Most athletes are admired for their strength and stamina. But in his latestbook, Why Michael Couldn't Hit (W. H. Freeman, $22.95), neurologist Harold Klawans, M.D., says that success on the playing field often depends as much on brain as on brawn. A little neuroscience, it seems, explains some of the woes even the greatest athletes have endured. In other instances, neurological quirks may have contributed to sports stardom. Some examples:
o Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The Denver Nuggets guard, one of basketball's best free throw shooters, suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Coincidence? Maybe not, says Dr. Klawans. Although Tourette's is best known for causing involuntary swearing, a more common symptom is ritualistic, compulsive behavior. As a teen Abdul-Rauf felt compelled to shoot free throws for hours until he hit 10 straight. And not just any 10 baskets--10 that sounded right. All that compulsive practice is now paying off.
o Wayne Gretzky. Over his career, Gretzky has racked up more scoring records than many players have goals. One reason: his turbo-charged neurons. Gretzky's "long loop" reflexes--muscle movements triggered by lengthy loops of brain cells--are the fastest ever measured by a Canadian expert. So the Great One is able to get off a shot more quickly than the rest of us mere mortals.