the driving under about an hour is a good idea. In a moment. Beliefs are irrelevant his behave
is guided play his threshold. Eighteen year old, maybe drunk at midnight in a car with three of his friends. That person has a really low threshold. It doesn't a lot of encouragement to get into do something. Stupid, grandma, second point is just as important every on the threshold is different. There are plenty of room, goals and troublemakers, who might need only slight encouragement to throw that rock their threshold is really low. Think about your grandmother! She may well need her. So stir. Grandchildren are neighbours, a friendship church, all of them to be throwing rocks for she would even dream of joining it. She's got a high threshold, right has to be going on for a very long time and has to involve a whole lot of well before grandma will join in That is argument goes on in much more detail all the fascinating, and I encourage you if you're interested.
To look it up online, read it because it's beautifully clear, but for the moment I just want to focus on the one big implication of granite, betters argument. What people believe isn't gonna help you much. If you want to understand why they try or don't try, difficult or problematic or strange things you huh to understand the social context in which they are operating, your grandmother's belief The writing is wrong, but there are times when even grandmothers might throw rocks through windows. Grandma Theory explained a lot of things have been puzzlin to me. So here's a good example: it's from an interview? I did at the ninety second street, why, in New York with the economist Richard Taylor, whose one of the leading lighting, what's called behavioral economics he'd a book coming out called misbehaving, and I really liked it and we thought it be fun if we did an event you and I have met before the first. I mean I was at a
Tell BAR in Rochester. Yes, the only time I've ever talk. The kind of guy who's interested in everything, including sports, and there was a point in our conversation when he started to talk about the fact that the owners of professional football team Do things on occasion that are really stupid and inexplicable. Take the professional football draft for those of you who are not football fans. Let me explain. Every year all the draft eligible college, football players are thrown into a big pool, and thirty two professional football teams pick the players. They want, one by one, the player, taken as the one the people think will be the best professional player that person gets two biggest salary. The second player taken is the I'm predicted to be the second best professional player and so on and after every team has picked one player each? They all start again and do another round, because the players selected in the first round are considered the most,
able all the teams fight over them, they pay enormous sums of money and construct elaborate deals to China Choir those high draft pics. The interesting thing that is, there is a market for picks so can trade the first picked for They have a dozen second round picks. That's what the market says. Now I implies that the first big is five times. More valuable than an We pick and the second filament collagen Kate Massey decide to analyze assumption. Was it really true that a first round pick was worth half a dozen second round pics you compute the sample ass, a player provides to his team, meaning how good performances, minus how much you have to pay him
What we found is these second round picks are actually more valuable than that. First pick You can get five of those for an epic, it's the boy. This anomaly I've ever found location of Theatre in mass? His work is a team should trade away their first round picks they should stop by whereas in the second and third rounds who can be paid a lot us and are nearly ass good. This is how, build a winning football team. So was the reaction of NFL teams to theatres idea. Where not long after he came ass. He did their research, they got a call from washed and Redskins early in dance, nighters tenure as owner and I met him and he said We wonder about this, and he introduced me I'm going send my people to see you and they flew to Chicago. I met with gate and me and we told them what
findings wherein we basically have two pieces of that trade down and Land picks this year from pigs next year, with their last sentence, is refer, the second thing. He thing he he discovered owners sometimes trade, a in this year's draft for a pig in some future draft. They use rule of thumb to figure out how to value difference between a player. You can use this year verses, a draft that you can't use until some future sailor Massey discover that the rule of thumb makes no sense it. Completely irrational. It massively We're values, current picks and Your values future picks like a good economist Taylor. Talks about the value of that rule of thumb has an interest rate is like borrowing money. If your computer, the real it's right, it's a hundred and thirty seven percent per year, in other words, for the privilege of having a play
now always opposed to waiting a year. The owners pay a huge problem. They borrow money at a hundred and thirty seven percent interest. These guys did not. Get to be billionaires, borrowing at two hundred and thirty seven percent per year, but that's the rule of them they use, so anyway. We taught. Guys stands guys what to do, and then watch the draft eagerly that year and they traded up and borrowed pick this year for and next year. So ok, in other words, the Redskins did the exact. Opposite of what they should have done. If they were rational and they were the only ones Taylor Massey have consulted for three and I fell franchises now and no one has ever followed their advice worse, there's a very respected economist named David Roamer, who famously proved that football team would winwin games if they didn't punt. If they simply use all four down to trying gained ten yards as opposed to give.
