Michael Wilbon has accepted the challenge of top PBA bowler Wes Malott – sort of. On his ESPN show Monday, Wilbon and TV partner Tony Kornheiser joked about the dispute which started a couple of weeks ago when Wilbon questioned Malott’s manhood for failing to show for a special “plastic ball” tournament. An “angry” Malott after winning another tournament on Sunday dared Wilbon to take him on. Wilbon now says he will play Malott – but only if he gets at least 57 pins as a handicap.
Bowling used to be something I thought up for a first date, or something I would do with my kids to get out of the house. But as my kids have grown up and I’ve gotten older, surprisingly, bowling has more meaning to me now than ever. And today was one of the most special bowling moments I’ve ever had, if not the funniest.
Let me explain. I’ve been bowling “seriously” for one year now. “Seriously” means that after all these years I finally bought a ball and some bowling shoes and joined a couple of leagues. And now that I’m a “serious” bowler, watching professional bowling on TV has become essential Sunday viewing for me. But today will be memorable. The star of the Lumber Liquidators Pro Bowlers Tour, gargantuan bowler, Wes Malott, in whose hands the ball looks like a grapefruit, called out sports columnist and TV show host Michael Wilbon. Malott called Wilbon out not just once but several times.
A couple of weeks ago on his daily ESPN show, Pardon the Interruption, Wilbon said he is a “serious” bowler, at least by my definition, and was critical of Malott for not showing up at a tournament which mandated that bowlers could only use basic “plastic” balls. The PBA tour for one week only outlawed the high tech, super surface balls that most serious bowlers use these days. Some old school purists believe that the new high tech balls have artificially increased scoring, and have taken away some of the skill and consistency that good bowling requires. And in pointing out Malott’s absence at the tournament, it could be inferred that Wilbon was basically calling Malott a coward, suggesting the big guy was too scared to show what he could do without using bowling’s dangerous weapons.
Malott, who is leading the PBA tour in wins and TV appearances this season won again on Sunday with his high tech ball. But even in victory he couldn’t stop directing one of his huge fingers at Wilbon. At one point during the title game, even in mid-roll, Malott muttered Wilbon’s name under his breath. And in an interview he even dared Wilbon to take him on. Malott said he would use the plastic ball and Wilbon could use whatever he wanted.
I know, I know. It’s bowling. And today’s outburst could have been an orchestrated ploy by ESPN and Malott for attention or ratings. But so what – everything is contrived anyway. I still think it was a big moment for the quintessential blue collar, beer drinking sport. And I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. Because as funny as it was – a bowler talking tough – it occurred to me that if one of the stars of my new sport is calling out one of the biggest names in sports journalism, then bowling may have entered a new era. And it was worth every dollar I spent on my ball and shoes to be part of this spectacle.