NEW ORLEANS, La. (Feb. 7, 2010) – New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul has made plenty of clutch shots during his basketball career, but in his bowling experiences, he had never thrown a bigger strike than the one he rolled in helping partner Jason Belmonte rally their team to victory in the Chris Paul PBA Celebrity Invitational at Riverboat Lanes on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base.
Paul’s seventh-frame strike, sandwiched between strikes in the sixth and eighth frames by Australia’s two-handed sensation got Paul and Belmonte back into their title match against Pittsburgh Steelers’ Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley and PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke. And Belmonte finished the rally with three strikes in the 10th frame to complete the 180-177 come-from-behind win.
The Chris Paul PBA Celebrity Invitational, taped in early January before an overflow crowd of U.S. military personnel, aired Sunday on ESPN. The event was a cooperative venture between the Professional Bowlers Association and Paul’s CP3 Foundation which provides financial assistance to many organizations in his native Winston-Salem, N.C., and in New Orleans.
The competition itself was a Baker Format doubles stepladder, with Storm Products representatives Duke, Wes Malott, Pete Weber and Belmonte teaming up with Paul, Woodley and fellow Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward, Grammy Award-winning artist and actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio also was a contender to bowl in the finals, but he lost a five-frame roll-off against Woodley, 70-42. Woodley was then paired with Duke for the finals.
As expected, the PBA stars threw most of the strikes and converted most of the spares, but because of the Baker Format – where teammates bowled alternate frames – it was the celebrity skills that ultimately decided the matches.
Adding to the pressure was a pledge of $1,000 to the CP3 Foundation by country music superstar Garth Brooks for each celebrity strike.
In the first semifinal round match, Paul and Belmonte managed back-to-back strikes twice in cruising to a 175-131 victory over Weber and Ludacris.
“(Ludacris) told me he wasn’t that bad of a bowler,” Weber said with a grin. “He asked for some pointers. Didn’t work. We bowled a 131. I think he was pretty nervous. But it was a great time. They were all great guys, very nice, a pleasure to be around. They asked us a lot of questions and, of course, we asked them a lot of questions, too.”
In the next semifinal match, Duke matched Woodley’s strike in the third frame for a double that proved to be the difference in their 165-149 win over Malott and Ward.
“At first I was kind of skeptical about what was going on, bowling with star athletes in other sports,” Malott admitted. “You hear stories about how rude and inconsiderate pro athletes in other sport can be. But these guys were nothing but great to everyone. Being on the naval base was special, something that isn’t an every day event. All in all it was a great event.
“Hines especially was a lot of fun. He’s definitely a man of many emotions,” Malott laughed. “He got pretty excited about a few shots.”
In the title match, a Woodley strike between a pair of spares by Duke in the title match gave the duo a 13-pin lead over Paul and Belmonte, setting the stage for the Paul-Belmonte rally. Following Woodley’s two-count spare in the ninth frame, Duke struck on his first shot in the 10th frame, but left a 4 pin on his second attempt, giving Belmonte a chance to win. The reigning PBA Rookie of the Year threw three strikes in the 10th frame for the win.
“We were bowling the Chris Paul Invitational was for charity, so the idea was to have fun,” Belmonte said. “But I’m a competitive person and Chris is an extremely competitive person, so we wanted to win. That was our strategy - have fun, but make sure we won, and we did.
“To put his name on the trophy was our goal from the beginning, and we’re very happy to have done that,” Belmonte added. “But bowling with celebrities like Jack and Hines and Lamar and Ludacris and Chris? For blokes like me from Australia, we don’t get chances to do that very often. It was lots of fun.”
“It was a great time and the other athletes seemed to enjoy it as well,” Duke added. “LaMarr and I teamed up great, and Jack was a joy to bowl with as well. To see them wearing a version of my jersey was really cool. It made me want to call my mom and tell her I had made it to the big-time.”
For all of the fun and frolic, the Chris Paul Invitational proved to be a heart-warming event for the throng of servicemen and their families who were invited to attend. Garth Brooks’ pledge netted $7,000 for the CP3 Foundation.
And there may be additional residual effects from the event. “For Chris Paul to put something like that event together was really meaningful to me,” Malott said. “It opened my eyes to what I can give back to my sport, and I’m thinking hard about doing a youth event in my area. I know Chris Barnes does one, but we’ll get it figured out…we’ll make something happen, too.”