DURING HISfour-year career as an NBA center, Todd MacCulloch competed against the likesof Shaquille O'Neal. Now the 31-year-old retiree battles foes that—whileslightly less mobile—are every bit as ruthless. Pinball tables. "Themachine is a heartless creature," says MacCulloch, who's internationallyranked as a pinballer. "I like that. You can play for two years straight,but when you lose that last ball, [the machine] still says, SORRY, GAME OVER.It has no feelings."
MacCulloch, whowas forced out of the NBA in 2004 because of a nerve condition in his feet,began his pinball career as a kid in Winnipeg, working the flippers at a7-Eleven. After reaching the NBA in 1999 and signing a six-year, $34 milliondeal with the Nets in '01, he began buying his own machines. Now he owns about50 of them, and the basement of his Philadelphia home, replete with a neon signthat reads PINBALL ALLEY, looks like a 1970s arcade. "It's anaddiction," he says. "I can't stop buying them."
Like RogerDaltrey's Tommy (right), MacCulloch takes on all comers, including former NBAteammates and the pastor of his church. Says Sixers forward Kyle Korver,"I'll ask him if he wants to see a movie, and [instead] he'll tell me aboutthe 13th-ranked pinball player in the world, who he wants to play against."MacCulloch joined a local league, in which he competes under the handlePinGiant, and began entering tournaments. Last year he finished third at theCalifornia Extreme No Limit tournament and fourth at the Rocky Mountain PinballShowdown, where most opponents had never seen anything like him in anyamusement hall. "They [were] not expecting a 7-footer to walk through thedoor," says MacCulloch.
This summerMacCulloch, ranked 207th in the world by the International Flipper PinballAssociation, will travel to Stockholm to compete in the European Championship.Even if he wins, he's not prepared to quit his day job as a Sixers radio colorcommentator. Says MacCulloch, who has netted $350 in career prize money,"I'm waiting for corporate sponsorship."
JESSE D. GARRABRANT/GETTY IMAGES (MACCULLOCH)
FLIPPIN' BRILLIANT MacCulloch is internationally ranked.
DIANA ELIAZOV (MACCULLOCH AT TABLE)
EVERETT COLLECTION (DALTREY)