Ballet Dancers Have a Leg Up on Basketball Players

Over the past half-century, ballet dancers who perform Sleeping Beauty at London’s Royal Opera House have been raising their legs higher and higher. (More here.) So why, over the same time period, have professional basketball players not improved their free-throw shooting?


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  1. Swashbuckler says:

    Because free throw shooting isn’t worked on the way other skills are. Now it’s about fast breaks and dunks.

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  2. David says:

    “There is little correlation between free-throw percentages and winning percentages.”

    Because of the above line in the article.

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  3. Rick Wash says:

    Because basketball players are already at the optimal free-throw percentage. Increased effort isn’t worth the payoff.

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  4. Robert D says:

    What’s the connection between leg height in ballet and free throw shooting in basketball? One is aesthetic, the other isn’t. A better comparison might be dancers’ leg height to how high basketball players jump when they dunk. Fifty years ago, players got up high enough to put the ball in, if they dunked at all. Now, players can stick their arms in the hoop down to their elbows, and they occasionally bump their heads on the backboards. For what reason? Purely aesthetics. They they think it looks better.

    You might as well draw a comparison between dancers’ leg height and hoop players’ SAT scores over the last 50 years.

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  5. Edward says:

    Great free throw shooters still exist. They’re just not good enough to play at the highest levels. In the old days a poor athlete but great shooter was valued, but today such a premium is put on athleticism and strength and the game is so physical, the great free throw shooters are stuck on the bench.

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  6. Kevin H says:

    “It’s unlikely this trend for steeper leg angles is simply a reflection of dancers becoming more bendy and agile over the years. The same trend was seen even for relatively easy positions in which the leg-raising dancer is supported by a partner.”

    It’s not an improvement, it’s simply a change in style

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  7. Wayne Smith says:

    Free-throw shooting is a non-linear process whereas raising your leg is not. A small error in how you bend your knees, blink your eyes, your stomach feels, how sweaty your hands feel can create small errors which may affect each other and multiply exponentially. These small errors can be accentuated by the non-linear dynamics of the ball bouncing on/off the backboard/rim and cause larger errors which if they get large enough mean a missed shot.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you just need to be flexible (which still takes practice, albeit less complex) to lift your leg and there are few outside influences.

    Genetics may have something to do with this too since flexibility is probably transmitted from generation to generation, but free-throw shooting is learned.

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  8. KB says:

    Could it also be a technological improvement in shoe or dress?

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