The Leaven by Jessica Langdon
CENTRALIA — Olympic athletes — from gymnasts to basketball teams — drew the world’s attention to London this summer.
But the global spotlight is also illuminating the basketball courts of northeast Kansas, no less, thanks to Bob Fisher.
The 54-year-old parishioner of Annunciation Church in Frankfort admits he doesn’t look like the “prototype” basketball star.
And that, he believes, is what makes his journey to becoming the world’s fastest free-throw shooter so remarkable.
‘Almost all of them’
Fisher holds 14 Guinness World Records for free throws — a feat he only started working toward at age 52.
Alternating with a partner. Blindfolded. Standing on one leg.
When he shoots, he scores — record after record.
“He holds almost all of them,” Fisher’s wife Connie said.
But don’t call him naturally talented. It’s not that, he assures.
Fisher, a soil conservation technician who has coached teams over the years, started putting in serious practice time in September 2009.
“It was a matter of bringing credibility to the fact that I’ve learned a new and better way to shoot,” he said.
It involves making the force of the ball work for each individual player, a theory he explores in his instructional video “Secrets of Shooting.”
He’s read everything from John Fontanella’s “The Physics of Basketball” to Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code,” and has applied math, neuroscience and physics to his unending quest for improvement.
For the record
Not long after he started practicing free throws, a couple of record-holding friends suggested he shoot for his own.
He tossed around the idea.
And on Jan. 9, 2010, he sank 50 free throws in one minute, officially setting his first Guinness World Record.
He started to wonder: What if I really put my heart into this?
Practice makes greatness
He’s finding out.
Fisher’s accumulating accomplishments brought a visit from sports reporter John Branch of The New York Times.
That visit saw Fisher set six records in an hour.
It isn’t about perfection. Fisher still misses shots.
He also doesn’t always set a record, a lesson he learned the hard way during a trip to China to attempt one during a special show.
But he readily accepts the failures that accompany his victories.
It’s all part of the process, he believes. Fisher learned from Florida State University professor Dr. K. Anders Ericsson — an “expert on experts” — that mastering any skill takes about 10,000 hours of effort.
And that’s “deliberate practice,” with the bar set a bit beyond reach.
“You are reaching and failing, reaching and failing, and then you get to a point where you’ve hit it and you’re able to do it,” said Fisher. “And then you set the bar even higher.”
‘100 billion neurons’
Fisher is living proof that you don’t have to be born with a special gift to excel.
It’s what you do with what you’re given. Intelligence and talents can be developed.
“With knowledge, practice and time, you can become good at anything,” he said, citing Coyle in “The Talent Code.”
“The Lord has given us each 100 billion neurons in our brain,” Fisher said. “And we all have the ability to develop whatever ability we’re passionate enough about to invest the time and effort — and go through the frustration and hard work necessary — to get to the end result.”
Beyond the basketball goal
At a festival in New York, a man in his 30s told Fisher he always thought he was too old to go back to school — until he saw the article about Fisher in The New York Times. He clipped it and hung it in his cubicle.
“Now,” the man proudly said, “I’m attending school.”
So to people of any age — who dream of achieving any goal — Fisher throws this idea:
“If I can do this, then what can you do?”