Bill Gates Has Been Playing Pickleball 50 Years Longer Than the Rest of Us

The Microsoft billionaire's family is friends with the Washington group that invented the now-popular sport.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

Pickleball is all over the news now. In February, it was named the fastest-growing sport of the year for the second year in a row. Described as a mix of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, the game is played with rackets, nets and a small ball. But it's nothing new to billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who explained in a video posted Tuesday that he's been a "pickler" for 50 years.

"Despite its silly terms and funny name, pickleball is actually quite a sophisticated game," Gates said.  "It's easy to learn. People say that about lots of sports, but in the case of pickleball, it's true."

Gates isn't kidding about the "silly terms." Pickleball phrases include "dink" (a soft shot hit on a bounce), "kitchen" (part of the court) and "skinny singles" (a two-person drill).

In the video, he shares faded vintage photos of younger versions of himself playing the game.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington -- not far from Gates' hometown of Seattle. His father, Bill Sr., was friends with the game's three inventors: Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard, Gates said. Pritchard later became Washington's lieutenant governor. According to USA Pickleball, the game was invented one day when the families could only find part of a badminton set, so improvised with ping-pong paddles and a perforated ball.

"It was completely localized to Seattle," Gates said. "So it's kind of stunning that 50 years after it was invented, it starts to take off, and now has incredible momentum."