Former NBAer’s Second Career: Pro Pinball Player

It’s no coincidence that It’s A Wonderful Life is the movie of choice during the holiday season; the combination of Christmas and New Years inherently lend themselves to themes of rebirth and second chances. Which is why it’s common for newspapers during this time of year to print a bunch of heart-warming fluff pieces, as evidenced by yesterday’s WASHINGTON POST story about former NBA player Todd MacCulloch, who has transformed himself from the person Jason Kidd once called “the best center I’ve ever played with” to ginormous pinball wizard.

Todd MacCullough, Pinball Wizard

The piece shows how MacCulloch has learned to cope with his early retirement from the NBA due to his foot-nerve problem — “Once he went to a physical therapist who took off his shoe and told him he had shards of glass stuck in his foot. A few days before he had stepped on a light bulb but had no idea that glass had lodged itself in the skin.” — by taking his competitive streak into the seedy underworld of professional pinball playing, a sport that is shockingly not as lucrative as you’d think.


And though his basketball career was over, he was soon creating a new one as a pinball player, no matter how little revenue such a pursuit might generate. His career earnings over four years have totaled about $700. His world ranking is 130th but some of the country’s top pinball players say the number is deceiving since many players build up points by playing the same tournaments every weekend. Since MacCulloch has been playing about six tournaments a year, a top 60 or 70 might be more realistic. He might even be able to make as much as $1,000 a year.

To give you a sense of comparison, in 2001, MacCulloch signed a 6-year contract worth $34 million bucks. And yes, a good portion of that went into his pinball machine obsession:

MacCulloch bought pinball machines. So many, in fact, that they spill from the basement of his sprawling, 6,000-square-foot house on this island a half-hour ferry ride from Seattle, taking over a guest room, an eight-car garage and all of the lower storage room beneath the garage as well as half of the family room upstairs. In total there are 80 machines, some brand-new, some antique, strewn across his property, the sum of which he figures cost more than $200,000.

In fact, the more one gets into the story, the less depressing it really is. It’s not really the story of a “second chance”, but more the story of someone whose early retirement allowed them to truly find what they were supposed to do with their life. It’s just that in this case, what MacCulloch is doing is one of the dorkier pursuits of all time, one worth the King of Kong documentary treatment as soon as humanly possible.