Stop The Presses!
For pickleball zealots across the country this is very big news. The NBA has just put its oversized footprint on America’s fastest growing sport. Lebron James and a consortium including NBA luminaries Draymond Green and Kevin Love are buying an expansion franchise in Major League Pickleball (MLP) as the league grows from 12 to 16 teams. According to MLP founder Steve Kuhn, having NBA stars involved in professional pickleball is a “watershed moment for pickleball.”
Pickleball was one of the bright spots during the dark days of the COVID pandemic, when it established itself as the fastest growing sport in America. Millions of people were longing for outdoor activity as a way to interrupt the tedium of plague-induced house arrest, and pickleball was the perfect remedy.
Estimates are that pickleball now boasts four million players in this country alone. According to Kuhn, their goal is to have 40 million players by 2030. If history is a reliable judge, luring sports idols like Lebron James and fellow NBA stars is a big step toward reaching that goal. James and gang join Super Bowl champ Drew Brees and former 4th ranked tennis star James Blake as MLP franchise owners. Marquee names and enhanced TV exposure are sure to attract more players.
In order to keep pace with the meteoric growth of pickleball, developers in communities across the country are building courts as fast as they can. Pressure is on clubs, schools and communities from coast to coast to jump on the bandwagon. My wife Ellen just returned from a long weekend in Manhattan where she played on makeshift courts in Central Park. Apparently plans are in place for several permanent courts to be built. Considering there are over eight million people in New York City, one can envision bucolic Central Park, home to bird watchers, dogwalkers, joggers and muggers, made over with thousands of pickleball courts to satisfy the demand.
Supply of and demand for courts are already hot issues at The Landings Club where we currently have eleven, including the practice court. Four new courts are under construction and will be ready by end of the year. The 2023 budget calls for two more, which will bring our total to sixteen. Looking into the future it is difficult to imagine that six new courts will be enough. Demand for contract courts, especially on Saturday mornings, already exceeds supply, and the fall league boasts a record 100 competitors.
If you’ve read this far even though you don’t yet play, you might just want to know what pickleball is all about. Contact the pro-shop to inquire about lessons and clinics. Give it a try and find out why so many people are playing Pickleball.