September 30, 2022
Even NBA superstar LeBron James is getting caught up in the pickleball craze. James and his business partner, Maverick Carter, have joined a group of investors that includes NBA players Draymond Green and Kevin Love to purchase a Major League Pickleball expansion team, the league said on Wednesday, September 28, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Each member of the new ownership group plays pickleball, the league said.
Anne Worcester, MLP’s strategic adviser, said the team, which has yet to be named, is valued in the seven figures.
“This new ownership group brings extensive experience across sports, media, branding, entertainment,” Worcester told the Journal. “We are excited to work with them to expand and to bring pickleball to new audiences.”
A spokeswoman for LRMR Ventures, the family office of James and Carter, said both were unavailable to comment.
The new pickleball team marks the latest expansion into sports ownership for James and Carter. Both are partners with Fenway Sports Group, the owners of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C., the English Premier League soccer team.
James, a newly minted billionaire, also co-founded SpringHill with Carter, who is a childhood friend of the basketball star. The company helped produce “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which starred James and was released in 2021, and the 2019 HBO documentary “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali.”
Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton that dates back to 1960s, has taken off in the United States in recent years. There were about 4.8 million players nationwide in 2021, a 39% increase from 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Pickleball was officially announced as the fastest-growing sport in America for the second year in a row, the group said.
Other pickleball team owners include former professional football player Drew Brees; Marc Lasry, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks; and former professional tennis player James Blake.
The league is in the process of choosing new ownership groups for the final three expansion teams. The league is currently weighing about 20 bids for teams from over 60 groups, Worcester said. MLP expects to choose the final three ownership groups in the next month, she said.
“We are reviewing the rest of the bids internally,” Worcester said. “It’s looking at the resources each group would bring to Major League Pickleball to help us grow the sport at the pro level as well as the grassroots level.”
Research contact: @WSJ