You would think a little less air in the ball would have helped Shaquille O’Neal develop a softer touch from the free-throw line, where he shot .527 for his career.
In a wonderful story by ESPN about the making of an NBA ball, Shaq talks about how he used to take some air out of the ball, ala Tom Brady and Deflategate.
Sometimes, in the games during all my championship runs, if a ball was too hard, I let air out, Shaq said during a recent episode of ‘The Big Podcast With Shaq.’ I’d have a needle. A friend of mine would have a needle and I would get the game ball. … I needed that extra grip, but I wasn’t doing that for cheating purposes. I just needed the extra grip for my hands so I could palm it, a la Michael Jordan, the way he used to palm it. O’Neal said he’d walk up to the ball rack before a game, Get the ball, ‘Tsssss’ let a little bit of air out, squeeze it — OK, good. Was he cheating? He believes not. Because, first of all, I’m not aware of any letter of the law that says, you can’t let air out of the ball, O’Neal said. I’m not aware of that. Second of all, it’s all about my [comfort level]. A lot of times, if the balls have too much air in them, they’re too bouncy. I didn’t want them to be bouncy. I needed that grip.
By the way, if Shaq only did it during the postseason, he should have stopped. His free-throw percentage dropped to .504 during the playoffs.