Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

There was just a minute and 35 seconds left to play in the Trail Blazers’ first exhibition game Saturday in Vancouver. The issue was decided –-- the Toronto Raptors had a 17-point lead over Portland.

But at that point of the game the packed house in Rogers Arena suddenly acted as if a unicorn had marched across the basketball court.

It was a mixture of complete surprise, joy and wonder as Portland’s Chinanu Onuaku went to the foul line and shot two free throws UNDERHANDED!

Yes, that’s right. What they used to call “grannies.”

He missed the first but made the second and drew a huge cheer for his make.

Obviously, it’s a rare sight these days. Most of the people in the arena had probably never seen such a shot in their life.

And in a game, neither had his teammates, who see it in practice all the time but this was their first in-game look.

Asked Sunday night after Fan Fest if he’d ever played with or against or even seen somebody shoot a foul shot that way, Portland’s Maurice Harkless said, “For real? No.”

“And not only shoot them but make them,” Harkless said. “He’s really good at it. The only other guy I’ve seen make them was Luke Ridnour, who I played with. He used to play around like that but never in a game. He could make them.

“I’ve never seen a guy who could make them in a game. It’s so rare, when he does it here, the fans are going to go crazy.”


Seth Curry said he’s never been on the court with someone who shot a foul shot that way.

“It’s all about whatever it takes to get the job done,” Curry said. “A lot of people like flash and pretty form but as long as it works for you…”

And that crowd reaction in Toronto?

“He probably gets that wherever he goes,” Curry said. “I had never seen it before. I’ve seen it on TV.”

Al-Farouq Aminu smiled wide when asked about Onuaku’s free throws.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see,” Aminu said. “I love it when it goes in. It’s almost like a trick shot but it isn’t.

“I don’t think anyone else in the world does it. It’s reliable. I appreciate his willingness to do it.”

Damian Lillard said he was waiting for the crowd to react.

“I knew there would be a reaction,.” Lillard said. “I think it’s cool. Every arena you go to, people are going to react like that. They weren’t expecting that.”

In a post-Fan Fest halfcourt-shot contest, Onuaku actually drained one from that distance underhanded.

“That’s the way he shoots them,” Lillard said. “It’s cool.”

When you mention shooting foul shots underhanded, the conversation always turns to Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who made 89.3 percent of his free throws in the NBA that way and has always lobbied for more players who struggle at the line to try his method.  And indirectly, that’s what Onuaku did.

“Since my sophomore year in college,” Onuaku said, when asked how long he’s been shooting them that way. “Rick Pitino taught me a little bit and then he gave me a video of Rick Barry and so I watched that.”

He estimates he improved his foul shooting 30 or 40 percent by going to the method. And when he made that half-court shot at Fan Fest Sunday night?

“I was just joking – I didn’t think it would go in,” he said. “I just shot it,”

Should more players – the ones struggling from the line – use that method?

“Whatever they prefer,” he said. “If they want to shoot bad at the free-throw line, let them shoot bad at the free-throw line.”