First-year YouTube legend still haunted by a ball

A nine-second homemade video begins as a normal recording of a boys’ high school basketball game but ends as much more. A player’s shot bounces off the rim of the basket at one end of the floor and the defensive team collects the rebound. As this seemingly normal play takes place, one can see a small blond boy at the bottom of the screen – perhaps five or six years of age – scampering down the sideline of the court towards the other basket. “I was going to get some food,” recalls the young man, now a first-year student at the College.

What happens next is history. The player with the ball hoists a full-court shot and the camera pans towards the other basket to follow the ball’s arc. As the ball sails through the air high above the ground, the same little boy re-enters the scene, racing along the baseline of the court underneath the basket. One second passes during which the camera is still, the oblivious child is running, the ball begins to descend back to earth and all is right.

The ball suddenly returns to sea level and collides with the side of the boy’s head, lifting his small body off of his little feet, causing him to crash to the floor on his side and slide forward. The entire crowd seems to let out one collective gasp. And so an Internet legend was born.

Perhaps it is the crowd’s synchronized reaction, or the improbability of the collision, but the video is one of the most widely recognized and well known “YouTube” videos, to use the parlance of our times. It is so hilarious, that even the subject of the joke can still laugh at it. “It requires a sense of humor,” Matt Piltch ’12 said.
Piltch’s stardom is unlike that of most individuals who achieve celebrity through Internet videos, such as the Chocolate Rain guy, or fighter Kimbo Slice. Piltch’s young face cannot be seen in the video, and a YouTube search of the name “Matt Piltch” produces no pertinent hits.

Yet the video in which he is a star is arguably the most commonly recognized source of humor for anyone who grew up with the World Wide Web. Eddie Nadel ’12 sums up the video’s significance, “It was kind of my introduction to the Internet – it introduced me to the idea of watching funny videos online.” Nadel says he first saw the video when he was a pre-teen in San Francisco.

Piltch recalls that everyone in his high school knew that he was “that kid.” Piltch attended the same school from first grade through 12th, and it was the same school where the video took place. Getting away from his reputation was impossible. “It became part of [my school’s] culture,” Piltch said.

Its seemingly universal popularity created some problems for Piltch. “The most frustrating thing is when people claim it was them [in the video], or they claim he died,” Piltch said in reference to the comment threads that appear below videos on most Web sites. Piltch admits that seeing strangers comment and argue about his death is “somewhat upsetting.”

Piltch talks about the video and its fame patiently and shows no signs of resentment towards questions that he has probably been asked countless times. It is as if the video has taught him an extremely prolonged lesson on humility. “If it weren’t funny to me, I’m the most depressed kid alive,” he said.

Anecdotes about Piltch’s life as a school-wide celebrity reveal that his fame presented him with two options. The first option was a happy one: humility. The second was not as happy: depression caused by hilarious Internet video that the entire world watches and laughs at. He recalls how his seventh-grade English teacher would play the video for his entire class everyday in homeroom. When asked why she did this seemingly senseless ritual, Piltch’s answer is all modesty: “Because it was hilarious.”

Piltch’s peers had no problems with poking fun at his role in the video as well. Piltch says that at his high school, there were “several re-enactments” of the famous collision. One of his friends created videos documenting various facets of his school’s culture, and of course he had to include Piltch. “He made one where a ball was following me, and I couldn’t get away,” Piltch said. The conclusion of his friend’s video is fitting. “I believe I got hit in the head with the ball.”

Though it was clearly meant as a joke, the image of a ball haunting Piltch aptly portrays what can best be described as a curse that began that fateful night at the high school basketball game. “It started off a long career of getting hit in the head,” Piltch said begrudgingly. Piltch sustained numerous concussions over the years as a soccer goalie; he seemed to be oddly prone to getting hit in the head. The concussions were bad, but they were only leading up to his worst head injury.

Maybe it was the end result of so much blunt trauma to the head, maybe the guy on the other team was kicking especially hard that day or maybe a metaphorical sphere really does haunt him, but one hard kick to the face in a soccer game and four titanium plates later, Piltch has a partially metallic dome piece. “It’s not magnetic,” he said jokingly.

Whatever it is – a curse, destiny or luck – Piltch refuses to let any ball – metaphorical or real – hold him back. The video and the collision itself have had little effect on his psyche – if anything, the ordeal made him stronger. “It made me fearless of getting hit in the head,” he said, adding that there was “no lasting brain damage.”

When asked how he feels about the seemingly universal appeal of the video (countless versions of it are posted on YouTube and other video sites, with titles such as “Comedy! Little Kid Hit With Basketball”) Piltch’s response is amused but humble: “I have no delusions of grandeur.” But he does admit that the video’s notoriety is, in a way, “pretty sweet.”

Piltch’s attitude towards the video is best described as content, and for good reason. Unlike most celebrities, he can easily hide from his stardom. At the same time, his story is only significant to a rather specific demographic. People outside of his generation are unlikely to be familiar with or even care about the video. But that is the beauty of his brand of stardom: it is unique to the age of the Internet and therefore all the more valued amongst his peers.

“If it comes up, it comes up,” Piltch said. Whether his nonchalance is a result of it coming up so many times or if he actually is blasé about the whole thing is unclear. But either way, he is probably the least famous famous person you will ever meet.