SEATTLE – Los Angeles Clippers all-star point guard Chris Paul, former Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, NFL all-star receiver Terrell Owens and actor/comedian Kevin Hart are the first celebrity owners in the inaugural season of the Professional Bowlers Association’s PBA League (PBAL).
The League, which will feature eight teams of five PBA players each, will make its debut at Detroit's Thunderbowl Lanes in January. ESPN will televise five weeks of PBA League competition beginning Sunday, Jan. 27, plus the PBA League Elias Cup finals in April. The celebrity owners will not compete on the lanes as part of official PBA League competition.
The teams will be made up solely from the world's best bowlers, PBA members chosen through a league draft which will be held Friday at 10 a.m. PT at South Point Bowling Center in Las Vegas, site of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IV. The PBAL draft will be webcast live on the PBA's online bowling channel, Xtra Frame, on pba.com.
Paul, who won a basketball gold medal in the London Olympic Games with Team USA and recently was featured on the cover of GQ magazine, has hosted the Chris Paul PBA Celebrity Invitational charity bowling event on ESPN the past four years benefitting his CP3 Foundation. He said the new PBA League will bring added interest to professional bowling.
"This is exciting for me and for the sport of bowling," said Paul. "I love PBA action, have enjoyed getting to know many of the top bowlers and look forward to my team competing for the first PBA League Elias Cup."
During the London Olympics, Paul made his passion for bowling known when he went on his Twitter account to ask the world, "Why isn't bowling in the Olympics? It should be."
Paul's Los Angeles-based team name has not been decided yet, but his team's franchise player will be five-time PBA champion Jason Belmonte of Australia.
Each of the teams will have a designated franchise player from the top eight competitors on the 2011-12 PBA Tour competition points list. Belmonte's fellow franchise players are reigning Player of the Year Sean Rash, PBA Hall of Famers Pete Weber and Norm Duke, defending PBA World Champion Osku Palermaa, USBC Masters champion Mike Fagan, former U.S. Open champion Bill O'Neill and PBA Triple Crown winner Chris Barnes.
Bettis, who grew up as a youth bowler in Detroit before going on to star at running back at Notre Dame and for the Steelers, was the first person inducted into the Celebrity Bowling Hall of Fame due to his long and varied support and participation in PBA and other bowling events. On the lanes, Bettis has a 300 game to his credit.
Bettis' team, the Motor City Muscle, will be at home in Detroit for the first PBAL event. Fagan is Bettis' franchise player.
“I am excited to be partnering with the PBA and its new League. I feel this is a fantastic opportunity to be a owner of the Motor City Muscle," said Bettis, whose charitable organization The Bus Stops Here Foundation benefits youths. "Bowling fans not only get to see me but they also get to see Mike Fagan and some great team bowling. PBA fans deserve the best and this season we will give them the best and a chance to enjoy every moment."
PBA Commissioner Tom Clark said it was fitting that Paul and Bettis were the first team owners to sign on in support of the PBAL, followed quickly by Owens and Hart.
"Chris and Jerome have been great ambassadors for bowling for many years and bring a wealth of business acumen, laudable charitable efforts and winning personalities to the PBA," Clark said. "Plus, they are really good bowlers themselves. They love the game."
Owens’ team will be the Dallas Strikers and his franchise player will be Norm Duke, who grew up in the Dallas area before moving to Florida. Duke has coached avid-bowler Owens on the lanes. Hart’s team will be the Philadelphia Hitmen and his franchise player will be Bill O’Neill who lives in nearby Langhorne, Pa.
Other celebrity team owners, nicknames and franchise player designations will be announced soon. Details on the League structure, formats and PBA Detroit Winter Swing can be found on pba.com.
Many of the celebrity team owners will have a chance to show off their bowling skills, alongside their franchise player counterparts, in the Chris Paul PBA League All Stars special event which will air on ESPN on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, at 4 p.m. ET.
PBA CEO Geoff Reiss said the new League will improve the PBA's relationship with sponsors and fans.
"Current and prospective corporate partners of the PBA will realize unique and valuable opportunities with the League," Reiss said. "Television audiences will see more PBA players compete in a team atmosphere and in a longer, two-hour time slot."
While the PBA has been a predominantly individual-achievement sports association, team bowling has a great history and future in the game. Most of the two million United States Bowling Congress certified league bowlers compete in a team environment in more than 4,000 Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America-member bowling centers.
"The famed 1950s Budweiser teams with Don Carter and Dick Weber set standards for excellence in sports," Reiss said. "Today, high school and collegiate bowling are on the rise, with the next generation comfortable with teamwork on the lanes."
The PBA World Series of Bowling and PBA World Championship, PBA Tournament of Champions, U.S. Open, USBC Masters, the World Tenpin Bowling Association’s PBA International Tour series and other PBA events including its regional and PBA50 Tours will continue to highlight individual players.
Full information on digital and television coverage of the PBA League, including qualifying rounds of League action to be webcast on pba.com’s Xtra Frame video streaming service, will be announced soon.