by Kelly Campbell
LeBron James is making headlines –– this time in the world of dinks instead of dunks. On September 28, Major League Pickleball announced that the 37-year-old basketball titan has invested in pickleball with his purchase of a Major League Pickleball team. The new MLP ownership group consists of LRMR Ventures (James’ office with longtime business partner Maverick Carter), NBA players Draymond Green and Kevin Love, SC Holdings, The SpringHill Company CMO Paul Rivera, and Relevent Sports Group CEO Daniel Sillman. The financial details of the purchase and details about their team have not been disclosed.
Major League Pickleball is one of the biggest pickleball leagues in the country. Their goal is to elevate pickleball by showcasing the best of the best pickleball players and attracting more attention to the sport. This new group of investors joins existing owners Drew Brees, Gary Vaynerchuk, Brené Brown, Ryan Serhant, Marc Lasry, James Blake, and Molly Joseph to advance MLP’s aggressive growth plan. MLP’s final event for the 2022 season (taking place Oct 14-16 in Columbus, Ohio) will have 48 players for a cash purse of $319,000 ($100,000 for the winning team) –– the biggest cash prize in pickleball history. With this new ownership group, we can expect even bigger things in 2023.
LeBron James is known as one of the best basketball players of all time. He has played on three NBA teams –– the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and presently the LA Lakers. James is ranked third on the all-time scoring list, has been named Associated Press male athlete of the decade, and has won four NBA championships in addition to numerous all-star and MVP titles throughout his 19-year-long career.
This MLP purchase isn’t the first time James has made his mark outside of the basketball world. James has invested in other sports teams from baseball to soccer, he owns the tequila brand Lobos 1707 and the company SpringHill, and his investment in Blaze Pizza took it from a local pizza chain to a nationwide chain. Our knowledge of the extent of James’ connection to pickleball is limited, but according to MLP, the ownership group’s interest in investing stems from their love for playing pickleball together.
Carter, James’ business partner, told CNBC, “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.”
With new funding from this ownership group, the MLP plans to expand from 12 to 16 teams in 2023 and will play in six cities.
James’ public involvement and investment in pickleball could mean big things for the overall growth of the sport (will pickleball growth ever slow down? Let’s hope not!). This purchase alone has already been covered by some of the most popular and notable news outlets, including CNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Forbes, Fox, ESPN, and the Washington Post. Any time pickleball is brought to the limelight, there’s an opportunity for more people to get involved. Between the public pickleball attention from a basketball legend with millions of fans and his financial contributions, we’re sure to see pickleball dominating the professional sports world soon.