Alas Poor Shaq
In last week's "Lint" I revealed the best angle for throwing a ball if maximal distance is your objective. Unfortunately this does not translate into the shooting of free throws in basketball, which involves a relatively short fixed distance.
John Fontanella, a college basketball player and now instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, has investigated this problem, and explains in his book The Physics of Basketball why tall guys such as Shaq have so much trouble putting the ball in the little hole.
Fontanella claims that the key elements are the launch angle and the approach angle (i.e. "angle between the horizontal and the velocity of the ball when the ball is directly above the front of the hoop").
Furthermore, Fontanella suggests that for a small player, the basketball's launch angle should be 50.8 degrees and the approach angle should be 40.0 degrees. In contrast, for a big man such as Shaq, the launch angle should be 48.7 degrees and the approach approach should be 42.8 degrees."
Ah...the precision of mathematical models. This is exactly what Shaq needs to know...as if he (or anyone) could physically tell the difference between these two suggested conditions!
Again mathematics creeps into the real world and bites the dust!