Ping-Pong Magic

By Lloyd Graff

Bud Light Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) Commercial – Arnold Schwarzenegger Ping Pong Ad

When the Internet nerds from Tumblr sold out to Yahoo, they rented a $75 per square foot space in New York’s iconic Flatiron Building. One of the first things they did upon moving in was to install a ping-pong table right in the middle of the office.

It seems like every hot Internet startup puts in a table and paddles as soon as the ink is dry on its lease. Therapists use the “thwup” of pimpled rubber on celluloid ball to calm and focus their patients. Kuka, the big Japanese robot maker, brought in a ping-pong world champion from Europe to inaugurate its new factory in Shanghai. Arnold Schwarzenegger played ping-pong in this year’s Bud Light Super Bowl commercial. The old suburban basement game of the Leave it to Beaver set is hot again.

I have loved the game since childhood. I grew up playing with my dad at home — never competitively. We would talk and kid around and try out spins. My friends loved to come over and play the game at our house. My cousin, Don, who had trouble making friends and eventually had an emotional breakdown, loved to play. He lost himself in the game and played well. We communicated through ping-pong.

I got to be a good player at religious school. I went to Hebrew school in the afternoon after regular school and they had a gym program to entice children to attend. There was a year-long table tennis competition and the two best players played for the championship at the awards dinner. I won two years in a row. I remember those matches a lot better than my Hebrew.

I met my wife Risa, literally, with a ping-pong paddle in my pocket. I was at the University of Michigan Student Union looking for some competition and had brought my own personal paddle. I couldn’t find a game so I ambled toward the music blasting down the hall from a Freshman dance. I surveyed the girls in the room and was drawn to one in particular. She evidently was not put off by the grad student with a paddle in the pocket of his corduroy sport jacket.

Table tennis has always been close to my heart. After seven eye surgeries, today I play more by feel and sound than visual acuity. I understand the allure for the Google and Tumblr sets. You don’t need to prepare to play. You just walk up and hit. No uniform, no padding, little equipment. It is not as time consuming as running. Not spiritual and solitary like yoga. It’s a social game and fun. When my children were young we would play often. When they were agitated or withdrawn sometimes the only way we could break the ice was hitting the white ball across the net.

My wife is an educational therapist and works in our house with a lot of kids and teenagers who have ADHD. When a student cannot focus or is uncommunicative she often asks them down to our basement to play ping-pong. She says it always lifts them out of their funk. I suspect it works along those lines in Silicon Valley offices.

To me the sound of the paddle striking the ball is magical. Playing invariably buoys my mood.

When I bought out my brother I vowed to buy a table for Graff-Pinkert. I am still going to do it. I wonder if we would still be partners if we had a table in 2012.

Question: Do you feel magic when you play ping-pong?

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18 thoughts on “Ping-Pong Magic

  1. Dev

    Really? THIS was worth publishing? Ping Pong? Who gives a $h!t!?
    Longing for the last 5 minutes of my life back now.

    1. Josh

      The only thing of no value around here is your comment. What’s the old phrase? If you don’t have something nice to say? This is Lloyd’s blog, its a place for him to share what is on his mind. Take it or leave it. I prefer you leave it so I don’t have to listen to your drivel ever again.

      Nice piece of writing Lloyd. We all have our passions. I’ve never been terribly great at ping pong and haven’t played much. My friend just got a job at a tech company in Denver and said he plays daily now on his breaks, he seems to enjoy it. I was always more a fan of hackey sack.

      1. Eric

        WOW! This is the first time I have ever agreed with Josh… on anything!! Thanks Lloyd! Ping pong brought Josh and me together. You were right!

  2. Leonard

    Waste of reading time, come on Ping pong surely you can come up with more ,how about marbles next.

  3. James

    WTF? Somewhere between machines crashing, hydraulic fluid spraying everywhere and beating back the Chinese who want to steal every last customer, we must have forgotten to play some d-mned ping-pong! I’m going to go change my shirt and when I get back, I’m deleting this cr-p!

  4. Tony

    It probably has more to do with the after hours beer pong tourney than the break time ping pong pickup game. I personally would rather have a pool table. Never really liked ping pong much… aside from being the ideal play surface for beer pong, of course.

  5. Ryan

    All I can say is WOW. I certainly understand when Lloyd writes a political blog that it gets people fired up but ping pong? Really? While table tennis is certainly low on the importance totem pole, I’m not so sure it warrants getting your panties in a twist. It just shows that everyone in this country feels the need to argue about anything and everything.

    Anyhow, I loved playing ping pong growing up and welcome the opportunity to play whenever I can(which isn’t very often). Oh well, just my two cents. Back to the arguing.

    1. Josh

      “It just shows that everyone in this country feels the need to argue about anything and everything.”

      You hit the nail on the head Ryan, everyone is too quick to be critical these days.

  6. Lloyd Graff

    My spin.

    Backhand, topspin drive. Favorite shot.

    This was not a casual blog. For a business owner, how you get your associates motivated, how you allocate your space,
    where you find pleasure and focus during your day, how you connect with the folks you work with are all vital topics worthy of consideration.

    If I failed in connecting these dots for you, that’s on me.

  7. Chris G

    I am horrible at Ping-Pong. I know Lloyd has an article about marbles or jacks next, just to piss all you malcontents off. Lloyd might even detail about the bad shot selection of a James Stuckey of the Pistons. Surely that will entice much anger!! Oh the horror!!

  8. Brian Madden

    They once put a ping pong table in Fatty McGee’s bar in Rockford. Within a couple of hours a fight broke out over the rules! Result, two black eyes and a broken nose! How’s that for therapy? Too much bending down to pick up the ball. With pool I don’t have pick the balls off the floor that often!

  9. Donna

    I enjoyed reading your blog, Lloyd. I am not a ping pong player, but we had both a pool table and a ping pong table that our 4 children used while growing up. It was often set up in the garage while the cars stayed outside. I think anything that brings people together to communicate, even a little white ball, is a good thing. I think it is relaxing and helps with stress, no matter what the age. For me it was badminton at the community college and I played for over 15 years with men from their 20’s to 60’s. We all formed a bond with each other and still communicate after the classes were cut due to the budget. The friendships survive. Thank you for some good memories.


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