After watching North Carolina State blow a late 16-point lead by missing more than half of their free throws in a loss to St Louis in the NCAA Tournament last night, I've come to realize that futility at the line mirrors our societal decline off the court. How else to explain the inability of so many high-level athletes to make an unchallenged 15-foot shot?
Free throws are neither exciting nor sexy--making them virtually useless to modern young adults. Have you ever seen a Lebron James free throw in the Sportscenter Top 10? Does Gus Johnson scream at the top of his lungs about a made free throw in the middle of the first quarter? Do millions of people post and re-tweet .gifs of anybody making both ends of a one-and-one? If it doesn't have the chance to "go viral" why bother doing it nowadays?
Being a good free throw shooter also requires time. I'm not even talking about spending hours in the gym practicing the shots--but rather using more of the ten seconds you are given after being administered the ball to shoot. Take the Badgers' Sam Dekker for instance--he should be one of those 90% free throw shooters--but instead he hovers around 70%--because he doesn't take his time. He dribbles once, looks up for a split second at the rim, and fires away. The great free throw shooters of the past took seven to nine seconds to go through their routines--usually spending most of that time actually focusing on the target. In today's "Ugh, this slow internet is driving me nuts, it took four seconds for my Google search to load" society, seven to ten seconds to do something right is just waaayyy too long.
Free throw shooting is also one of the most individualistic acts in sports. No one has to pass you the ball or set a screen to get you wide open. It's just you, the ball and the basket. Of course, individual success is frowned upon in America today--and proving that you are better than someone else in a one-on-one basis is considered to create "achievement gaps"--so perhaps today's players are just trying to make their opponents feel better about themselves by choosing to fail.
And finally, there is a reduced value to a free throw. It's worth just one point--as opposed to the two you get for a spectacular dunk or the three awarded for launching one from downtown. And the word "free" is right there in it. Ask officials in any city that has tried to provide "free bikes" for use around town--but has seen every one of them stolen or seriously damaged--how people value stuff that is free. Or get Affordable Care Act supporters to explain the general lack of enthusiasm from people who were so "desperate" to get health insurance when it came to actually enrolling in the government-subsidized plans. The less you have to work for something--the less you appreciate getting it.
Of course, in the direction we are heading a commentator 20-years from now will be wondering why the 3D hologram player controlled by the NC State student sitting on the couch in his dorm room is shooting free throws so poorly.