The ball away to their opponents. So since Roamer publishes work are NFL teams less likely to punt on fourth down, you guessed it No to tell her big. This is did this right, but with we good win. One gaming here You also learned. Go for more often unfair down another game, and so just being smart. We win these two games a year on average two extra winds. In sixteen game season, just by acting a little bit differently who, do that, but nobody would now is that, because they're stupid because they have irrational beliefs, that was my first,
when I listen to zero talk about his football research, those dumb football owners, but that can't be right, you don't get to their level by being done. Surely this is about thresholds, football owners and coaches are a small a group of people they all know each other. They ve all done things a certain way for a long time and doing in that way has made them a lot of money a high threshold these bunch of grandmothers. The only way any of them is going to change their behaviour is, if some raw, called goes first, and there are no radical owners in the NFL there's just Richard Taylor, a geeky middle aged economist from the University of Chicago with a bunch of equations that you need a phd to understand there's some gig at every team whose read our paper, you know, think of the Jonah Hell character in the movie money ball right
and nobody pays attention to that. Guy, apparently There are a lot of radicalism, basketball, either just the berries and she not only Walker, Jerry and American, who plays for Louisville and as it turns out mark, ran about her, when I was a teenager. Would have been more say in summer. Camp is never really play basketball outside of summer camp I got to be very good it underhand fish room I wish I can make almost every shot. I was wrong. There are three conditions under which someone will try. This shot one if you're an offspring of Rick Barry to if your family is from another country, and three, if you're a world famous sociologist this item, gets us a little closer to the puzzle of will chamber in his autobiography.
He has his throwaway comment on the subject of shooting underhanded Chamberlain Road. I felt silly like a sissy and underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. Even now, best one in the NBA Rick shoots underhanded. I just couldn't do it to key things here First, he writes. I know I was wrong just as Nobody would say it's not chamberlains beliefs that are getting in the way. He knows it's wrong, then I felt silly like a sissy. The player for Colombia who described shooting underhanded as a grannie shot. That's what chamberlains talking about he's! One look foolish! he's a high threshold guy. He needs every one to be doing something new before his will to join it, but Rick bury stiffened
where's dad comes to him. When he's a junior in high school and says you really, to shoot underhanded Rick's, a pretty good free, throw sugar at that point maybe seventy percent or so, but his dead tells him he can do better and your initial reaction is that I want to do it right. It seemed to you like. I will. I can't do it commits when the girl said that ours member, I double dad. They make fun of me. That's all the girl shoe. I can't do that said son, and I remember this so clearly like was yesterday son. They can't make fun of you if you're, making them and the first game I remember right did it was on the road and Scotch Planes New Jersey, I shut free furrow, guys stance, Gaza, a merry big, sissy shit like that next door and I heard it very clearly What do you make in front of him, for he doesn't miss, my dad's prophecy true, and I was cool point four to eating, carry more what they said. If
Hagen and that's all there really matters was interesting. Is that bear actually has the same initial reactions. Will Chamberlain I'm going to look like a sissy, but he thinks about it and he decides it, doesn't bother him, or rather his drive to be or shooter is stronger than his worry about what others think of him. That's exactly what it means to have low threshold, the same mindset that can lead someone to do something bad like a teenager driving drunk with her little encouragement, can also lead to brave or innovative behaviour If you have a threshold of zero, your summit, doesn't need the support of the approval or the company of others to do what you think is right. Now, here's to catch the person who, in this way is not always easy to be around berry has never embraced by his fellow players. There were a couple notorious articles about him in the nineteen eighties full of quotes like this from a former teammate. If you'd got to know Rick,
You realize what a good guy he was but around the league. They thought of him as the most arrogant guy ever half the players disliked Rick. The other have hated him his another quote. He lacks pharmacy if they sent him to the, U N hidden up, starting were war. Yeah. Well, I was I was about winning is about giving my best effort and I had a very difficult time. Accepting fact that wouldn't accept the fact that the team does not get a place. Hardest varies banal game from more than thirty years, but just talking about basketball made him tense. There was a right way to play the game and when people didn't play it the right way, it drove him crazy. What gate right. Guy shoots refer, MRS thereby goes up slaps his hand. What that wording that come from. I wouldn't know the guy is the got that started doing that and who was the Is this a man? That's a great idea: let's go up in your slapped the guy's hand and let's go up disturbers concentration when he supposed to be focusing on shooting, is reach rose and worry about how the slapped the hands of his teammates. Do. You hear
