I got a chance to chat briefly with NBA legend Rick Barry on the phone recently. Barry sits on the board and is also an investor in a company called Ektio that sells a shoe designed to reduce ankle injuries. Sprained ankles are of course prevalent in the NBA and can have a huge impact on players and teams. In this year's playoffs, Blake Griffin sprained his ankle in practice before Game 5 of the Clippers first round series with Memphis -- with Griffin limited (he probably shouldn't have been playing at all) the Grizzlies went on to win the next two games and eliminate the Clippers.
The Ektio shoe incorporates straps on the inside of the shoe that stabilize the foot with the shoe; think of it as the foot being attached to the shoe, not just enveloped by it. Ektio claims (and has studies that support them) that the shoe provides better ankle support, which prevents ankle injuries, while also providing more stability, which can improve shooting efficiency.
Barry is of course a former Warrior and still a fan, so a guy like Steph Curry would be a prime candidate to wear this sort of shoe. He maintains:
There's no question in my mind that it's the most technologically sound shoe that's out there. There's not another shoe in the marketplace that can actually help prevent ankle sprains. If I was a player today, this is the shoe I'd be wearing.
I asked him why no players wear it, and as you might expect, it all comes down to money. Every NBA player has a shoe contract with a major shoe company. The big names get millions of dollars, and every player gets lots and lots of shoes for free at the very least. This is often true at the college and high school level as well, at least for the big programs. There's an obscene amount of money in the shoe business, and a small company like Ektio doesn't have the marketing budget to simply go out and buy players.
Barry wonders why one of the existing shoe companies doesn't just buy Ektio to acquire the technology, and it's an interesting question. There's so little differentiation in that market place -- if you could reasonably claim to feature a technology that can help prevent ankle injuries, that would seem to be a huge benefit.
If I was [a player today] with a company-one of the big boys-and somebody brought this shoe to me and I tried it, I'd probably go back and tell them, "You need to buy this company, because I want to wear this shoe. This shoe's better than the one you've got me wearing."
It will be interesting to keep an eye on Ektio to see if they can pick up any traction -- but for the time being, they got a big mountain to climb given the kind of money being thrown around by Nike and Adidas and others.
Since it was Rick Barry, one of the greatest free throw shooters in the NBA, and since the Clippers are so completely dreadful from the line, I asked him for his opinion on the bad free throw shooting rampant in the NBA. Barry's never been shy with his opinions, and as you might expect he has strong feelings on this subject.
Basically, he feels like there's not excuse not to shoot 80 percent from the line -- that any NBA player who misses more than one free throw out of five is being "selfish". And he feels like he could teach any player to make 80 percent shooting his underhand style.
Should DeAndre Jordan switch to the old granny free throw? Perhaps. But he never will. It's not at all surprising that no NBA player has shot that way in 40 years. Image is so important in the NBA, and I just can't imagine a modern player being comfortable shooting that way -- even if it meant improved results. The egos are just too big. There's also a very real confidence factor; if you're thinking about how people are going to react to your free throw motion, right wrong or indifferent, it's going to affect your results. For all bad free throw shooters, at least part of the problem is mental -- anything that has them in their own heads when their at the line is a bad thing.
Still, with enough practice in the off-season and the focus to concentrate on the free throw rather than on what people might think, one wonders what Jordan might be able to do with Barry's method. But I feel rather confident in saying that we'll never know the answer to that question.