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Larry Fitzgerald, Devin Booker bringing professional pickleball to Arizona

Major League Pickleball will hold its first tournament of 2023 in Mesa and will feature a team owned by Arizona sports and music legends.

MESA, Ariz. — Major League Pickleball (MLP) will start its new season with a four-day tournament from January 26-29 at Bell Bank Park in Mesa, and one of the teams playing is owned by a group of Arizona sports and music legends including former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. 

12Sports got the chance to catch up with Fitz, who picked up the sport of pickleball as a hobby during the pandemic. 

Fitzgerald was not known for talking smack on the football field, but a video posted on social media by Barstool Sports' 'Fore Play' podcast shows that Fitz has a different attitude when playing pickleball.  

"People pick fights with me and I just finish them," Fitzgerald said. "You know what I mean? I'm not out here looking for trouble. Like 50 Cent says, I don't want any problems, but if you want a problem, no problem. I got you." 

Larry Legend has turned his COVID hobby into a passion and unlike in his football career, stats don't matter. 

"I can play with my 6-year-old son," Fitzgerald said. "I'm just hitting the ball back and forth with him, and he can have fun with me, or you can play with your 80-year-old grandmother." 

Age also becomes just a number on the court. 

"I've played a lot of people," Fitzgerald said. "You look at them and you'll be like, this person, she's old and there's no way she'll be able to move. And the next thing you know, she's got you diving for balls, got you sweating, got your legs hurting, you know, you have no idea." 

Business is booming in the sport of pickleball and Fitz is helping bring a Major League Pickleball team to the Valley, the AZ Drive. 

The list of owners includes some of Arizona's most famous stars. Joining Larry are Suns star Devin Booker, country music star Dierks Bentley, and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps. 

"Just being the Arizona team, having Arizona territory, I wanted to make sure I was including a collective group of people who really value what Arizona stands for, values the ideals that we all hope Arizona residents would embody," Fitzgerald said. 

One legend you won't see with the team is Charles Barkley.  

Barkley told 12Sports last weekend that he and Fitz are working together but on the golf course instead of the pickleball court.  

The AZ Drive will play in MLP's first tournament of the year at Bell Bank Park in Mesa this weekend. Play begins on January 26 and wraps up on the 29th. 

MLP consists of 24 teams divided into two levels, the Premier Level and the Challenger Level. 

The teams are co-ed and are made up of two men and two women. 

The Premier Level consists of the top 48 pickleball players and the Challenger Level consists of the next 48. 

The AZ Drive will open the year in the Challenger Level and will play the first three tournaments, including this weekend's tournament in Mesa, of the year there. 

After the first three tournaments, all of the Challenger Level teams will move to the Premier Level and vice versa and the league will re-draft rosters.  

12Sports on YouTube 

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