Todd a pinball wizard

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Introducing Todd MacCulloch, the world's 208th-ranked pinball player.

Yes, that Todd MacCulloch.

Winnipeg's retired NBA player, forced into retirement by a rare nerve condition in his feet, is now using his flipper fingers to pursue a new passion.

"I'm just trying to work my way up the pinball ranking charts," MacCulloch told the Sun from his home in Philadelphia. "I've always liked pinball. I just didn't know how much I liked it."

MacCulloch bought his first three machines when he was playing with the New Jersey Nets in 2001-02. Since then, his little hobby has gone TILT.

"I acquired a fourth and a fifth, and then I've kind of gone crazy," he said. "I've got about 50 machines."

Enough that he's renovating his winter home in Philly to accommodate them all.

"Gotta expand the game room a little bit ... so I can get a little bit more pinball real estate," MacCulloch said. "We did an addition in Seattle where we live in the off-season. I have the games spread between here and there. There's a few duplicates of some I can't be without."

And how does the wife feel about all this?

"She's very understanding."

MacCulloch's favourites include Medieval Madness, Indiana Jones and a vintage horse racing machine from 1972 that features six toy horses jockeying for position at the bottom of the playing field.

He began competing in Philadelphia, where he hooked up with other collectors. Now he enters tournaments around the U.S., accumulating points towards his world ranking.

"Nobody really takes it that seriously," he said. "The prize money, if any, is nothing to give anybody an ego or to come to blows over. They'll help each other out and share their strategies. It's just kind of a fun, competitive spirit. It's not cutthroat, which is kind of cool."

It's certainly not the NBA.

MacCulloch reached the NBA Final in back-to-back years, with the 76ers in '01, the Nets a year later. But he's been sidelined since February '03.

While he still does radio and TV work for the Sixers, he's virtually closed the door, barring a miracle, on a return to the court.

He's reminded of the reason every day, even if he has noticed some improvement in his condition.

"It used to feel like I'd walked a marathon," he said. "Now it feels like I've walked half a marathon by the time I wake up. Sometimes it feels like it's burning, sometimes it feels like a swelling or an irritation."

The closest doctors have come to a diagnosis: Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. The closest MacCulloch has come to finding relief is with an electronic device he brought over from England, called the Fenzian treatment.

Results, though, have come at a snail's pace.

Until a few months ago, MacCulloch was only comfortable in sandals. Recently, he's been able to wear dress shoes again.

He's discovered he can swim every day without irritating his feet.

But running? Jumping? Forget it.

Coming to grips with it all hasn't been easy.

One night earlier this season he dreamed he was able to play again.

"I was still a little out of shape, but my feet had healed to the point where I could try out," MacCulloch recalled. "I was trying out for the Mavericks, and (Steve) Nash was back with the Mavericks. I was playing pretty good.

"A week after that I dreamt I was sitting in front of the camera to do colour (commentary). But my play-by-play guy was nowhere to be found, so it turned into a broadcasting nightmare. So I'm somewhere in cyber dreamland, between playing and broadcasting."

No longer, though, does he have one foot on the court and one in the booth.

At 31, MacCulloch is planning for a future in the media.

And, of course, at the controls of a pinball machine.


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