GARDEN - Wally "Balls" Morin, a lifelong resident of Garden, used to take part in basketball shooting exhibitions. In 1960, while shooting at the gym in Garden, he knocked down 361 out of 365 shots.
Twelve years later, Morin received a phone call from a local construction company. They said they were going to hold an exhibition and would like him to take part. At the time, he hadn't shot a basketball in about six months, but he thought he'd give it a try.
Morin went out to his garage and pumped up his ball, which had become flat from lack of use. After work at his construction job in Marquette that morning, he went out to a small school in Iron Mountain. He took 209 shots - he made 208.
Ervin “Magic” Johnson poses for a picture with Wally “Balls” Morin after the Los Angeles Lakers played the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 24, 1991. Johnson paid for Morin’s transportation tickets to the game after hearing about Morin’s basketball accomplishments, which include being among the best shots in the state. (Photo courtesy of Wally Morin)
He also took part in a 2,000 shot exhibition of his own at the Big Bay de Noc gym. Morin sank 1,940 shots, an average of 97 percent.
"When it came to basketball, I was always unbelievable," he said. "Even when I was a little kid. I've got a gift."
Morin played for 18 years with the Garden city league team, and competed in 16 tournaments at Hermansville. In 1966, Garden won the Class B championship, and he took home an award for 'most colorful player' that year.
"I had a nice hook shot I would do from like 25 feet out and the fans just would go crazy," he recalled.
Morin, who turns 79 this month, reflected on those years with a great deal of fondness.
"I was really a big shot back then," he said.
However, he didn't feel that shooting a basketball was the most impressive thing he did during his youth.
When Morin was 14, he went to work at a fish box factory to help support his family. Over time, he became unusually fast at pounding nails.
Years later, when he began working in construction, his co-workers quickly took notice of his skills. In a one-minute exhibition, he drove 68, six-penny nails. In another run, he drove 28 nails in 19 seconds.
"The boss said, 'We're closing down the job early so we can watch Wally pound nails,'" he said. "Some of the carpenters looked at me and thought, 'This guy's making me look bad.' They had never seen anyone pound nails like that before. Nobody had."
There was an article that chronicled some of Morin's achievements at a tavern in Manistique. A sports writer from Detroit came to the Upper Peninsula, seeking stories and he stumbled upon the article. After reading it, he found it almost unbelievable. When he tracked down Morin, he saw a picture of Magic Johnson inside his house.
"You like Magic?" he asked.
Morin proceeded to show the writer all of the Lakers memorabilia he had collected over the years, and in return, he told him he was going to write an article about everything Morin had done.
About two weeks later, his phone rang. He was told that Johnson had seen the article and wanted to meet him.
Morin was provided with three tickets to see the Los Angeles Lakers face off against the back-to-back defending champion, Detroit Pistons on Feb. 24, 1991, and he was put up at the Marriott Hotel. After the game, he went to meet Magic.
In the week prior, star Pistons guard Isaiah Thomas injured his hand and was taken out of the lineup. According to Wally, of the first things Johnson commented on was how well he slept the night before, knowing that Thomas wouldn't be playing that night.
For the most part, they talked about Morin's abilities and about basketball. Johnson said that he was a great shooter and by the sound of things he was even better at pounding nails.
To this day, the Lakers are still Morin's favorite team and Magic is still his favorite player.
"He made everyone on his team better," he said.
Morin has struggled with severe dyslexia for all his life and as a result he never finished school. But rather than feeling like life was unfair, he simply chose to focus his attention on things he was capable of doing instead of those he wasn't.
"I've had a good life," he said. "I think it's important for people to know that you can still make a living if you have a handicap.
"I never made a lot of money, but I made enough to get by."
Although he has grown older, Morin said his skills have not faded. When he was 70, he took part in an exhibition at Wal-Mart, where he hit 126 shots in a row.
"If I hadn't gotten hurt, I could have taken you down to shoot baskets for you," he smiled. "I'm still good."
Justin Marietti can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.