For 30 years pinball was the pastime that Todd MacCulloch escaped to when he wanted to get away from other pastimes. It was his refuge from girls at middle school roller-skating outings in his native Winnipeg, his comfort zone on high school bowling trips, his sanctuary from the basketball grind at Washington and with the Canadian national team, which he led to bronze at the 2001 FIBA Americas. And it was his salve during a four-year NBA career with the 76ers and the Nets (6.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg). "I was never very good at pinball," says the 7-foot 35-year-old, whose career was cut short in '03 by bilateral neuropathy, a foot disease, "but I always liked it."
No surprise then that pinball has become MacCulloch's chief obsession now that all those other pastimes have passed. He keeps 30 machines—The Getaway, Medieval Madness, Whitewater—in the Seattle home he shares with wife Jana, daughter Carmen, 3, and 14-month-old son Dylan. And he competes, as often as once a month, in pro tournaments—some as far away as England—but rarely for prize money worth mentioning. The thrill of winning $60 at a recent competition in Vancouver was tempered by a $10 trophy-engraving fee.
Still, the camaraderie and competition is reward enough for MacCulloch, who has worked in retirement as an NBA radio and TV broadcaster. He has shown that he can hold his own in pro pinball, having peaked, in 2009, at No. 84 in the world rankings. If he were willing to approach the game with the same seriousness that he did basketball, perhaps he could rise higher, he admits. "Some guys get better by taking the glass off of the game and manually dropping the pinball, working on live catches and drop catches and bounce passes, like a basketball drill," MacCulloch says. "I've done enough three-man weaves in my day. I don't want to take the fun out of it."