A recent report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals estimates that more than 36.5 million people participated in the game of pickleball between August 2021 and August 2022. That number was as low as 5 million people just a year prior, which goes to show just how much the sport has grown in a short time.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 when three fathers set out to create a new sport for their children to play. They had access to an old badminton court, but no badminton equipment – so they opted to use ping pong paddles and a plastic perforated ball. The net was originally set up at normal badminton height.
Over the course of a few days, the trio realized how well the ball bounced on the ground and decided to lower the net to three feet tall and started to create rules similar to that of tennis. By 1972, a corporation was created to protect the creation of the sport and the first official tournament was held a few years later.
Notable Sports Figures Getting Involved in Pickleball
The 1980s saw the formation of the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.), as well as the first official rule book. The sport continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1990s and 2000s, but it wasn’t until the 2020s that it started to set unprecedented numbers in membership and participation.
While the fascination our society has with trends and the presence of social media have helped the sport become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world today, a large reason for the sudden growth of pickleball can be attributed to the support it has received from famous athletes and notable sports figures.
Not only have athletes and sports figures started playing the game themselves, but they have started to invest in the sport and have been instrumental in the formation of leagues and teams across the world. Below, we’re going to look at 15 athletes who have shown their dedication and support towards pickleball.
15. Naomi Osaka
In mid-December 2022, women’s tennis star Naomi Osaka joined the ownership group for the Miami Pickleball Club – a team that competes in Major League Pickleball (MLP). She joined an ownership group that includes fellow athletes Nick Kyrgios, Patrick Mahomes, Darius Garland, Mardy Fish, and more.
When Osaka isn’t investing in pickleball, she’s maintaining her status as one of the most popular and talented tennis players of her generation. She made her debut in September 2013 and has a 265-148 singles record since then – including 7 career titles and four Grand Slam titles at just 25 years old.
14. Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald started playing pickleball for fun during the COVID-19 pandemic and it ultimately resulted in him joining an ownership group for the AZ Drive – a team that competes in the MLP. The ownership group also includes NBA star Devin Booker and country music star Dierks Bentley.
“Just being the Arizona team, having Arizona territory, I wanted to make sure I was including a collective group of people who really value what Arizona stands for, values the ideals that we all hope Arizona residents would embody,” he said of his pickleball investment in an interview with 123Sports in January.
13. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki has made his mark in the pickleball community. In October 2022, he joined several other athletes and took part in the Celebrity Pickleball Competition ahead of the PPA Tour Round Up – where Dirk, Tony Romo, John Isner, and Jordan Spieth were paired with professional pickleball players.
Not only that, but Nowitzki is a part of the ownership group for the Dallas Pickleball Club. He’s joined by professional tennis player John Isner, owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban, and former NBA player (including with the Mavs) Chandler Parsons. They helped bring the MLB to the Dallas community.
12. John Isner
Like we mentioned above, John Isner was a part of the Celebrity Pickleball Competition in October 2022 and is also a part of the ownership group for the Dallas Pickleball Club. For someone who stands 6’10’’, he can move around very well and you can see his skills in tennis shine through on the pickleball court.
Isner made his professional tennis debut in 2007 and has won more than $22 million in prize earnings during his 15+ years as a pro. He has a 484-310 singles record with 16 career singles titles – he also has 8 career doubles titles with a 150-113 doubles record. He has yet to win a Grand Slam title, though.
11. Devin Booker
Devin Booker joined the ownership group for the AZ Drive – the same ownership group that included Larry Fitzgerald. It made sense to see these two athletes invest in the state of Arizona with Fitzgerald being a former Arizona Cardinals’ receiver and Booker being a current Phoenix Suns’ shooting guard.
Booker was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 13 overall pick in 2015 and has emerged as one of the game’s greatest scorers. He’s averaging 23.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 0.8 steals per game over the past eight seasons. He’s a 3-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA shooting guard.
10. Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban is part of the ownership group for the Dallas Pickleball Club of the MLP – the same one that includes John Isner, Chandler Parsons, and Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban was originally announced as a team owner in the Vibe Pickleball League, but the league merged with the MLP a week after the news broke.
“Just like millions of other Americans, I’ve been following pickleball over the past few years, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to invest in the fastest growing game in the country,” said Cuban in an interview back in November 2022. His team is Megan Fudge, Chuck Taylor, Brandon French, and Christa Gecheva.
9. Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes joined the ownership group for the Miami Pickleball Club – the same ownership group that contains Naomi Osaka and Nick Kyrgios. Mahomes’ investment is reportedly worth around $1-3 million. Miami’s team roster consists of Alix Truong, Regina Franco, Jeff Warnick, and Matt Manasse.
