By John Branston

In his most recent weekly newsletter, Mayor Jim Strickland laid out “the big ask” for $684 million in public improvements for the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, FedEx Forum, AutoZone Park and a new soccer stadium.

This will, he wrote, “add further value to our economy and the quality of life in our community”. It will – no kidding – have an economic impact of $21 billion (sic) and – just kidding – end gun violence, turn public schools into the envy of the free world, cure Covid, and double the population.

Surprisingly, there was no mention of the sport that is “sweeping the nation” and “exploding” in popularity and costs practically nothing. That would be pickleball.

Do not take it from me. Take it from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal which have run 23 stories, several of them on the front page, in the last five months.

Pickleball and Matthew Perry, LeBron James, Tom Brady, tennis, pros, television, investors, major leagues, injuries, Labor Day picnics, marriage, developers, hipsters, pissed-off neighbors, the pandemic, noise, old women, old men, millenials and criminals. To list a few.

Never mind the rules or the history, here’s the deal: It is a sport almost anyone can play, and it costs nothing to play and almost nothing to construct a facility. An unused tennis court, parking lot or gymnasium, a roll of tape, a modest net, wooden paddles and a plastic ball and you are in business.

For $684 million less than it costs to subsidize the pros, you and your friends can get off your asses and join the fun. The economic impact? Who cares? The point is to play, not watch.

There are hundreds of good players and scores of good courts in Greater Memphis, mostly in the suburbs. When the Racquet Club of Memphis closed a few years ago, the only activity inside or outside the building that was growing was pickleball. But as far as I know, Memphis politicos have not invested one dollar of funds in the sport or built the first court.

Repeat: a paved surface, a roll of tape, four paddles and a modest net. Twenty-three stories in the big three papers in five months, zip in the local media obsessed with Tigers and pros.