Sensitivity toward those he's coaching, respect for their abilities and an almost Einstein-like understanding of his playful subject matter -- shooting a basketball -- have made Buzz Braman a one-of-a-kind instructor, in a class by himself.
He's known as the "shot doctor," a specialist in counseling a pro player on how best to utilize his potential in putting a ball through the hoop or helping find his way out of a slump. And, from another aspect, he provides the same service for children attempting to develop their own feel in delivering a shot.
Braman will soon complete a month-long series of shooting camps in the Baltimore/Washington area and has drawn a capacity enrollment of boys and girls, ranging in age from 11 to 19. The fact Buzz Braman isn't a household name has nothing to do with his ability to comprehend what makes the perfect shot and to try to teach it to others.
He hires out as a consultant to teams and players in the NBA and currently works for the Orlando Magic with his chief pupil Shaquille O'Neal. Previously, Braman was with the Philadelphia 76ers and reserves the contractual freedom to free-lance his teaching talents at all levels of the sport.
"The absolute last thing I want to do is be a head coach," he says. "My exclusive interest is helping shooters attain their highest degree of efficiency. A corps of players and coaches around the country know what I do and how I go about it. Every shot that's taken by any player at any level carries its own fingerprint."
Before Braman moves into an in-depth discussion, let it be said he believes in simplicity. In his guidebook there are five rules for getting a shot to fall: the shooting arm is positioned in the shape of an "L"; the ball is gripped in the fingers; eyes focused on the rim; the "off" hand comes off the ball as the shot releases; and, finally, the follow-through. Swish.
It's Braman's opinion 70 percent of all basketball players watch the ball in flight rather than keep their eyes trained on the target. "But some players do succeed while watching the ball. Magic Johnson could do it, but for every effective shooter who does it that way I can show you many more who concentrate on the rim."
The proper arc is six or eight inches above the basket. As for the most important element, Braman says it's the index finger that controls the direction of the shot. "The index finger and middle finger are the last two fingers in contact with the ball. But the index finger is the catalyst. The left hand serves as nothing more than a tray, only it's on the side of the ball. It never moves in $$ releasing the shot."
Of the NBA players Braman has watched, he points to Larry Bird and Reggie Miller as having styles of their own. They are not to be considered textbook shooters. "There are exceptions to all rules. They are two of them. And look at Jerry West, one of the true pure shooters in NBA history. He had no definitive idea of what he was doing. He just looked at the rim and let it go. That's pure natural ability."
Braman, 38, a nephew of the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, had only two years of college play at East Carolina University. But he believed the theories he had on shooting were sound and volunteered his services to Bob Wade in 1987 when he was coaching at the University of Maryland.
Wade quickly gave him a project. Center Brian Williams was shooting only 42 percent from the foul line for 15 games. Braman helped with his alignment and release. Williams responded by dropping 86 percent of his foul shots over the rest of the season. Then the 76ers, bowing to the quiet persistence of Braman (after all, he used to operate a luxury car business in Florida), were impressed with his teaching ability.
He personally dropped 246 of 250 shots from the college three-point range, 92 consecutively, with assistant coach Fred Carter looking on. Ultimately, he worked with Derek Smith and Hersey Hawkins on their outside shooting. "I believe Buzz can teach anyone to be a better shot," praises Hawkins. "He puts his scientific theories into your game and blends them with your natural instincts."
In the summer camp programs, which have been so successful, Braman is relieved of the administration details by Milton Kline, who was one of his coaches when, as a child, he was introduced to the game.
"Buzzy is not a traditional coach," says Kline. "He's entirely different. He's also the most perceptive and intuitive person I've ever known and I was in the teaching profession 28 years. In basketball, until Buzzy came along, no one pointed to the opposite hand, the one that doesn't shoot the ball, as the culprit in influencing the direction of a shot."
Braman charted new territory, the role of a shooting consultant. He deals more in feel than mechanics. "I use the fewest words possible," he says. "If what a player is doing is working, even though the form might not be desired, I just about tell him to have a nice day and walk away. You don't dare interfere with success."
Buzz Braman has indeed taken the scientific approach yet won't let it become a burden for those he's teaching. Basketball is not calculus. Making a simple game complex is not included on his agenda. All he wants to hear is the sound of music, which to him is spelled s-w-i-s-h.