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LeBron James is a pickleball fan and player. Now he’s buying a team.


LeBron James, the king of basketball courts, is certainly one of the most recent owners of an expert pickleball team.

Major League Pickleball announced Wednesday that James and his business partner, Maverick Carter, will join its ownership ranks, together with NBA champions Draymond Green and Kevin Love and others. In recent months, the game’s popularity has attracted several celebrity investors and grow to be an enormous business.

The all-star ownership group’s interest in the game got here from playing it together over the past couple of years, based on MLP.

“After I began playing pickleball, I immediately connected with the game’s community and its capability to be each fun and competitive,” Carter told CNBC in an interview. “To see the game growing in communities throughout is absolutely exciting, and we’re looking forward to bringing our expertise together to try to construct a championship team.”

James and Carter will own the team through their family office, LRMR Ventures. Other investors include investment firm SC Holdings; Paul Rivera, chief marketing officer of the SpringHill Co.; and Relevent Sports Group co-owner and CEO Daniel Sillman.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Anne Worcester, MLP’s strategic advisor, told CNBC that negotiations began with the brand new ownership group in July and culminated with a gathering on the U.S. Open tennis tournament in August.

“We had this immediate connection over their passion for taking part in pickleball, their passion for growing pro pickleball grassroots. … They convey a lot experience across sports marketing, media, branding,” she said.

Worcester said the demand for owning a pickleball team is high with greater than 60 different groups expressing interest. She said team values have grown exponentially since 2021 when the league launched, and are within the seven figures.

The name of James and Carter’s team and where it should play aren’t yet known. MLP teams are usually not currently connected to geographic locations, but Worcester said the league is working with owners to find out the feasibility of adjusting that in 2023.

James has already been helping drive economic development in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Students on the I Promise School, a public school he founded, will likely be attending the upcoming MLP season finale in Columbus, Ohio, from Oct. 14-16. The season-ending tournament incorporates a $319,000 purse, the most important in the game’s history.

Pickleball, which is described as a combination of tennis, Ping-Pong and badminton, has grow to be a recreational hit and attracted major investments as entrepreneurs look to money in on the sport.

In July, MLP announced one other round of investments by Super Bowl champion Drew Brees, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, former World No.4 tennis player James Blake and Ryan Serhant of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.”

With the brand new investments, MLP will likely be expanding from 12 to 16 teams in 2023, with players competing in six tournaments across six U.S. cities for greater than $2 million in prizes.

The game is attracting funding outside the league as well. In Sarasota, Florida, industrial real estate entrepreneurs Brian and Valerie McCarthy, have invested $180 million to construct no less than 15 indoor private pickleball clubs.

Others are investing within the chain model, mixing food, entertainment and pickleball. “Camp Pickle,” which is able to feature a restaurant, bar, and indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, plans to open in 10 locations across the country by 2026. Similar concepts include Chicken N Pickle, Smash Park and Electric Pickle.

Among the many game’s fans are Bill Gates, Kevin Durant and the Kardashians, with the game growing to 4.8 million players within the U.S. in 2021, based on the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report on Pickleball.

“Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport within the country, constructing communities in cities and towns all around the world,” Steve Kuhn, MLP’s founder, said in a press release.

He said the league’s newest investors and the exposure they supply will help the game reach its goal of 40 million pickleball players by 2030.

There isn’t any rule that might prevent James from playing within the league, based on the MLP. The league notes that Travis Rettenmaier, a retired skilled tennis player, is certainly one of the owners of the Florida Smash pickleball team and was drafted by his own team.

“Yes, we’d welcome LeBron or Draymond or Kevin Like to take into consideration playing,” Worcester said laughing.

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