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LeBron James buys into Major League Pickleball team, as sport continues to gain popularity

NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Love and Draymond Green have bought into a Major League Pickleball team, the league announced Wednesday. 

The athletes were joined by James' business partner Maverick Carter, their family office LRMR Ventures, the investment firm SC Holdings, Relevant Sports Group CEO Daniel Sillman and SpringHill Company CMO Paul Rivera. 

"The new ownership group announced today brings unparalleled experience and impact across sports, media, entertainment, and branding," the league's press release said. "With this group, MLP aims to expand the community beyond its current participants into more diverse communities globally."

The team the groups purchased wasn't announced, but the MLP said the league is expanding from 12 to 16 teams.

"Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country, building communities in cities and towns all over the world," MLP Founder Steve Kuhn said in the announcement. "This investment and the platform that this group provides will significantly help us with our goal to reach 40 million pickleball players by 2030."

The league plans to have all its players compete in six tournaments across the country for more than $2 million next year, the MLP said.

Pickleball has become the fastest growing sport in the U.S., with 4.8 million players across the country in 2021 — a 15% increase from 2020 — according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report on Pickleball. A majority of participants identify as "casual" players.

The growth rate of Americans who have picked up the sport is fastest amongst women and people under 24, the report said

Pickleball, which was invented in Washington state in 1965, combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton. Players use paddles to hit a plastic wiffle ball back and forth over a net. There are courts available across the U.S. and Canada in recreation centers, parks, schools and more.

This isn't the first time high profile athletes have expressed interest in the MLP. In July, former star NFL quarterback Drew Brees became the majority owner of the Austin, Texas Mad Drops. Jim Buss, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, is a minority owner of that team.

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