<
>

THE JORDAN OF ... BOWLING

3/26/2008
Getty Images

Bowling traces its roots to an ancient German religious rite in which "players" toppled primitive clubs, or kegels, with heavy stones to absolve them of their sins.

If that were still the case, PBA pro Walter Ray Williams Jr. would be on the fast track to sainthood.

Since becoming a fulltime member of the tour in 1983, Williams has won an astonishing 44 PBA titles, breaking the legendary Earl "The Machine" Anthony's 20-year-old record of 41 in Sept. 2006. The NorCal. native has also been honored as the PBA Player of the Year six times, and, heading into the final weekend of this season, is only a few points away from his seventh. Williams is also a six-time ESPY award-winner. Not bad for a guy who was just trying to avoid getting a job.

"I wasn't super successful right away, but I was fortunately making more money than I was spending," the 48-year-old Williams says. "I don't think I had any visions of grandeur. I just thought it would be nice to win a few tournaments and not have a 9-5."

These days, Williams doesn't need to worry about making a living. Currently the PBA's all-time money leader, he has earned more than $3.8 million in his 25 seasons on tour, and that's not counting endorsements with Dexter, MoRich and VISE.

But this lord of the lanes is no one-trick pony. Williams has a BS in Physics (with a minor in Mathematics) from Cal Poly Pomona and is a champion horseshoe pitcher (he got his nickname, Deadeye, after tossing 45 ringers out of 50 shoes at a Junior tournament when he was 10). He is also an avid golfer with a three handicap, and hates it when people say that bowlers aren't athletes.

"Bowling is a much a sport as golf," he says. "But golf plays for much more money, so it's legitimized. Take any pro golfer in super top shape and have them bowl 50 games in five days and see how they feel."

So how has Williams been able to compete at such a high level for nearly three decades?

"I still have the drive," he says. "And fortunately, I don't have a lot of aches and pains. I've got a few, but they're not slowing me down."

Williams' incredible longevity sets him apart from other bowling legends like Earl Anthony and Mark Roth, and may put all of his PBA's records out of reach. Not that he would mind if some young gun made a run at him.

"If someone tries to break my records, that's fine," he says. "When Earl Anthony retired, he didn't have anyone to push him. He probably would have kept going to 50 if that were the case. It's hard to say what would've happened then."

Williams isn't thinking about hanging it up quite yet. He still takes pleasure criss-crossing the country via motor home with his wife and baby daughter. And while the relative anonymity that comes with being the world's greatest bowler isn't so bad, Deadeye wishes he and his fellow keglers got a little more credit.

"With all the media hype over the major sports, bowling is way on the backburner," he says. "It's kind of sad. On the other hand, I have no idea how guys like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan manage. You give up a lot being a superstar. They can't go out in public, but I can."

For now, Walter Ray. For now.