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Hooping It Up
Franz Lidz
April 15, 1996
Entertainer Bob Nickerson mixes expert juggling with excruciating jokes
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April 15, 1996

Hooping It Up

Entertainer Bob Nickerson mixes expert juggling with excruciating jokes

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"Hello, I'm Bob Nickerson, with the knickers on. That's a cheap joke, but it helps people remember my name. I mean, how many jugglers' names can you remember? I'm the internationally unknown Jock-ular Juggler."

Nickerson relates this while dribbling four basketballs through, under and around his legs. "And now for some real tricks," he says after going five minutes nonstop. "Under the opposite foot, proving I'm ambifootrous. Under the opposite foot with the opposite hand, proving I'm redundant. And under the first foot with the opposite hand, proving I'm confused."

The beefy 52-year-old ex-Marine corporal from Gallitzin, Pa., follows his bouncing balls around the country to state fairs, NBA halftime shows, even the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. He's the James Naismith of the multiball dribble and the juggled layup. The Guinness Book of Records has recognized Nickerson for dribbling four basketballs simultaneously for as long as five minutes and for "juggling three balls while shooting 20 layups through a basket with a net in one minute while standing under a basket [new category]." He performs 83 dribbling tricks with three basketballs, and 13 with four.

The repertoire of this round man isn't limited to roundball: The array of sporting goods he juggles runs from bowling pins to bowling balls, pool cues to golf clubs, tennis balls to tennis rackets to swim fins. "A friend once suggested that I juggle bowling balls while lying down," he says. "Lying down! What a concept. That means my juggling is going from the ridiculous to the supine."

Nickerson juggles words with varying degrees of success. He keeps three Louisville Sluggers aloft while delivering excruciating baseball puns: "It is better to have gloved and lost than never to have gloved at all. Remember, folks: Players may come, players may go, players may go on strike, but a diamond is forever."

Nickerson relates this in a lovely rasp honed by years as a street busker. He sounds as if he had been taught elocution by W.C. Fields. "Most jugglers take one look at their audience and throw up," he says. "Throwing up, of course, is a wretched thing to do. So I'm going to start by throwing down."

Dressed in his signature knickers, orange suspenders, mismatched socks and a trompe l'oeil T-shirt emblazoned with muscles, he reaches into his bag of tricks and withdraws the 1990 Guinness. "I'm on page 342 of the hardback version," he says, "and 506 of the paperback."

In 1991 Nickerson bounced his way to the Empire State Building for a summit with other eminent Guinnessians: Kathy Warier, who pared an apple into a strip 2,068 inches long; Paul Tavilla, a grape catcher who caught a black Ribier in his mouth thrown from a distance of 327'6"; and Ashrita Furman, who held the record for holding the most Guinness records. "It was a very diverse group," Nickerson recalls. "None of us were in the same field."

Nickerson relates this under a hail of flying tennis balls that he keeps revolving like planets orbiting the sun. He's standing on a wooden plank balanced atop a plastic cylinder. A hula hoop wobbles around his waist. "What's the hoopla?" he asks. "Without it, I'm totally hoopless."

He got into juggling 20 years ago by way of kung fu. At the time, he was living in Guam, where his wife was stationed as a Navy nurse. "I was the oldest, slowest, heaviest guy in the kung fu class," says Nickerson. "I was looking for a quickness drill to help develop my reflexes." Nickerson decided to try juggling. "At the beginning it didn't seem difficult," he says. "It seemed impossible."

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