Dwight Howard looks at me as if I have just asked him to start playing basketball in a polka-dotted tutu and pink ballet slippers.
"I've got good form and I have confidence in my shot," he insists. "I don't need to shoot underhanded free throws."
Rick Barry disagrees.
And with all due respect to Dwight Howard, who entered last night's game against the Phoenix Suns shooting a miserable 53 percent from the free throw line, I'm going to have to go with Rick Barry on this one.
You see, Barry is one of the greatest free throw shooters who ever lived. When he retired, Barry held the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made (60), highest free throw percentage in a season (.947) and best for a career (.900). And he did it with an underhanded style that today's image-conscious millionaires would never even consider.
"Machismo and ego is the only reason nobody will even try it anymore," Barry says. "I'm telling you, I could change the dynamic of Dwight Howard's game forever. I would be shocked if I couldn't get him up to 75 or 80 percent from the line.
"And could you imagine Dwight Howard if you could just get him in the 70 percentile? He would be unstoppable. He would be unbelievable."
For years, Barry has unsuccessfully been trying to convince lousy free throw shooters to try his underhanded method. He says the only NBA player he has ever worked with is former Golden State teammate George Johnson, who improved nearly 20 percent when he started shooting underhanded.
At one time, Barry says he almost had Shaq convinced to go underhanded, but the Lakers refused to hire him and Shaq was worried that the "granny style" would not be good for his hip-hop image.
Shaq was once quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying he would "shoot a negative percentage before I shot like that [underhanded]." Wilt Chamberlain, another iconic big man, shot underhanded free throws for a while but stopped because, as he once wrote, "I felt like a sissy."
Are you as stunned as I am that there are actually professional athletes more worried about their image than their performance? Personally, I'm just the opposite. If, for instance, it meant I could write a sports column like Jim Murray or Rick Reilly, I would sit down at my laptop wearing a frilly purple teddy and a periwinkle feather boa.
Despite his frustration, Barry says he understands the trepidation of athletes not wanting to go granny. He was the same way when he was a high school junior and his father beseeched him to start shooting underhanded. At first he objected and told his dad he would get laughed at for being a "sissy" but then he started seeing immediate results.
"I thank God my dad was relentless in his pursuit to get me to try it," Barry says.
And now it's up to us, Orlando, to be equally relentless in our pursuit to get Dwight to try it. Seriously, what harm could it possibly do? It's not like it would ruin his stroke. This is, after all, Dwight's seventh year in the league and he has a career .597 free throw percentage. Isn't it obvious by now that the conventional style is not going to work for him?
Barry says the underhanded method is perfect for a muscle-bound player like Dwight because it would force him to relax. It makes sense. I mean, think about this: The natural position of the body is to stand with your arms hanging down in a completely relaxed position. When you shoot overhanded, the body is in an unnatural position and therefore has a tendency to tense and tighten up.
"When Dwight shoots overhanded, he has no touch or feel," Barry says. "The underhanded shot is a much softer shot, and even if it is off-line, there's the chance it will bounce on the rim and go in."
Barry, always blunt and outspoken, is flabbergasted that someone like Dwight won't even consider going underhanded.
"What's it matter what you look like when the ball is going in the basket?" Barry says. "I would love to work with Dwight. The bottom line is this: He is horrible overhanded so what does he have to lose?"
Nothing — except perhaps a tiny bit of machismo.
Then again, Dwight idolizes The Man of Steel, who wears his underpants over blue tights with a red, flowing cape.
Is Superman's outfit any less masculine than granny's free throws?
Read Mike Bianchi's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/openmike and listen to him every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740-AM. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun