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Opinion

Love and basketball on Father's Day

On Father's Day, I recall fond childhood memories of my dad teaching me to shoot free throws. I'd imagine I was taking a high-stakes shot for the 76ers, with seconds left. Decades later, 76ers forward Andre Iguodala found himself in that exact situation during this year's NBA playoff series.

By John Morlino / June 15, 2012

Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala shoots the go-ahead free throw in the second half of Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls May 10 in Philadelphia. The Sixers won 79-78. Op-ed contributor John Morlino recounts: 'Twenty-thousand-plus were on their feet when the referee handed him the ball. And all Iguodala could think about was his five-year-old son.'

Matt Slocum/AP

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One of my fondest memories from childhood is my dad showing me how to shoot free throws in our basement.

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Our miniature hoop was a one-of-a-kind structure that my grandfather had made for him, way back when. Among its endearing qualities was that it mimicked the scale of a 10-foot-high regulation basket – provided you were a 3-foot-tall preschooler armed with a small, red, playground ball. How lucky was I?

As I awaited my turn at the stripe, I’d watch intently as my father paused, cradling the ball in his right hand, elbow raised just above his shoulder, before gently releasing his shot. I can still hear the sound of the rubber ball dropping through the hand-made net.

Following my lesson, I’d conclude my time on the court the way most of us do when practicing alone on the playground. Sometimes the words are spoken aloud. More often, they’re recited in your head.

“Five, four, three, two, one...(insert own last name) shoots. It’s good! The (insert name of favorite professional team, which, for me, was – and still is – my dad’s favorite: the Philadelphia 76ers) win!”

Most of us, of course, will never actually experience having the ball in our hands in the final seconds of a high-stakes contest with the game, the season, and our athletic reputation on the line. Yet that’s precisely the situation 76ers forward Andre Iguodala found himself in during game six of this year’s first-round NBA playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.

With 2.2 seconds left to play, and his team trailing by a single point, Mr. Iguodala was awarded two free throws after being fouled as he attempted a game-winning shot. Though the underdog Sixers led the best-of-seven series three games to two, the Philadelphia crowd knew full well that this was their young team’s only realistic chance of eliminating the conference champions, as a loss meant the battle-tested Bulls would host a deciding seventh game.

It was oddly fitting that Iguodala was now tasked with determining the likely outcome of his team’s season. Despite the fact that he is a spectacular open-court player, gifted passer and, arguably, the league’s best defensive player, many of the Philly faithful have vilified him for much of his career for failing to live up to his status as the ninth overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft.

Compounding the matter is his $80 million contract – seen in some circles as unjustifiable, due to his limited scoring ability.

As they waited for him to take his place at the foul line, no one in the Wells Fargo Center, least of all, Iguodala, needed to be reminded that free-throw shooting had become his Achilles' heel. His free-throw percentage during the regular season was a paltry 62 percent. That number dropped to 45 percent in the fourth quarter of games. In the final minutes of those contests, it sunk to an unfathomable 33 percent.

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