Royalty never knew a home as modest as the one it finds just off of Cooper Street in Arlington, Texas. There, tucked deep in a shopping center where locked cars cook under the Texas sun and Rusty's Billiards is always open, the man whom some bowling fans still refer to as "the real king" finds his throne these days behind the counter of a pro shop at a place called Spare Time Lanes.
"Someone was mentioning to me the other day," he recalls in his shop after discussing interchangeable soles with a customer, "he said 'Man! I was looking for you all last week! I was gonna make a video and send it in to the PBA and say "That's the real king!""
Long before Wes Malott clapped over a cloud of rosin as he entered the set of the PBA's King of Bowling series earlier this year and proceeded to thrash all comers, a prior "King" by the name of Ron Williams spent nine consecutive Saturdays dismantling some of the greatest names to ever take the lanes-names like Mike Aulby, Parker Bohn III, Ron Palombi Jr.
With a jet-black mop of slicked-back hair that earned him a reputation as the bowling Elvis and an unorthodox backswing that looked like he was pulling open a door halfway through his approach, it did not take long for Ron Williams to transition from the B-list bowler to the star who's stopped for autographs as he cradles a bowling ball in each arm.
"Nobody-from experts like Larry Lichstein to John Jowdy to Dr. Bowlgood-could have predicted that Ron Williams was going to win the first tournament of the year," Karl Lueders wrote in Bowlers Journal in 1993.
One thing the "experts" understood quite well, though, was that in winning the first event in January of 1993, Ron Williams not only won a title-he won the lottery. The bowler who won that event would also be crowned the first "King" in a "King of the Hill" campaign in which the bowler who qualified 5th after match play would be kept off the show to make room for a "King of the Hill" match in which that week's title-winner would bowl an extra game to take a shot at the "King."
Ten years into a modest career in which he made a spattering of shows and took two titles home, Williams found a pot of gold worth better than $200,000 in tournament and King of the Hill earnings as well as incentives, scoring his second title in as many months at the Cleveland Open in February when, having been robbed of his King of the Hill mantle by Bob Learn Jr. the previous week, Williams immediately took it back by winning the very next tournament and ending Learn's one-week reign in a rematch, 235-204.
Williams had become as familiar as an uncle by the time he appeared in his ninth consecutive telecast for a back-and-forth King of the Hill battle with Walter Ray Williams Jr. that easily turned out to be the most thrilling of the series. But even in defeat, the rags-to-riches run of one Ron Williams remained the story.
'Is he a tough match game player or what?' Bo Burton gushed after Ron Williams stuffed ten in the pit in response to a ferocious charge by Walter Ray in an ultimately losing effort that closed one of the most peculiar chapters in PBA history.
'He's a riverboat gambler,' Schenkel retorted. 'He's something!'
The still-slick hair is graying now, and the man who was King focuses a lot more on the price of bowling shoes than he does on squad times these days, but he remembers his royal run with as much humility as fondness.
'I had an advantage as the King of the Hill because I was bowling guys who just spent everything they had trying to win the tournament,' Williams concedes 16 years later, 'and I am coming out there fresh and semi-loose, but it was a lot of fun.'
The one who is as likely to designate those nine weeks as the highlight of his career as he is unlikely to inflate their significance is the bowling Elvis himself who, once his two-time reign as King went cold, reminded fans a lot more of Andy Warhol than the rock 'n roll icon he resembled as his moment of stardom faded into a final few years on tour that Williams characterizes as mostly 'a blur.' While it lasted, though, the year that Ron Williams found his fifteen minutes was so much fun, in fact, that he wants to do it again.
'I would do it in a heartbeat! Are you kidding me?' Williams, who still carries a 238 league average, responds to the idea of a 'Battle of the Kings' smackdown against reigning King and fellow Texan, 'The Big Nasty' Wes Malott. If the prospect sounds like bowling's equivalent of a UFC main event, it is one that Williams hardly finds intimidating.
'That would be a lot of recognition,' Williams says. 'A lot of guys I bowled tour with have dropped off the face of the earth. I haven't heard anything from Joe Berardi in years. And Dave Ferraro? Or Mike Aulby, who I roomed with for the last four or five years I spent on tour? I don't know what happened to these guys.'
It is possible, though, that the story on what happened to Ron Williams is not yet written-not until that dreamed-of smackdown against Big Wes, at least.