What upsets him. The social part of the game players attention to each other's feelings, as opposed to their own performance plus. The fact he misses. You should go up and smack him in the head from this is a freak I'm not slapping by the hands and saying it's: okay, cuz! It's not okay, you just The point I guess that's when I watch this kind of stuff a nobody even talks about that, and it's something that somebody brought up. Somebody copied out, everybody does it and it's stupid. Just have a real problem with that very well not a biography in nineteen. Seventy two call confessions of a basketball gypsy, which I have to say is the strangest autobiographies I've ever read there sections of the book very gives the various people in his life. They each had a few pages and he seems to care not one iota about what these people say
about him. So here is his mother. Comparing bury to his older brother Dennis Rick has become famous and made a lot of money, but what is that, I think, maybe Dennis leads to better life or uses dad defending him. There was an incident in Miami, for example, that was blown out of proportion. I have it on an authority that the players job was broken when he hit the floor, not from Rick's punch, and this is his wife describing how they first man he was off. To me he was always shoving me in the pool and I hated him for it. Oh I could take it. But there is always someone goes too far. Who does more than the others beyond endurance and for me that was Rick. I would not lead my pet. And my wife say these things about me and my own autobiography guideline. People say what they wanted. I didn't ask for editorial rights to be able to go through and see what they said and save all. No, I don't want that in her absence,
they wanted to say he doesn't care the kind. Person who had let bad things be said about him in his own? Autobiography is the kind of person you would shoot a free, throw that other people think looks ridiculous, I spent enough we buried his conduct and had read all stuff about a path. The players disliked him. The other half hated him and a kind of braced myself before. Madam I liked him or maybe it makes more sense to say that I really admire him, because I finally understood What someone like Rick Bury stands for its protectionism and what does the perfections someone puts the responsibility of mastering the task at hand ahead of all social considerations. Who would rather be right then,
but how can you be good at something complex? How can you reach your potential if you don't a little bit of that inside. You. I know we really only been talking about basketball, which is just a game in the but lesson here is much bigger than that. It takes courage to be good social courage to be honest with yourself to do things. The right way very made me laugh. Perfectly delicious homemade vegetable soup, with an advocate of sound, simple, nutritious when we finished he cleaned up, taking asleep? He needed a ride into Charleston got into my rent, a car. He turned off the heating which had been on high because the weather had warmed up. He carefully took my rental agreement and tucked it into this. Visor, and then, when there was a sudden, slowing the traffic ahead and a break, too late. I saw his foot come
find the passenger footwear as if he were breaking for me only. He braked just a fraction of a second before me, because he's berry and he does things better than everyone else all the while he told stories from basketball days recalling shots. Scores and things people said as if it were yesterday, I think He understands the prices paid for being the way he is kept coming up. Which everybody should have me as a friend, I'm a good friend I'm a boyfriend Libya, with you, we'll be there. If you need me, the person has brought. The right way? The person Yet a lot of people don't think I am he's not scrubbing easy life to think of what he gained. Rick bury was the best basketball player he could possibly have been and will Chamberlain.
Could never say that. It's almost incomprehensible to me that someone can have that attitude, sacrifice theirs. Excess over worrying about how somebody feels match with says about it. It's sad you ve been listening to revisionist history. Sometimes to pass deserves a second chance like what you ve heard: we'd love if you wait, a sun items helps alone
you can find more information about this and other episodes at revisionist history, dot com or on your favorite podcast. Show, is produced by mere lowbrow rugs and Scott and Jacob Smith. Our editor is Julia Barton, music, Composed by Luis Gara and talk, I guess who's Allah lawn Williams is our engineer fact: Checker Michel Sirocco thanks Happily, management team, Laura Mare, Andy Bowers and Jacob iceberg. Malcolm Grandma so the joke with wealth and God rest his soul. I got know known well later in my life and said you come to me with your name yet horrible technique. I could help you.
Angela tenth Twin, fifteen? A young woman named Sandra Bland was stopped by a police officer on a highway and rural Texas. Then everything went wrong, I've written a book called talking to strangers. It starts with that encounter, but I didn't just right for the page I recorded an audio book as Well new kind of audio book that allows you to hear the voices of the people I talk to and come with me to the places I go, because You shouldn't just listen to an audio book. You should experience it I wrote a book called talking to strangers. It starts with that encounter, but I didn't just right. For the page, I recorded an audio books.
Transcript generated on 2020-01-12.