Mahomes was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 10 overall pick in 2017 and has emerged as the greatest quarterback of his generation – despite being just 27 years old. He has a career 64-16-0 regular season record and has thrown for 24,241 yards and 192 touchdowns in 80 games played.
8. Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler doesn’t invest in a Major League Pickleball team, but he is bringing a lot of awareness to the sport with his own obsession for it. He teamed up with fellow golfer Jordan Spieth in a celebrity pickleball game against John Isner and Dirk Nowitzki. One thing you should know – he’s pretty good.
During the broadcast for that event, it was revealed that Scheffler has been playing the sport for several months now and his wife says he has fallen in love with it. Tony Romo also joined the broadcast booth and gushed over how instinctive and athletic Scheffler and Spieth are when on the pickleball court.
7. Kevin Love
Kevin Love joined fellow athletes LeBron James and Draymond Green in securing rights to an MLP team back in September 2022. Their interest in the sport helped legitimize the opportunity and value in buying an MLP team and resulted in many other famous athletes and sports figures to do the same.
Love has been in the NBA since 2008 and was one of the players that helped revolutionize the role of a power forward. He’s averaging 17.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 0.6 steals per gamer over the past 15 seasons. He’s a 5-time All-Star, former Most Improved Player, and won a championship in 2016.
6. Drew Brees
Drew Brees was one of the first big-name athletes to join the MLP as an owner. It was announced in July that he had joined the ownership group for the Mad Drops Pickleball Club – a team that competed in the MLP and consisted of Catherine Paranteau, Irina Tereschenko, Thomas Wilson, and Julian Arnold.
Brees spent 20 seasons in the NFL with the Chargers and Saints between 2001 and 2020. During that time, he led his team to a 172-114-0 regular season record and threw for 80,358 yards and 571 TDs. He’s a 13-time Pro Bowler and one-time Super Bowl winner in 2010 – he was also named Super Bowl MVP.
5. Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters announced in October 2022 that she’s joining the ownership group for an MLP team – the group also consists of Tom Brady. At the time, she was also expected to serve as the team’s GM when it began play in 2023. The former professional tennis player was excited at the unique opportunity.
“Of course, I’m excited at the investment opportunity, but what excites me the most about becoming an MLP owner is that I get to help shape the future of pickleball, a sport I have come to love, with great people – who also happen to be some of my best friends. I’m thrilled to help showcase professional pickleball and make an impact on the sport through my experience gained in the top levels of professional tennis,” she said in a statement.
4. Draymond Green
Draymond Green was part of the MLP ownership group that consisted of fellow NBA players LeBron James and Kevin Love – though the team’s name and/or location weren’t announced at the time. James and Love were teammates in Cleveland and have battled against Green often in the NBA Finals.
Green was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the 2012 draft and has spent his entire 11-year career (and counting) with the team. He’s averaging 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game – he’s a 4-time champion and former Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant joined the pickleball bandwagon around the same time as LeBron James, Tom Brady, Draymond Green, and the other owners to emerge in October of last year. Durant said he never imagined himself getting into the sport, but it quickly grew on him once he played it for the first time.
“We really, really want to leave our mark from day one on how hard our team is going to play and how successful we’re going to be as a group,” Durant said of the investment – adding that they still have to figure out what city to represent and a name for the team. The MLP was excited to welcome him.
2. Tom Brady
Tom Brady joined an ownership group that was given rights to an expansion team in Major League Pickleball – the same group that contains retired tennis player Kim Clijsters. A name or location for the team wasn’t announced at the time, but it appears Brady is keeping himself busy as he enters retirement.
Brady entered the NFL as a sixth round draft pick in 2000 and went on to play for the next 23 years. During that time, he threw for 89,214 yards and 649 touchdowns in 335 games played – including a 251-82-0 record as starter. He won 7 Super Bowls, 5 Super Bowl MVPs, and 3 MVP awards in his career.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James led an ownership group that was given rights to a Major League Pickleball team – the group also contained Draymond Green and Kevin Love. James’ longtime friend and business partner, Maverick Carter, is also part of the group as the two continue their impressive portfolio together.
“When I started playing pickleball, I immediately connected with the sport’s community and its capacity to be both fun and competitive. 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,” said Carter.
Where Does Pickleball Go From Here?
The sudden rise in pickleball players and participants is just the beginning of what the sport has to offer. Aside from those that play the sport, many people have started to invest in its growth by building private and public pickleball courts, as well as pickleball-themed restaurants and other unique business ideas.
Some reports suggest that nearly 70 pickleball courts are built every month in the United States – which means pickleball courts will be just as popular as basketball courts in some areas. We’ve also seen the formation of Major League Pickleball, which has its sights set on growing the professional side of pickleball.
