PHYSICIST Sir Isaac Newton is usually seen as the enemy of athletes. So much of sports, after all, involves battling gravity. But basketball coach Holger Geschwindner, 62, has found a way to turn the laws of physics to his advantage. A former captain of the German national team and a physicist, he has developed a series of formulas that may reveal the optimum arc for jump shots, using a combination of player height, arm length and release point. "Take differential and integral calculus. Make some derivations and create a curve," he recently said. "Everybody can do it."
Maybe not, but Geschwindner can. He developed the formulas 13 years ago in his hometown of Würzburg when he began working with a lanky 16-year-old named Dirk Nowitzki, voted Most Valuable Player of the NBA in 2007. Through their work, Geschwindner found that most players shoot the ball on too flat an arc. "The higher the arc, the better, but you can go too high. The optimum is around 60°," he says.
Geschwindner, an unofficial shooting coach for the Dallas Mavericks, Nowitzki's team, relies on more than physics. He runs a basketball academy in Würzburg that he calls "the Institute of Applied Nonsense," and its name captures its unconventional approach. Players split ball-handling drills with tutorials in opera, literature, fencing, ballet and jazz.
In the early days, his methods alienated Geschwindner from the basketball community, but then his first crop of players came of age. Four other former Geschwindner pupils from Würzburg, a city of 300,000, play with Nowitzki on the German national team, which is sharpshooting its way through the qualification rounds for the Beijing Olympics. "If you see what he does, you can't believe it works," says Christoph Bueker of the German Basketball Federation. "But he's been so successful, you can no longer say it's lunacy."