Former NBA Big Man Now Serious Pinball Gamer

Earlier this decade, Todd MacCulloch was a center with a lot of promise, and a lot of money. A foot injury sent him into early retirement. Now he collects and plays pinball machines.

MacCulloch was forced into retirement at age 28 by a nerve condition in his foot — basically, parts of his feet would be completely numb, other parts too sensitive — that made playing basketball impossible. Idle, rich, and concerned that his condition might sink him into depression, MacCulloch looked for support from an old love — pinball machines.

He now owns 80 machines, valued at $200,000, and he's trying to fit in with a new competitive life on the pinball tournament circuit. MacCulloch, who is far from an elite player, swears he's not using pinball to replace the NBA, and readily admits his shortcomings, is nonetheless committed to "win some pinball hardware and get a trophy one of these days."

This is particularly interesting:

"I still get nervous in big tournaments where there has been some big money on the line and it might have been a fraction of what I made in a check in the NBA," he said. "But it's still the pressure of the moment — the heart starts beating a little bit, the games are designed to increase the music just to make you feel something, to make you feel the pressure and rush your shots. When I've needed to I haven't been able to pull some games out of my, um, hat."

In basketball he always had the ability to do what athletes call "slowing the game down," seeing every possibility, making careful, methodical decisions even as he was running full speed. In pinball he feels himself speeding up, the game too often spinning out of control. He wonders why this happens and figures it is simply because he hasn't played as much as the other players, some of whom have been competing for 30 or 40 years.

Bullet-time jokes aside, do you think it's possible to slow down your experience in the midst of a full-speed game? Or is that something restricted to full-motion, athletic competition?

Former NBA Player Todd MacCulloch is Now a Pinball Star [Washington Post, with photo]