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Considering how inexpensive pickleball is to play and how trendy it is in society today, pickleball has a lot of room to grow and will continue to rise in popularity – especially for those who enjoy tennis, badminton, and/or ping pong. It combines all the best elements from each of those three sports, which makes for a fun outing with friends and family!
The Steady Emergence of Pickleball and 15 Other Unique Sports You Should Try With the Kids
Pickleball is a sport you’ve likely heard or seen flooding the airwaves recently – everyone is talking about and some of the biggest names in sports are jumping aboard the bandwagon. It’s a sport some people know from their physical education class days, but many are clueless.
The sport was invented in 1965 by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – who noticed their children growing bored of the everyday summer activities. So, they did as any good parent would do – find something different, unique, and exciting for them to play and enjoy.
Just like that, pickleball was officially born. It’s a game that combines everything you like about tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Using a large paddle plastic ball with holes in it (similar to a wiffleball), you play a game similar to tennis on a badminton-sized court with singles or doubles.
Let’s Discover Some Other Unique Sports Like Pickleball
It all started as a backyard sport enjoyed by local families, but now it has grown to international status and is beloved by many all over the world. In fact, some of today’s biggest athletes are doing their part in marketing the sport and growing it to new heights – it’s all the rage today.
For example, LeBron James has already invested in a Major League Pickleball team – along with Draymond Green and Kevin Love. Tom Brady has also invested in a new team with tennis star Kim Clijsters. Most recently, Kevin Durant announced his newest expansion team.
As the game continues to evolve, we’ll likely see more star athletes invest in the sport. For those that are looking for something new to play with your kids, we definitely suggest giving pickleball a try. If you’re looking for other unique sports to enjoy with the kids, we have some suggestions!
Alright, I know what you’re thinking – Quidditch isn’t a real sport, it’s a fictional sport from Harry Potter. Technically yes, but you’ll be delighted to learn that people have found a way to bring the sport into reality. In fact, it draws inspiration from rugby, dodgeball, basketball, and flag football.
The game is similar to the one you see in Harry Potter. Players must hold a broomstick between their legs at all times, while using a slightly-deflated volleyball as the quaffle, a slightly-deflated dodgeball for the bulger, and a flag football belt as the snitch. Hoops are also set up as goals.
14. Frisbee Golf
Frisbee golf, also known as disc golf, is popular in some communities and is often featured in parks – where you can play disc golf with your kids for free. The sport is similar to golf, but you throw a frisbee at a target, also known as a basket. It’s a lot harder than it looks, trust me.
The sport dates back to the early 1900s, with the first game being recorded in Canada in 1927. In the 1970s, a man by the name of Ed Headrick helped modernize the sport – he’s also credited as the inventor of the modern-day frisbee. There are nearly 8,000 courses in the US.
13. Ultimate Frisbee
Disc golf isn’t the only unique sport that features a frisbee. Ultimate frisbee is another emerging sport that is often featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays when someone makes an incredible TD or INT. The sport is very similar to football, but players use a frisbee instead of a football.
The sport dates back to the mid-1960s when Bob Fein, Richard Jacobson, Robert Marblestone, Steve Ward, Fred Hoxie, and Gordon Murray invented the concept of it. A few years later, the game was popularized by Joel Silver, Jonny Hines, and Buzzy Hellring. Today, it’s everywhere.
Korfball is a sport you might recognize if you’ve ever been to a park in the early 2000s – though no one ever really knew what it was. It’s a Dutch sport that has similarities to netball and basketball, where teams of eight players attempt to throw a ball into a netless basket for points.
The basket is about 11.5 feet from the ground and players aren’t allowed to block, tackle, hold, or kick the ball. It was invented by a Dutch school teacher and was designed to prevent physical dominance from controlling the game. Players also aren’t allowed to dribble, but can pass it.
Handball is an Olympic sport that a lot of people look forward to every four years, but it doesn’t get the same amount of year-round attention that other sports do – which is sad. It’s everything you like about soccer, but on a much smaller court and you use your hands instead of your feet.
Variations of handball date back to Ancient Greece, but it wasn’t modernized until the early 1900s when official rules were created. Today, there’s an International Handball Federation (IHF) that oversees international handball competition. It’s popular in Denmark and France.
If you’re looking for a unique sport that draws similarities to football (soccer), then futsal is the sport for you. It’s a lot like playing five-on-five indoor soccer, but with a much smaller, harder, and less-bouncy ball. The court is more like an ice hockey rink with boards – no ice, of course.
The sport dates back to the 1930s when a man by the name of Juan Carlos Ceriani invented it for his local YMCAs in Uruguay. His goal was to invent something similar to soccer that could be played indoors and outdoors. It’s everything you like about soccer, but much more fast-paced.
9. Table Tennis
Table tennis, also known as ping pong, is a sport everyone knows about already – yet most people don’t treat it like an actual sport. Instead, many people view it as a recreational activity that you play at parties or get-togethers. Nonetheless, it’s been an Olympic sport since 1988.
