Using small, solid-faced paddles, players hit a hollow plastic ball with holes in it over a net on a badminton-sized court. That’s how you play pickleball, which was invented in the 1960s as a backyard game. Now, it’s the fastest-growing sport in America—and LeBron James is buying in.
On Wednesday, Major League Pickleball (MLP) announced that the basketball superstar and his longtime business partner, Maverick Carter, are part of a new ownership group via LRMR Ventures, their family office. The group also includes Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and investment firm SC Holdings.
The new investments amount to “a watershed moment for pickleball,” says MLP founder Steve Kuhn in a statement.
The purchase stems from a personal passion James and Carter share for playing pickleball, according to CNBC’s Jessica Golden.
“When I started playing pickleball, I immediately connected with the sport’s community and its capacity to be both fun and competitive,” Carter tells CNBC. “To see the sport growing in communities all over is really exciting, and we’re looking forward to bringing our expertise together to try and build a championship team.”
MLP was founded in 2021 as the first team-based professional pickleball league in the country. The league consists of 12 co-ed teams with four players each. As it stands, the teams have no geographic association. However, Anne Worcester, the league’s strategic advisor, tells CNBC that MLP is hoping to change that. And with an influx of recent financial support from the likes of Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, MLP will expand from 12 to 16 teams in 2023.
The name, location and details of the new ownership group’s team have yet to be disclosed.
Pickleball, which is often described as a combination of tennis, ping-pong and badminton, has been around since the 1960s, when three middle-aged fathers in Washington invented the game (and named it after a family dog, Pickles). For decades, it was primarily popular among children and adults over the age of 65.
However, it has exploded in popularity in recent years: According to a February report from the Sports & Fitness Association, pickleball has reigned as America’s fastest-growing sport for the past two years. The fastest-growing age group is pickleball players under 24.
In addition to MLP, the Professional Pickleball Association and the Association of Pickleball Professionals run professional pickleball matches, transforming the sport from an amateur backyard game to a popular spectator sport.
But, as CNBC notes, no existing rule would prevent James from playing in the MLP. “Yes, we would welcome LeBron or Draymond or Kevin Love to think about playing,” Worcester jokingly tells CNBC.