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Former NFL star Drew Brees buys stake in pro pickleball team

One of the greatest NFL players to ever toss a pigskin is now the majority owner of a professional pickleball team.

Retired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has joined the ownership group of the Austin, Texas, Mad Drops, the team announced Thursday. The Mad Drops' minority owners also include New York real estate broker Ryan Serhant and Jim Buss, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. The team didn't disclose how much Brees paid to take a stake in the club.

The Mad Drops are one of a dozen co-ed teams in the newly formed Major League Pickleball, or MLP. The league launched last September with financial backing from entrepreneur Steve Kuhn. 

Brees, 43, said in a statement that he's an avid pickleball player and a student of the game who is looking "forward to helping raise awareness around the incredible players and competitions in MLP." 

"As a long-time professional athlete and competitor myself, I look forward to working with the Mad Drops PC team in our relentless quest to win many championships in the years to come," Brees said.

MLP's second season begins Aug. 5 in Newport Beach, California. Games are broadcast live on the league's YouTube page.

Brees spent 20 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Saints. He led the team to a Super Bowl championship in 2010 before retiring last year as one of the most decorated passers in NFL history. Brees spent his first season away from the NFL as a football analyst for NBC Sports.

Aside from Brees, other MLP teams are partly owned by tech entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk; Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks; and former tennis professional James Blake. 

Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. But the sport's popularity has exploded in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. It is now the nation's fastest growing sport, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. In 2021, there were 4.8 million players in the U.S., up nearly 15% from 2020, the trade group said.

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