I am an avid fan of the NBA and ping-pong is a common hobby played by many NBA players. The NBA playoffs are going on right now. I follow box scores every night and always root for our home team, the Golden State Warriors. Due to injuries to their star players and thus poor play, the Warriors season ended before the entire season was suspended. Only the top 22 teams played in the NBA Bubble in Orlando. However, I’ve still been watching the NBA playoffs and have watched some games in their entirety in the NBA Bubble. Ping-Pong is one of the activities teams have taken up in the NBA Bubble during these playoffs. Before the playoffs started, the San Antonio Spurs held a team ping-pong tournament and Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell showed off his ping-pong skills in the Bubble. In the past, Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul hosted annual ping-pong charity events.
CURRENT NBA TEAMS AND PLAYERS AND “TRANSFERRED TALENT”
Among the teams and players left in the NBA Bubble playoffs, players who play ping-pong include Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. Jokic uses ping-pong as part of his pre-game routine. The Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey is big into ping-pong as former Houston-based Olympian Jimmy Butler often post Facebook videos playing with him. Houston Rockets star guard and former NBA All-Star 3-Point Champ Eric Gordon is around 1,400 according to his brother, Evan Gordon. That rating is quite good for someone who has likely never had coaching. Evan Gordon played one of my students at the US Open and beat my student 3-0.
Evan Gordon said he reached 2,000 in less than 1 year. Since I don’t think talent matters much in a skill-based sport like table-tennis, I found that initially impossible to believe. However, now I think that if you play another hand-eye coordination reliant sport like basketball, tennis, baseball, or badminton at a high level, improvement in table-tennis is much faster. Evan Gordon played high-level college basketball and possibly played lots of ping-pong for fun before receiving coaching. Also, I think older kids and adults improve more short-term but younger kids improve more long-term.
It works the other way around too as I have basically never played badminton and tennis. However, because I had played high-level table-tennis, I became Varsity #2 in my freshman year on my high school badminton team after just 3 weeks before quitting to stay focused on table-tennis. Also, in tennis, I could beat my high school varsity tennis team friends even though I barely ever played tennis.
NBA COMMENTATOR REGGIE MILLER AND PING-PONG
One of the main TV commentators in the NBA Bubble playoffs currently is ping-pong fan Reggie Miller. The NBA All-Star Game a few years back featured a televised ping-pong match on TNT between NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and top hip-hop artist Drake who are both big into ping-pong! Their ping-pong match was watched live by many big names including NBA legends Lebron James, Charles Barkley, and Isiah Thomas. In an earlier broadcast, Reggie Miller talked about challenging golfing legend Tiger Woods, who also plays, to a ping-pong match during a televised NBA game.
If they played my weekend league, my guess is their rating would be around 100 or maybe less. Their rating would likely be higher in other places and clubs. The rating system goes from a scale from 0-3,000 with the higher, the better. The top in the world are 2600-2950. The top in the US are 2500-2800. The average USA Table Tennis tournament player is around 1,600. Table-tennis uses the same rating system as chess where 2,000 is considered expert and 2,300 is a grandmaster.
NBA DREAM TEAMERS AND THE OLYMPICS
Reggie Miller came to watch table-tennis at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Miller was a member of the USA Men’s Basketball team that won gold. He watched the men’s singles semifinal match between China’s Wang Tao and Czech Republic’s Petr Korbel. My clubmate and practice partner, Jimmy Guan, sat right behind Miller and explained things to him to make sure he understood what was going on. We were part of the volunteer staff during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that did scorekeeping and stats. Miller gave two standing ovations during that match. Afterwards on an Indiana radio show, he said table-tennis was his favorite Olympic sport to watch.
Since Miller is big into ping-pong, my guess is that he told members of the 2000 USA Men’s basketball team to go watch table-tennis. NBA Dream Team members Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Allan Houston, and Steve Smith came to watch table-tennis during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In an interview after they came to watch table-tennis, Ray Allen said the ball was moving fast but they think they could be out there. This indicates that table-tennis is high skill and not understood by everyone. Seemingly simple-looking play is not very simple with the high amount of spin and deception on the ball. They would likely not be able to receive the serves or score a point against any Olympian.