Table tennis is similar to the game of tennis, but is played on a table and with a paddle and small plastic ball. The object of the game is to hit the ball over the net and onto your opponent’s side of the table. Players go back and forth until someone misses the table or whiffs the ball.
8. Water Polo
Water polo is another sport that doesn’t get as much recognition as it should. It’s similar to handball, but is played in the water. Players must throw the ball into the goal while floating in a deep pool – players can’t touch the bottom of the pool. There are two teams of seven players.
The sport takes an extreme amount of core strength and stamina – it’s not easy to keep yourself afloat for long periods of time. Not only that, but to catch and throw a ball at the same time. If your children enjoy the pool and want to challenge themselves, give water polo a try.
Ringette is a unique sport that many people have never heard of before. It resembles the game of hockey, but players use the butt end of a stick to pass around a rubber ring – opposed to a puck. Like hockey, it’s played on ice skates and the object of the game is to score goals.
Today, it’s more popular among women and is extremely popular in Canada – where hockey was practically born. It’s also a popular sport in Finland. There’s an international championship called the World Ringette Championships (WRC), which takes place every single year.
Curling is another Olympic sport that receives a lot of attention when the Winter Olympics roll around. Unfortunately, it receives little attention on a regular basis – despite being one of the most beloved winter sports of all-time. Well, maybe you and your kids can help change that!
The game is similar to shuffleboard, but on ice. Players slide stones on a sheet of ice, aiming for the center of a circle. The team that gets the closest to the center is awarded points, depending on how many stones they get. It’s a delicate game that can grow to be quite the intense match.
Badminton is one of the many racket sports that are popular in physical education or gym class, but most people don’t take it seriously as a sport – despite it being in the Olympics. The goal of the game is to hit the shuttlecock onto the opposing player’s half of the court without a return.
Each player only has one try to get the shuttlecock over the net, much like the game of tennis. It was invented in British India in the mid-19th century and has become extremely popular in Asia and Europe. The International Badminton Federation, the governing body, was founded in 1934.
While some people might view archery as more of a skill, opposed to a sport, it is in the Olympics – which counts as a sport in my book. Although primarily used as a way of life and method of hunting in primal times, archery has been turned into an international competition.
Teams of archers compete in a test of accuracy and speed as they attempt to shoot an arrow at a target from a specified distance. It was originally featured in the 1900 Olympics and has been a fixture in the Olympics since 1972 – you can also consider shooting sports as an alternative.
Racquetball is a racket sport that takes place on an indoor court about 40 feet by 20 feet. Players use a tennis-like racket to hit a small rubber ball. Unlike tennis and badminton, players hit the ball at a wall instead of over a net. The opposing player must return the ball off the wall.
It’s a fast-paced game that will tire you out in a heartbeat. You have to be on your toes at all times – it’s one of those games where the ball can be in front of you one moment, and then hitting you in the back of the head a second later. It’ll help improve your child’s reflexes.
Squash is a sport extremely similar to racquetball, but it uses a narrower racket to hit a smaller and slower ball on a smaller court. If you thought you needed good reflexes for racquetball, then prepare to be shocked at the intense nature of squash – it’ll leave you panting and sweating.
You don’t see many people playing squash today, especially in the United States – where courts are limited. Nonetheless, it’s an easy sport to get hooked on and can be an easy one to start if you have a court in your community. Just buy yourself a racket, a ball, and find someone to play!
Padel is a game that resembles tennis, squash, racquetball, and pickleball. It’s played on a much smaller court than tennis and has walls – like in racquetball and squash. Instead of a stringed racket, players use a paddle that more resembles ping pong or pickleball.
When hitting the ball, players have to keep the ball below the waistline. The sport was originally invented in Mexico in the late-1960s and grew in popularity in Latin America and Europe. The scoring is identical to that of tennis – so if you’re familiar with that sport, it’ll be easy to learn.
Unique Sports Offer a Unique Environment for the Kids
Pickleball, as well as the other sports listed above, might not be as popular as other, more traditional sports – hockey, basketball, football, soccer, and baseball – but that doesn’t mean they can’t evolve into something much bigger. That’s what we’re seeing today with pickleball.
These sports offer a unique environment for children to enjoy and learn from. Like any other sport, it’ll keep them active and social, but will also teach them how to be competitive, face adversity, overcome challenges, and much more. Kids have so much to gain from sports.
If you’re interested in getting your child involved in pickleball, check your local community to see if there are any leagues accepting new players. If not, that might be a sign to start your own and get other parents involved – who knows, you could be starting something big in your hometown.
- 1 The Steady Emergence of Pickleball and 15 Other Unique Sports You Should Try With the Kids
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