Choose Between Two Options
- $25 for one three-hour basketball clinic ($60 value)
- $99 for four three-hour basketball clinics ($240 value)
Clinics are held Thursdays, 5:30–8:30 p.m.
Free-Throw Distractions: Of Science and Speedos
Basketball games put you closer to the action than nearly any sport. Read on to learn what distraction techniques may give your home team an advantage.
White balloons. Giant Abraham Lincoln heads. Shirtless guys. It seems that basketball fans will go to any lengths to distract the opposing team during free-throw shots, from waving around random objects to stripping down to their skivvies—a strategy immortalized in 2003 by the Duke University Speedo Guy.
Despite the valiant efforts of these die-hard fans, there is little scientific evidence that free-throw distractions actually work. The average basketball team makes around 72% of its free throws, and a study of the 2003–04 NBA season showed that the difference between free-throw scores during home and away games was essentially zero. This is likely because experienced players have trained themselves to focus exclusively on the rim. And besides, the brain can easily tune out the random motion of balloons, pom-poms, or other distracting objects as visual white noise, similar to static on a TV screen. It can take a truly shocking visual to actually cause a player to take his eyes off target, which may explain the one-time success of Speedo Guy.
In 2005, new findings about the effect of background motion on visual perception spurred Slate writer Daniel Engber to attempt an experiment. Engber challenged Dallas Mavericks spectators to move their balloons in unison during challenger free throws, thereby testing the theory that uniform background motion can trick a player’s brain into believing that he had actually moved, thus throwing off his aim. Engber’s experiment resulted in limited success, but the hypothesis is still awaiting true scientific study. No matter how fans try to distract players, they still must obey league rules, which generally forbid music instruments, noisemakers, laser pointers, and Jedi mind tricks.