LeBron James has stopped taking technical free throws. Finally.
LeBron James appears to have given up his career-long insistence to take tech free throws over his better-shooting teammates. I uncovered the data and it is not pretty.
In what seems to be the surest sign yet that LeBron James is ready to take a backseat, the 39-year-old appears to have quietly relinquished a time-honored tradition on LeBron-led teams:
LeBron James taking the technical free throw.
You probably didn’t think twice about it on Saturday. In the game against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers were awarded a technical free throw after the Warriors were called for a defensive-three-second violation. Historically, this has been LeBron’s domain.
By rule, in that situation, the Lakers can choose any player on the floor to step up to the line and take the freebie. On the floor for the Lakers in that moment: Taurean Prince (81.4 percent career from the free-throw line), D’Angelo Russell (78.8 percent), Rui Hachimura (77.0 percent), James (73.5 percent) and Jarred Vanderbilt (64.5 percent).
When the referee motioned the call, James took a couple steps in the direction of the free-throw line and then backpedaled away. To his right, D’Angelo Russell made his move.
Though it was Prince, not Russell, who boasted the group’s superior free-throw numbers in his career, the job went to Russell. LeBron looked on. Russell drained the free throw.
I’ve covered LeBron’s career-long vendetta with the free-throw line. In 2017, I wrote an ESPN the Magazine feature about his struggles at the charity stripe and how his confidence had shaken to the point where he shuffled through 18 different variations of his free-throw “routine” one season. His routine wasn’t routine at all.
The technical free throw is where LeBron’s insecurities take center stage. In that story, I focused on a moment in Charlotte on Dec. 31, 2016 when James took a technical free throw and missed it, much to his frustration (and the crowd’s delight). He didn’t take another one that season. I said he had given it up.
I was wrong.