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Marty Reisman, Table Tennis Champ

February 1, 2018

Table tennis champion Marty Reisman was born in New York City on this date in 1930. Reisman, known as "The Needle" due to his slim build, learned to play the game in New York settlement houses, starting his career during his teen years as a ping pong "hustler" (as he referred to himself in the title of his 1974 memoir). Throughout his life, he remained an old-school “hardbat” player (using rubber-coated sandpaper paddles). “In the world championship today,” he once complained, “the ball goes no more than three times across the net. In the old days, rallies would be thirty or forty strokes. There was a dialogue between two players that even a child could understand.” Reisman, always a showman, toured the world as the halftime act of the Harlem Globetrotters from 1949 to 1951, using a frying pan as a paddle as part of his act. He won eighteen national and international titles, taking the U.S. championship twice and the Canadian championship three times. In 1997, at age 67, he won the U.S. National Hardbat championship against competitors of all ages. Reisman died on December 7, 2012 from complications of heart and lung ailments. A documentary film, Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler, chronicling the final three years of his life, was released in 2014. To see Reisman in action at age 19, look below.

“I took on people in the gladiatorial spirit. Never backed down from a bet.” —Marty Reisman