Sports

What is pickleball, why does it have such a silly name, and why is LeBron James investing?

It might sound ridiculous, but pickleball is a rapidly growing sport and it’s attracting some big names and big dollars.

So what is pickleball and who’s getting involved?

What is pickleball?

Think tennis, but more close quarters.

There are plenty of facilities dedicated solely to pickleball.(Getty Images: Ronald Martinez)

Pickleball was invented in 1965, and is a paddle sport, similar to tennis, badminton and padel, played on a smaller court with a net, using a perforated plastic ball.

It’s been described as the fastest-growing sport in the United States in recent years.

What are the rules?

It’s not too complicated if you’ve played any tennis or table tennis.

Like other racquet sports, it can be played in singles or doubles.

You have to serve underarm and cross-court, returners have to let the ball bounce, and their return needs to be allowed to bounce on the other side of the net before being hit again.

After that you can volley the ball, which is an important skill, because the plastic ball doesn’t bounce very well. But there is a no-volley zone near the net called the kitchen, and if you have a foot in there, you have to let the ball bounce before hitting it.

Pickleball is usually played to 11 points, and you have to win by two, a la volleyball. And you can only score points on serve.

Why is it called that?

There has been some contention about this but, according to Joan Pritchard, the wife of one of the game’s founders, the sport is named after a pickle boat.

Wait …

What’s a pickle boat?

It’s a rowing crew made up of the leftover members of a team that weren’t good enough to be named principal team members.

Kind of like a team of misfit cast-offs, in the same way that pickleball’s rules are pieced together from tennis, badminton and table tennis.

A pickleball paddle and ball are held by a player preparing to serve.
The game is played with a solid paddle and a plastic ball with holes in it.(Getty Images: Emilee Chinn)

And, yes, this sport was invented by rich white people. Specifically, Joel Pritchard, who later became a US congressman, and friends Barney McCallum and Bill Bell.

Pritchard’s wife, Joan, described the sport’s inception at their property on Bainbridge Island in Washington state’s Puget Sound.

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