Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center on May 16, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Sarah Stier | Getty Images
Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is the latest celebrity athlete taking his love of pickleball big league.
The NBA All-Star and his business partner Rich Kleiman announced Thursday that their firm, Thirty Five Ventures (35V), has purchased Major League Pickleball’s newest expansion team.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In recent weeks, Major League Pickleball has signed on a number of big-name athlete owners, including basketball legend LeBron James and NFL stars Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Pickleball has exploded in popularity during the pandemic and an increasing number of athletes and entrepreneurs are looking to get in on the action.
In September, a viral video showed Durant playing pickleball at a local recreation center, declaring that he’s “getting the hang of it.” As avid pickleball players and fans, Kleiman said their interest in the sport was a natural fit.
“We can’t wait to build this team from the ground up, as well as work to elevate the sport and the league to unprecedented heights,” he said.
Kleiman told CNBC that by acquiring a team, owners also get equity in the league. “You get a blank canvas for opportunity because this is a sport that is growing every day,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday.
Thirty Five Ventures has investments in more than 75 companies, including many in sports and media. The company said it plans to handle everything from player relations, marketing, sponsorships and merchandise. It will also use its media network, The Boardroom, to talk about the team and league.
The new partnership also will have a community component. Similar to his work with 35V’s “Build It and They Will Ball” initiative, which has refurbished basketball courts globally, Durant plans to bring pickleball to underserved communities.
“To me, the community around this sport is what I love the most. It truly is the most democratizing sport I’ve ever seen,” Kleiman said. “Everyone is kind of welcoming everyone into the community.”
As part of MLP’s expansion plans for next year, the league will add four teams to 16, double the number of its tournaments to six and offer $2 million in prize money.
Pickleball has seen investment on and off the court as its popularity has surged.
It can cost millions, even billions to own a pro team, so investors see an opportunity to get in early and get a deal as pickleball takes off.
“The money is not crazy. It’s changed. It’s more now than a year ago. If you can get in early, the economics are pretty good,” Kleiman said.
Anne Worcester, a strategic adviser for MLP, told CNBC team values have grown exponentially since 2021, when the league launched, and are in the seven figures. Since the announcement that LeBron James was joining as an owner, MLP says they has received hundreds of inquires for teams.
In 2021, 4.8 million people played the sport in the U.S., according to a 2022 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.