More Than 36.5 Million Adults Played Pickleball Over the Past Year -- Here Are Some of the Most Notable Sports Figures Getting Involved

More Than 36.5 Million Adults Played Pickleball Over the Past Year — Here Are Some of the Most Notable Sports Figures Getting Involved

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. 

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Notable Sports Figures Getting Involved in Pickleball

More Than 36.5 Million Adults Played Pickleball Over the Past Year -- Here Are Some of the Most Notable Sports Figures Getting Involved
via Shutterstock (Artisticco)

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!

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