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Top of the Key: Hoops, Pinball and Bilateral Neuropathy – Talking with Todd MacCulloch

Photo by Jim Capale | ESPN.com
Photo by Jim Capale | ESPN.com

I know what I like: voices in harmony, major seventh chords, and thick, spacey drones. I like science fiction. Hard science fiction. I like basketball and I love to play pinball. They are simple things and they give me pleasure, especially when they unexpectedly overlap. At one of these intersections stands Todd MacCulloch, former NBA Finalist and pinball champion. Talking with him on the phone recently was a joy; I found him to be intelligent, humble, forthcoming, and extremely generous with his time (you can read the full transcription of our conversation here).

His path has been unconventional. Like most Canadian youths, Todd fancied himself a hockey player, but his rapidly increasing height had other ideas. In high school he committed to basketball and “got noticed as a 6’9″, 6’10″, 6’11″ skinny kid from Winnipeg that had decent footwork and a decent ability to catch the basketball.” By his senior year he was seven feet tall and being recruited by colleges all over America. He chose Washington and powered them to the sweet sixteen in 1998, leading the nation in field goal percentage three consecutive years (one of only two players ever to accomplish the feat).

Todd finished college, got his degree and was projected to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Disappointingly, though, he was taken 47th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers: “I think the perception was that I was too slow to compete at the NBA level”. About this and other setbacks, Todd is refreshingly honest: “I slipped to the second round and was crushed. I thought I had failed and that they had forgotten about me and that I wasn’t a very good player.” Being drafted that late generally means you show up to training camp and fight for a spot. It can mean playing overseas and ultimately never making an NBA roster.

To regain his confidence Todd joined Steve Nash on the Canadian National Team to try for a spot in the 2000 Olympics. In the qualifying competition they upset a number of teams and earned a trip to Sydney, but it was his performance against the third Dream Team that changed the course of Todd’s life. Continue reading →

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