As fans, we get a kick out of it when athletes do “normal people stuff.”
We love to be reminded that athletes don’t live every moment of their lives shrouded in untouchable celebrity. We like to know they can be human, and that's what makes the sight of Hall of Famers going about everyday rigamarole so endearing to fans.
So while seeing them in line at the grocery might touch a personal chord, nothing makes the line between superstars and the average Joe disappear quite like the moment when athletes step up to the pong table. The fame melts away, the beer goggles drape the eyes, and the only thing that matters in their competitive little hearts is sinking that ball into that damn cup.
Forget that these are well-oiled, athletic machines. Disregard that they’re tossing pingpong balls into Solo cups on mildewing patios and in dank fraternity houses. They’re people, too. And they’ll put just as much—if not more—effort into sinking the last cup than any Patagonia vest-wearing Sigma Chi you’ll ever meet.
It is a precious sight.
That being said, athletes bring varying talents to the beer pong table, and some of their skill sets transfer more naturally to the art of sinking Death Cups than others.
The following is a breakdown of the majestic sights and sounds of athletes playing beer pong, complete with ratings of their skills, form and choice of venue—all based on my embarrassing wealth of experience with the game.
Time to rack 'em up. Bro.
Michael Jordan: Taking Over in Miami
As luck would have it, the most recent sighting of an athlete playing beer pong might be the most amazing.
Jordan was spotted ponging it up this November on a patio at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Miami. To label the moment as “epic,” well, it doesn’t do it justice.
According to TMZ, His Airness randomly dropped in on a group of young groomsmen who were pregaming a wedding, and he just started dropping dimes. Better still is how the bros began playing Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Ni**as In Paris."
Also, Jordan was killing it on the table.
Skill Level: Van Damme.
All reports indicate that Jordan was getting buckets at the table.
The footage of Jordan ponging it up caused a rash of speculation concerning His Airness’ appreciation of the “Elbow Rule.” His leaning over the table in Miami has been likened to his push-off on Bryon Russell.
Cleanliness: The “nice” Wendy’s.
The outdoor patio at the Ritz-Carlton looks a bit gamy, but we've all played on much worse.
Joakim Noah: Pool Ponger
Another basketball player with a soft touch at the pong table, Joakim Noah was spotted draining cups poolside at a University of Florida apartment complex in 2011.
The original TMZ report states that Noah’s pong game was locked down. TMZ also claims he played for two hours straight—a standard duration and definitely long enough for the bell curve of intoxication to affect his game.
Skill Level: Incomplete
There’s no video of the incident, so we’ll have to believe the reports that Noah wasn’t chucking up air balls or sinking the [censored] cup time and again.
Considering the game took place in a pool, it’s probably safe to assume that things got sloppy.
Cleanliness Level: Bleach soup.
If the ball doesn’t fall into beer, it rolls into a giant, chlorinated water cup.
Claude Giroux: Improving His Handicap
When you jack up both your wrists before the freakin’ weekend, you are left with two options.
You can sit around, watching Scrubs reruns and eating “Everything” Pretzel Crisps—or you can man up, grab the night by the tenderloin and play beer pong in a soft cast.
Philadelphia Flyers winder Claude Giroux chose the latter path and dropped noise at the pong table wearing not one but two soft casts on his arms. They weren’t for show, either. He had just had dual surgeries to shave down a bone spur and repair torn cartilage in his wrists.
He makes us all feel like pledges again.
Skill Level: Kung Fu Master.
Warning: Video contains NSFW language.
Giroux tucks his elbow and cups the ball like a robin’s egg. Beautiful.
Cleanliness Level: Dave and Buster’s.
This apartment isn’t the cleanest place, but like popular adult arcades, you accept the fact that someone has probably sneezed all over this game.
Andy Roddick: Predictably Awful at Pong
Even with a four-cup lead, Andy Roddick somehow managed to blow this 2009 game of beer pong.
BeerPongNews.com (that’s a thing that exists) reported that the star tennis player was close to sealing the deal on the final cup and started completely missing the table.
Skill Level: Drunk, gas-station waltzer.
He kneaded the pingpong ball between his fingers like he was searching for lumps.
Cleanliness Level: Patchouli party.
I’d bet a fine ham sandwich that this apartment smelled like sweaty hemp and cat litter.
Shabazz Muhammad: Dropping the Rain with Coach
Stay forever young, Muhammad—or whatever age your father insists you be.
Skill Level: Rodeo clown backflip.
With the pressure of the American press corps weighing down on him, Muhammad stepped up and sunk cups. That alone requires the kind of stones that are typically only found on rodeo clowns.
Judging by his grip, this isn’t his first time at the table. He’s standing back a proper distance, although his approach smacks of a rainbow shooter—a potentially effective but risky tactic.
Cleanliness: Garbage Pail Kids.
Street lights? Dim shop windows? This is the NBA Street version of beer pong.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar: Sky Hook Beer Pong
It took some explaining, but Kareem eventually figured out how to play beer pong on live television.
He wasn’t accurate, but he deserves commendation for not cold-cocking Regis Philbin. No one should ever have to put up with that man screaming in his face between shots.
Skill Level: Puppy couch jumper.
The pong table is no place for sky hooks.
Cleanliness Level: Bed Bath & Beyond.
Studio floors aren’t always sterling, but the interns try their best.
So there you have it—a group of somewhat deadly, somewhat awful beer pongers.
Whom would you have on your team? I’m thinking Jordan.
You can’t debate the man’s coolness in the clutch, and the only way a game with His Airness would get any cooler is if Kobe Bryant is on the other side.
As Brostradamus once put it: “T’would be epic.”
Re-rack! NO! Not a straight line! Zipper! What are you? New?