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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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June: Mamba Mentality
June 2024

How disappointing.

When I first met Shane Van Boening, he was wearing a cowboy hat, blue jeans, a crisp, collared white shirt and cowboy boots.

He was seven years old.

That was June 1991 at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Vegas, where the second World Pool Association World 9-Ball Championships were taking place. Shane was there with his mother, Timi Bloomberg, whom I had come to know through the annual Billiard Congress of America (BCA) and Valley National Eightball Association (VNEA) national championships. The Bloomberg clan traveled heavy in those days, with Timi, her sister Gari Jo and mother Jeanne, the heart of one of the top teams in the country. Together, they won numerous state championships and several national titles. Individually, they were plenty tough, too, with Timi winning two national singles titles in the ’80s.

The ladies traveled to the national events in a white van driven by Shane’s grandfather, Gary Bloomberg. Both sides of the van were emblazoned with the logo, “Eight Ball Express — Rapid City, S.D.” — announcing their arrival at big events.

As has been well documented, Shane was declared almost completely deaf as a child. Timi pushed to keep him in normal surroundings and allow him to learn how to adapt on his own. Under the wings of both his mother and his grandfather, Shane found refuge in the poolroom, where the challenges were largely visual. He also credited the poolroom with teaching him how to speak. “The people in the poolroom helped me communicate,” he said in a BD interview in 2008. “Otherwise, I would have had to go to a school and learn how to do sign language and not learn how to talk.”

The next time I saw him, Shane had emerged as a teenaged bar table ace, dominating amateur league tournaments around the country. He was tall and slender, with an unassuming smile. At the table, though, it was clear he was a ball-pocketing, cue ball spinning machine. Pro events were an obvious next step, even as a teen.

Of course, his rise to stardom, starting with a televised title match against Filipino Dennis Orcollo in the 2007 BCA EnjoyPool.com 9-Ball Champoinship (losing 7-0), and subsequent win at the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, have also been well chronicled.

Shane hit his stride in the 2010s, winning at least four meaningful titles every year of the decade, including four of his five U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship crowns and a pair of WPA World 9-Ball Championship runner-up finishes. He dominated annual events like the Derby City Classic, Turning Stone and any U.S. Open title promoter Mark Griffin cared to produce. From 2012-2015, Van Boening rolled to no fewer than 25 pro titles.

And, of course, he added the elusive World Pool Championship in 2022, at 38, and the World 8-Ball Championship in 2023, at 40.

That he is the greatest American player of a generation is not even debatable. That he may be the greatest American champion ever is an honest discussion. That he has been considered among the top five players in the world for 15 years (and counting) is mind blowing when you think about it.

And there is no secret to his success. Every fan and certainly every competitor has seen firsthand what separates Shane from the rest. It is his intensity and dedication to perfecting his craft. Even now, go to a tournament and hang around the tournament arena or practice area before and after matches. There is 100 percent chance you will see Shane practicing like a 20-year-old, pushing himself, testing himself, dialing in his mechanics. And for hours.

In virtually every pro sport, the greatest players all seem to have the same work ethic — first one in, last to leave. “Mamba Mentality.” A lot of athletes have that mentality in spurts. Ask them how grueling it is. How draining. How exhausting. How difficult it is to sustain.

Then ask those players about the legends and you are likely to see them simply shake their heads in admiration. Why? Because only the true legends maintain that drive for a decade or longer.

And, in my mind, that is what makes Shane Van Boening the greatest American champion ever. No slight to the Varners and Sigels and Stricklands and Archers. They all had that drive, the will to maintain an extraordinarily high level of excellence. And don’t kid yourself, they all would have excelled in today’s game against today’s competition. But the depth of today’s talent and the flood of incredible young players makes continued excellence at 41 years old all the more awe-inspiring.

Shane’s first-ballot landslide election into the BCA Hall of Fame is the least surprising result ever. It was a foregone conclusion, for sure. But let’s not take his accomplishments as easily for granted. His resume should be held up for all to see and his induction should be as celebrated as his career has been.

I, for one, can’t wait.

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