In the waning minutes of a blowout victory Monday night, a largely unknown rookie unleashed a specific brand of momentousness. Making his National Basketball Association debut, Chinanu Onuaku of the Houston Rockets drew a shooting foul and stepped to the free throw line, typically the blandest portion of a game. Except Onuaku held the ball at his waist with both hands and hoisted the ball at the hoop in an underhand motion, his arms spreading apart.
Teammates cheered and pointed on the bench, stars made rapt during a walkover. What remained of the Toyota Center crowd erupted. They had witnessed the return of the “Granny-style” free throw, a relic unseen at the sport’s highest level in decades. Onuaku, a 6-foot-9 20-year-old from Upper Marlboro, Md., outside Washington, had broken a stigma, or at least shown he would not be the victim of one.
Despite evidence it can improve free throw shooting, especially for big men, the form has remained foreign from the NBA since Hall of Famer Rick Barry retired in 1980. Players uniformly resisted it, afraid of looking foolish, standing out as childish or unmanly. Or at least they had until Onuaku made his debut Monday night and made both free throws he attempted, shooting them underhand.