Think you can take on the old guy responsible for pingpong’s renaissance? Your serve — but prepare to pay up.At age 82, Marty Reisman is having a senior moment that any octogenarian would envy. As the president of Table Tennis Nation, the two-time U.S. table tennis champion — and winner of almost two dozen other national and international titles — Reisman is the hip but improbable face of an unlikely pingpong revival (check out the action at your local SPiN pingpong social club/lounge). The serial raconteur and amiable street hustler extraordinaire also is busy writing a sequel to his 1974 autobiography, The Money Player: The Confessions of America’s Greatest Table Tennis Champion and Hustler. Most of his time, though, is consumed by launching a slate of tournaments in India, played the old-fashioned way — with hardbat paddles.
And, as always, he’s jonesing for a money match.
“Even at 82, I’m itching for a good money game,” Reisman? says. “What I really want to do is play a money match against someone who’s young enough to be my grandson — someone of note, not some Mickey Mouse player. That’s never been done in professional sports before. Sure, I’ve lost some speed, but I still play a very clever, witty game. I’m pretty athletic for someone who’s 82. I’ve still got plenty of vinegar left in me.”
It’s not always easy to be larger than life when you’re short of 6 feet tall and weigh just 150 pounds. But for the flamboyant Reisman — aka the Needle — it comes as naturally as the trademark forehand slam that lifted him to national and world renown.
In an otherwise staid sport normally associated with dank basements and noisy dehumidifiers, Reisman was a splash of John McEnroe amid vanilla-esque Bjorn Borg — a charming rogue whose helter-skelter résumé includes chronic gambler, millionaire (three different times, he claims), gold-bullion smuggler, stock market player and halftime act for the Harlem Globetrotters.