I love the story about one of the most intimidating athletes of all time “feeling like a sissy”–and the lessons we can learn from it.
Wilt Chamberlain, arguably one of the best basketball players of all time, a gifted and skilled player who also happened to be over 7 feet tall (affectionately called “Wilt the Stilt” by many), struggled throughout his career shooting free throws.
For those of you not familiar with basketball, a “free throw” is a shot you take when you get “fouled” by another player and you shoot with no one trying to block your shot or trying to stop you by playing defense—it’s just you and the basket.
Chamberlain was known to make shots from all over the court, with opposing players draped all over him, with relative ease, often with a very high degree of difficulty…but when faced with a free shot, he often shot miserably.
He tried everything to shoot free throws better including seeing a psychiatrist (and he even told a story where the psychiatrist actually shot better at the free throw line than he did). There’s actually film of that in this video since I needed to verify that one.
For one season, however, Chamberlain tried “shooting underhanded” (which is not the norm, it looks a little silly and it has often been called “granny-style shooting”).
However, Chamberlain had his best season shooting foul shots this way although it caused him to remark that shooting this way made him “look like a sissy.” He abandoned the practice despite the improvements.
Now let’s look at Rick Barry, also a hall-of-fame player like Chamberlain, who only cared about scoring more points at the free throw line and looking like a sissy didn’t seem to be a factor.
I found this on The Google:
[Barry] maintained a 90% free-throw accuracy throughout his career, which was the best in NBA history back in 1980. During the 1978–79 season, Barry only missed nine (9) free-throws out of 169.
And he did it by throwing granny-style.
As strange as it looks, granny-style, or underhanded, shooting has actually proven to be a very accurate free-throw style. Nevertheless, players rarely resort to it.
Rick Barry famously helped Wilt Chamberlain improve his disastrous free-throw record during the 1961–62 season with his unusual scoring style. By using the granny shot, Chamberlain sank a career-best 61% of free-throws that season, and even made 28 of 32 free throws in one game.
But the next season, he stopped, and his free-throw record dropped accordingly. According to Malcolm Gladwell, he later admitted that he “felt like a sissy” when shooting underhand.
One of the lessons from this story is obvious:
You can do amazing things if you don’t care about what others think.
But I would like to go a little deeper and add a marketing lesson which I talk about often–what I call “congruent marketing,” which takes into account what others think…but through a different lens.
And while this example sort of contradicts my principle on the surface (i.e. to Wilt the Stilt, shooting this way was not “congruent” with how he saw himself on the court), I will make the case that “shooting like a sissy” was completely congruent for him (if he thought about it like a marketer).
And for the record, I am not calling a guy who could step on my head and crush me a “sissy.”
The man was a warrior on and off the court all time time…relentless, passionate and ruthless.
For an athlete, those characteristics are synonymous with “winning at all costs”…so wouldn’t getting every point possible toward victory always be consistent with that premise?
Despite Chamberlain feeling that shooting underhanded was not consistent with his persona and stature, we all would probably agree that his fans, and fans of the teams he played for, would only embrace him being able to score as many points as possible any way he could get there.
Think about this as you communicate with your fans, your tribe and anyone who looks up to you for leadership, guidance and ways to win.
As long as you can always make the case for congruency and how you are presenting yourself and your vision, no one will ever question your methodology…it will be much more about results inside of that congruency.
I am not saying you shouldn’t be concerned with what others think; but being aware of what they think in the context of everything you do and everything you believe is a subtle distinction which I hope makes sense.
I have told you some cautionary tales in the past about online personalities allowing affiliates to make inappropriate offers not aligned with their values (and the expectations of their audience) only to lose subscribers and the confidence of their online family.
In those situations, the audience might ask, right before they hit the unsubscribe button:
“Why would you offer us that?”
I went through the same process throughout my career as it pertained to new product development when making a decision to “make or buy’: ”Making” a new book or newsletter was easy when using the content our audience loved us for and was used to; but “buying” someone else’s content and putting our name on it, always begged the question:
“Would our audience expect this from us (i.e. will they see it is as congruent with our brand)?”
That’s way more than “you can do amazing things if you don’t care what others think.”
Instead it’s, “You can do amazing (and many more) things if you pay very close attention to being congruent and consistent with your brand.
What your audience thinks (which will be positive) will follow from that.
In marketing, you always have to care about if your audience will see the wisdom and the logic of everything you do.
I think if Chamberlain thought about this through the eyes of marketing and his brand, on the court and off, he would have seen that shooting free throws underhand would have made him anything but a sissy.
How something really makes you look has more dimensions than what is in your head and what the outward appearance looks like.
Always think about the ultimate goal and why people want to follow you in the first place.
Transparency and congruency always make you look good…and it’s a prescription for a richer life with everyone you interact with.
And you will score more points this way too.
P.S. The second printing of the exclusive Titans edition of Breakthrough Advertising,Gene Schwartz’s timeless classic and a must-own book for anyone who markets anything, is now out-of-stock.
But the good news is that the third printing is now in process and we should have books in inventory within a few weeks…so if you don’t own this book, I encourage you to order today at:
We’ll get one out to you as soon as possible.