The free throw is nearly as old as basketball itself. The shot dates almost as far back as when rules were first recorded at a gym in Springfield, Mass., by the game’s creator, Dr. James Naismith, in 1891. Added to the sport just a few years later, the shot was initially taken 20 feet away from the basket, before the distance was reduced to 15 in 1895. The rules governing perhaps basketball's most idiosyncratic shot have gone mostly unchanged since.
The shot seems simple. Standing just 15 feet away from a 10-foot-tall hoop, players try to toss a 9-inch-wide spherical ball weighing approximately 20 ounces through an 18-inch diameter rim. It hearkens back to the game’s original purpose — putting the ball in the basket.
“It's the only part of the game that’s a constant,” says NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who memorably used an underhand method to shoot 90 percent from the line during his 14-year professional career. “It’s always the same distance, it’s always the same ball, and it’s always the same size basket. It’s the only part of the game you can be selfish and still help your team.”