As good as he is, Kobe Bryant needs help. Karl Malone could benefit from a session, too. A day with John Stockton and he'd be stroking free throws in the mid-90s.
At least that's what Ed Palubinskas is selling.
The self-proclaimed world's greatest free throw shooter is back in the news. He's been there before as a member of the Australian Olympic team and a standout guard at Louisiana State in the '70s.
"But this," says Palubinskas, "is huge."
"This" is his latest project: reclaiming Shaquille O'Neal's free throw shot. Actually, not reclaiming but remaking. Breaking it down from the pre-shot dribble right on through to the ripple of the net — or in O'Neal's case, the clang of the rim. Palubinskas has been hired to get the Lakers' center to a respectable level from the line.
Go ahead, laugh. Palubinskas loves it. Lack of confidence isn't one of his weaknesses. He contends there's never been a better shooter. "I'm a 99 percent free throw shooter," he says. "I'd say 100 percent, because I'll make 300 in a row, but by saying 99 percent, it allows for the human factor."
Palubinskas, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., is a former head coach at East Carbon High in Sunnyside and East High in Salt Lake. He's developed a thriving business, painting logos on gym floors and doing tile mascot mosaics. But his real job, his passion, is shooting. At a recent national competition he made all 75 of his free throws and 58 of 73 three-point shots, winning $25,000. No other contestant won a nickel. He claims to have made 1,572 of 1,575 free throws in national contests. At a shooting exhibition at last year's Final Four, he claims to have made 598 straight free throws "just to win a T-shirt."
He has produced two videotapes. The first is called "Secrets to Perfect Shooting Principles."
So maybe they're not secrets anymore. The latest video is "The Shooters' Lab."
Palubinskas grew up in Australia, falling in love with hoops long before Luc Longley or Andrew Gaze arrived. He played at Ricks College and followed Pete Maravich at LSU.
However bombastic — think Crocodile Hunter in gym clothes — it's hard to argue his point. Most high school players shoot in the high 60s from the free throw line. College players shoot in the low 70s, and NBA players in the mid-70s. That's only a 5 percent to 7 percent improvement from high school to the NBA.
"You kidding me? It's their livelihood!" he scoffs.
Palubinskas began working with O'Neal last October. It wasn't an immediate success, as witnessed by his 48 percent success rate from the line. But lately he's been on a rampage. Friday he landed 10 of 13 against Washington. Wednesday against Milwaukee he made 12 of 15. Two nights earlier he made nine of 12 against Atlanta. As Shaq said himself, get the free throws going and he's the perfect player.
The obvious question is if Palubinskas has been working with Shaq since October, why did it take until now to start working?
Fast Eddie has an answer. His student has been in a "gestation period," or evolutionary stage. He told O'Neal last fall, "There's a process, and two things are going to happen. First, you are going to destroy my reputation. My ego is healthy enough that I can take it. I'll hate to have it printed that Palubinskas teaches Shaq free throw shooting and his shooting stinks, but . . .
"Second, it's going to work, and I'm going to do a tremendous service nationally. My goal is to revolutionize the shooting industry."
As I said, he isn't lacking confidence.
He calls his plan "complex in its simplicity and simple in its complexity." He teaches the shooter not to concentrate on making shots, but to purify the process so there is no guesswork. He also works on the mental aspect, where the shooter learns that every time he misses there's a correctable reason. If the process is perfect, so is the shot.
Does it work? Let he who has made 300 straight free throws in a row cast the first brick. He insists O'Neal regularly makes 85 percent in practice.
But wait! Could he even fix Olden Polynice?
"I can fix anybody," he says.