TILTING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Who's the tallest rising star in the pinball world? None other than former NBA center Todd MacCulloch.
MacCulloch, a 7-footer who played four seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets before being forced to retire in 2004 due to a chronic foot condition, was a pinball junkie while growing up in Winnipeg, Canada. He played the game whenever he could, at malls, arcades and bowling alleys around town. And when he signed as a free agent with the Nets in 2001 and got his first house, he began buying up pinball machines. His collection now is at 45 games.
MacCulloch says there are indeed some similarities between pinball and basketball.
"Hand-eye coordination is really important in both," he said. "And maintaining your focus is definitely important."
After doing some color commentary work for the Sixers following his retirement, MacCulloch now is living in Seattle, contemplating his next career move. In the meantime, he's played in several pinball tournaments. He competed in the European pinball championship in Stockholm in 2007, and he played in the PAPA tournament from 2005 to 2007. (He was forced to miss PAPA this year due to a prior engagement.)
Between his height and his foot condition, MacCulloch is forced to play pinball sitting on a stool. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming a pretty good player -- in fact, he currently is No. 85 in the world, according to the PAPA rankings. Ironically, MacCulloch's biggest challenge when it comes to playing pinball is a mental one.
"I've been in some pressure situations in big [basketball] games, and nerves wouldn't affect me," MacCulloch said. "But I've found that in pinball tournaments, I can't seem to keep those nerves at bay. My heart beats faster, my chest gets tight. Competition is competition, and I thought I'd respond well, but I haven't been able to rein that in yet."
MacCulloch has played several matches against two-time world champion Bowen Kerins.
"I got my butt kicked," MacCulloch said. "But I've tried to learn from him. It's something to watch him. It's like watching Jordan play basketball or Gretzky play hockey. He just sees the entire playing field, and he's in complete and total control."
Kerins, meanwhile, sees great potential in MacCulloch.
"He's got good coordination and good timing," Kerins said. "He's got pretty much the whole package to be a top player. He'll be a threat to win the whole thing in two-three years."
-- Kieran Darcy