NBA fans of a certain age remember it well. A peak-of-his-powers Michael Jordan, coming off his second NBA Most Valuable Player Award and first NBA championship, was feeling himself so much on Nov. 23, 1991, that he capped off another brilliant 37-point performance to beat the Denver Nuggets by telling trash-talking rookie big man he’d make a free throw with his eyes closed … and then did precisely that:
The eyes-closed free-throw became something of an M.J. staple over the years, a trash-talk trick shot he’d break out to bust chops and re-establish his dominion over all he surveyed. But now, a quarter-century later, one man wants a present-day Chicago Bulls All-Star to bring the no-look freebie back for a far more positive purpose:
Now, sports activist Matt Liston, known as Mr. Impossible, is trying on a series for UNINTERRUPTED to recreate that moment for a worthy cause by convincing a current Chicago Bulls player to attempt a free throw with his eyes shut.
It’s a four-part series, and Liston is raising awareness for The Chicago Lighthouse, which serves the blind, visually impaired, disabled and veteran communities.
You might remember Liston from his attempt more than four years ago to secure “One At Bat” for Adam Greenberg, a baseball player who was hit in the head by a pitch in his first Major League Baseball appearance with the Chicago Cubs in 2005, and who spent the next seven years recovering from vertigo and blurred vision while working his way through multiple minor-league stops without a big-league return. Thanks in part to Liston’s advocacy, Greenberg did get a second chance to step into the batter’s box at the end of the 2012 MLB season, joining the Miami Marlins for their final game of the campaign against the New York Mets. He struck out on three pitches, but that didn’t matter nearly as much as getting to finally live out his dream.
Given Liston’s success in promoting that cause, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the “sports activist” appears to have been able to gain an ally in his efforts to shed some extra light on the Lighthouse — an organization that has been serving the blind and visually impaired for 110 years and that serves provides a variety of services for more than 67,000 Chicago-area residents a year — in Jimmy Butler. After initially turning a cold shoulder to the idea of shooting an eyes-closed free throw during a real game, the All-Star shooting guard responded to Liston’s presentation about the Lighthouse and those it helps by saying he’d fire one from the charity stripe during a game with his eyes closed, and that he’d “make it, too.”
Butler’s far from the first modern-day NBA player to express confidence in his ability to knock down free throws without looking …
Hassan Whiteside says he's been shooting free throws with eyes closed. "That's my Judo free throw." Then he was told it was Jedi.
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) October 4, 2015
Added Dwight: "I might have to start doing my eyes closed free throws in the game. I'm 80% with my eyes closed."
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) October 1, 2013
… but he’s probably be the first player who’s shooting a career-best 86.8 percent from the stripe while also being out here rocking M.J. jerseys on magazine covers and getting propositioned to do so for a worthy cause, which you’d have to imagine ups the likelihood of the ever-swaggering swingman actually trying to pull it off.
Butler’s missed four of Chicago’s last five games as he deals with a bruised right heel, but he might be back in the lineup on Tuesday when the Bulls take on the struggling Toronto Raptors. If he does suit up, keep an eye on Jimmy the first time he steps to the line; it’s entirely possible he won’t be keeping an eye on what comes next.
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