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Fated to listen to the sound of silence, separated from his wife in 1964 and divorced four years later, Reisman has taken to running tournaments and giving exhibitions. He also does TV guest shots (on one show host Don Rickles wailed, "Look at that body! Would someone please go buy this guy a hot meal!"). And, of course, he keeps playing at his place, where, alas, he sometimes loses to the likes of Danny Seemiller, the reigning U.S. champion.
Throughout, he continues to rail against the state of table tennis. "What they call a technological advance is really a setback for the spectator," Reisman says. "In the pre-sponge era the ball crossed the net an average of 30 times on each point. The strategy, the entrapments, the players, could be understood and enjoyed by everyone. Today the ball rarely crosses the net more than four times. Points are scored with contorted strokes and imperceptible twists of the wrists that defy appreciation. Table tennis used to have an esthetic quality about it. Now everything is based on confusing your opponent. They've turned a sport into a game."
Reisman could be dismissed as a bitter man, save for the fact that he is not alone in his appraisal. Indeed, a case could be made that table tennis has been more radically changed by technology than any other sport. Changed for better or worse is at the very least debatable. What is not is the dramatic alteration of virtually every aspect of the sport, including the two-hour struggles that once were common in world-class play. In 1955, just three years after Satoh shuffled the world rankings almost overnight, Japan's Kideo Tanaka used the new sponge racket to win the world title in three straight games that lasted only 12 minutes.
The years since have seen all manner of variations on the sponge racket. Reisman's claim that the games being played with the new bats are bloodless was given some credence when, after a long absence from the tournament scene, he agreed to enter the 1972 nationals. Crowds gathered whenever he competed and, for one featured encounter, 10 players neglected to play, instead watching the old warrior fight his version of trench warfare. At the time, columnist Murray Kempton wrote, "To come upon Reisman is like finding some perfect specimen of a lost classic age, thin as a blade, the step a matador's, the stroke a kitten's."
More heartening for Reisman was his appearance this June at the U.S. Open in Hollywood where he was given top billing in a newly created event for hard rubber rackets. He was his old showboating self, tossing $100 bills under the table and shouting out, "$2,000 to $40 I can take this guy." Though he lost a five-game thriller to Ray Guillen, 21, in the semifinals, Reisman drew the largest galleries and upstaged the spongers at every turn. Afterward he was given a special award that cited his "legendary career" and lauded him as "one of the most electrifying of world-class players." Later he allowed, "If I practiced and didn't smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, I'd be a superman at this game."
Spurred by the tournament's success, other hard-rubber productions starring Reisman are in the offing. As for The Money Player, which has been sold to the movies, Reisman figures he will let some stand-in do his cocked-cap routines on the screen. "I think Bob DeNiro could do it right," he says.
Surveying the world from his basement recently, Reisman observed, "I haven't reached my potential yet. People keep saying, 'Reisman leads a gifted life. He gets all the girls, a book, a movie.' But it's true, I think. I mean, here I am at an age when most sports figures are forgotten, and my star's still rising. It's like my first rule of gambling. I only bet on a sure thing—myself."
The odds do seem tipped in his favor. Not too long ago Reisman saw some halfway decent office furniture being discarded on the street. As he stood there pondering whether he should call his friend Willis the Trucker to make a haul, a man walked up and asked him if he wanted to sell the furniture. Quick as a fast-hit slam, Reisman sold it to him for $100.
Final note to would-be challengers: don't bet against Reisman. But if you must, if your sporting blood is up, well, pack your TSP Black Ace or electrical conduit cover, whatever your preference, and take the subway to 96th and Broadway. Marty will be waiting for you. If you don't know where his place is, just stop and listen—plickety-plock-plick, plickety-plock-plick.