Dr. Tom Amberry, who held the world record for making 2,750 free throws in a row, passed away Saturday evening, March 18, at the age of 94.
Amberry set the world record at the age of 71 on Nov. 15, 1993 in an Orange County gymnasium with 10 witnesses verifying the feat. The former professional basketball player-turned podiatrist walked away without a miss. As he put it, “they were closing the gym so they kicked me out.”
This amazing accomplishment, which took 12 hours, was in the Guinness Book of Records for years. His accomplishment earned him appearances on national television, including the “David Letterman Show,” and NBC Nightly News. Many articles were written about him including an indepth profile in the Los Angeles Times.
Amberry, who stood 6’7” tall, played for the University of North Dakota and Long Beach City College in the 1940s. He was twice All-American and the nation’s leading scorer. During World War II Amberry served in the U.S. Navy and was on a destroyer at D-Day. Returning to the U.S. he played for the Minneapolis Lakers but then became a podiatrist, practicing in the Long Beach area and treating athletes such as Billie Jean King.
After retiring in 1991, Amberry returned to basketball and took up free throw shooting as a hobby. He began practicing and researching the best biomechanics for this crucial shot, consulting medical journals and sports psychologists. Once he locked in his method, he began shooting 500 free throws a day. A natural left handed shooter, he wore out his shoulder practicing but, undaunted, switched to shooting righty. He set the world’s record using his “off hand.” According to the meticulous records he kept, Amberry made 500 consecutive free throws on 473 separate occasions.
In 1996 Amberry co-wrote Free Throw; 7 Steps to Success at the Free Throw Line, published by HarperCollins. Amberry helped Chicago Bulls Coach Bill Cartwright raise his team’s free throw shooting percentage and coached many college and high school players. He had “shoot outs” against NBA players and never lost.
Amberry was born on Nov. 13, 1922 in Grand Forks, the son of a Welsh immigrant who was a bodyguard that sometimes boxed professionally. At 152 pounds Amberry was too thin for football but played basketball and baseball, earning a sports scholarship.
Known to his friends as “Dr. Tom,” he attributed his free throw shooting success to “focus and concentration.” When coaching young players he always told them, “you’re more limited by your beliefs than you abilities.”
“When I’m shooting a free throw, I don’t think of anything else,” Amberry said. “I am 100% positive I will make the basket. I never have a negative thought on the free throw line.”
Amberry was preceded in death by his wife, Elon, and one son, Tim. He is survived by his sons, Bill, Tom and Robert and 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.