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Don’t hate on the name. Pickleball is the latest recreational sports craze. It’s a racquet sport that’s a little bit like tennis, ping-pong and badminton smushed together. And it became popular earlier on in the pandemic. It’s easy to learn how to play, and the nets can be set up pretty much anywhere, so it’s also super portable and accessible.
Even though it’s only been gaining real traction in recent years, pickleball was actually invented in 1965 by three men just outside of Seattle, WA. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum are said to have created the game for their bored children to play. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, is thought to have named it pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
But Barney McCallum says it was named after the Pritchards’ dog, Pickles, who liked to chase after the ball and run off with it. McCallum says, “The Pritchards had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball.”
Now, sports stars like Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, Nick Kyrgios, Naomi Osaka and LeBron James are getting behind pickleball (the sport? the game?) by investing in its major league. There are five million active players in the US alone. And it’s spread from the US to Europe and Asia (specifically India, China and Japan).
But it’s not all fun and games. Apparently, pickleball is a pretty controversial topic. Tennis players have started to see pickleball as a threat. As sports journalist Jon Levy explains: “Other paddle sports have bubbled up over the years and attracted participants, but tennis remains a sport for more serious athletes and competitors. However, pickleball is making significant inroads on the casual player and has gobbled up court space and time. There’s even a pro league backed by the likes of LeBron James and Tom Brady. If this trend continues, tennis could eventually be seen as the little brother in the relationship.”