Story by Don Norcross — Photo credit Ryan Bethke
From San Diego to New York, Miami to Seattle and many paved roads in between, Darren Weissman has dribbled his way into running lore.
Better known by his stage name “Doctor Dribble,” Weissman, 32, covered five marathons and 11 half marathons last year, bouncing two basketballs from start to finish.
One of the barbs runners toss his way: “But can you shoot?”
Sunday’s Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon serves as an anniversary for Doctor Dribble. The Doc made his Rock ‘n’ Roll series debut in San Diego last year, making like the Globetrotters’ Curly Neal, yo-yoing, weaving and jogging his way from Balboa Park to Petco Park in the half marathon.
But Doctor Dribble committed one serious turnover.
He had signed up for the marathon.
Not only was 26.2 miles his goal, but Weissman and Jerry Knox of Chino Hills, Calif., were supposed to battle it out, each dribbling two basketballs the marathon distance, chasing Weissman’s Guiness World Record of 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds.
Weissman, who’s back this year for the half marathon, arrived in San Diego three days before last year’s event. In the lead up, his story was splashed across the front page of the U-T San Diego sports section. He was interviewed on radio and television.
Then come race day, not realizing how far his downtown hotel was from the Balboa Park start, Weissman missed the marathon start, then unknowingly began following half-marathon runners.
About Mile 5 a runner told Weissman, “Hey, you’re Dr. Dribble. I read about you. You’re awesome.” After a pause, the man added, “I thought you were doing the marathon?”
“I am,” Weissman said.
“Well,” replied the runner, “this is the half.”
Almost one year later, speaking by phone from Miami, Doctor Dribble said, “It was embarrassing.”
(Knox finished the race in 4:18:37, but according to Weissman, didn’t submit the result to Guinness to officially break the world record.)
Weissman, though, goes beyond seeing his cup as half full. His glass runneth over with Dom Perignon.
“That failure,” he said, “led to my success.”
Had he not flopped in San Diego, Dr. Dribble wouldn’t have shown up three weeks later at Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle where he dribbled across the pavement to a 4:18 marathon. Weissman became a regular on the RNR series, appearing at nine events.
No doubt there are some hard-core runners, those with their minds forever on the clock, paring minutes off PRs or chasing Boston qualifying times, who look at Weissman’s shtick and scoff. Not a real runner, they mock.
Those types should chill for a moment and think. The Rock ‘n’ Roll brand was born upon appealing to the masses. Bands entertaining at every mile, distracting runners from pain. Cheerleaders doing the same.
And what is Weissman but someone entertaining and inspiring runners to reach the finish line?
Wrote Kathleen Quigley after last year’s Seattle RNR, “This guy kept me going for miles. Awesome!”
Said Dan Cruz, public relations director for the Rock ‘n’ Roll series, “Runners tell us all the time. ‘I was in a real rough patch, walking. I saw Dr. Dribble, bouncing two basketballs and I had to pick it up and jog to the end.’ Rock ‘n’ Roll has embraced his act. He’s become one of our characters.”
Weissman pays the bills as a personal trainer and basketball skills coach. Lest you think he’s simply some publicity hound, know that he gives clinics at schools and rec centers and entertains children at hospitals with his basketball wizardry.
Last year at the Rock ’n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon, Kevin Kobelski, a Connecticut elementary school P.E. teacher, jogged with Weissman for a patch. Learning about Weissman’s story over a couple miles, Kobelski invited Dr. Dribble to perform a clinic at the 430-student Highcrest School.
In March, Dr. Dribble showed up the school. Before classes he played hoops with the basketball club. He spoke at two assemblies, emphasizing the importance of being a good person as much as entertaining with his dribbling displays. Later, he staged clinics for smaller groups.
“I was just amazed at the patience he had with our children,” Kobelski said. “He took the time to look them in the eye, listen to them and made the feel like they were the only person in the gym.”
Weissman credits his father, Saul, for setting an altruistic example. Saul coached some of his son’s youth basketball teams. Many of the players lived in the inner-city and Saul would often round them up in the family mini-van, take them to practice, then steer them home, often stopping to treat the less-privileged to a fast-food meal.
Wanting to hurry home and catch something on TV one day, Weissman complained to his father about the extra time it would take to perform the taxi service.
“Darren,” his father replied, “do you know how many times these kids have been disappointed by people in their lives who promised them things then didn’t come through?”
“That always stuck with me,” said Weissman.
So come Sunday, if you spot Weissman on his way to Petco Park, maybe dribbling a ball between police officers’ legs or stopping to hang with a spectator on the side of the road or just jogging, thump-thump, thump-thump, basketballs pounding off the asphalt, know this: There’s more than a little substance to go with the man’s style.