Despite being the fastest-growing sport in the country, pickleball remains a mystery to most people.
Sure, they’re heard of it, maybe saw a segment of it on Good Morning America, or have a friend who has been begging them to play. But in terms of widespread familiarity, pickleball’s somewhere in the league of Euclidean geometry, the geography of sub-Saharan Africa, and the wives of King Henry VIII.
If only there were some sure-fire way to inject pickleball into the bloodstream of American pop-culture. Well, maybe there is.
Just ask Dan Beeman, a 57-year-old pickleball evangelist who discovered the sport after a car crash left him with a back injury that he treated with gentle yoga at a California recreation center.
That’s where he heard the thwacking of pickleballs nearby, and the eventual new passion it became for him. The Pickler caught up with Beeman this month while he was in Thailand, where he’s pitching pickleball facilities at high-end communities that cater to Americans.
He’s a USA Pickleball ambassador, a Head sponsor, and a member of the 24-court pickleball facility at the Palm Desert Resort Country Club, in Palm Desert, California.
But it’s his other project, his pickleball-centered movie script, that he thinks will do the most to instantly spread the sport beyond the base of its 4.8 million players in the United States.
Like what the movie Top Gun did for recruiting future Navy pilots, Pickleballs! – The Movie can do for bringing pickleball to the center frame of American pop culture, Beeman figures.
Beeman has channeled the hit movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a comedy centered around NASCAR and starring Will Ferrel and Sasha Baron Cohen as the frictional lead characters.
“When you have the characters in mind, it tends to write itself,” Beeman said.
The pitch goes like this:
“When an aging, former tennis champ loses his job, home, and his mother on the same day, he must travel the country in an old RV with his former rival while hustling for enough cash to pay off gambling debts by playing in pickleball tournaments.”
That former aging tennis champ, the fictional Chip Cox, would be the Will Ferrel character. The former rival is a brooding Russian named Boris Baryshnikov, envisioned as the Cohen character, who agrees to the road trip to avoid facing financial ruin over his failing marijuana-growing commune in upstate New York.
The two former tennis stars figure they can salvage their athletic prowess decades after their prime by becoming pro pickleball players, even though they detest each other and haven’t spoken in 40 years.
“They have stomach problems, hair problems, knee problems, and they’re stubbornly stuck to their ideologies,” Beeman said.
But along the way, they discover the joy of playing pickleball, the sport they initially underestimated, and have to learn to master.
“They live together in the RV, learning from each other, traveling to compete in tournaments across the country,” Beeman wrote in his pitch. “In the end, they find the happiness they were seeking as the opposite of what they thought it would be.”
And along the way, the movie audience would have a funny introduction to pickleball, which would include roles from actual pro players, Beeman envisions.
He’s got senior pros Dave “The Badger” Weinbach and Dayne “The Mentalist” Gingrich written into the script along with Kyle Yates and the always flashy, J “Gizmo” Hall.
“I found it was really easy to have fun with this. Tennis players are already making fun of us for not being athletes,” Beeman said. “The culture of pickleball is so different than the culture of tennis, and I wanted to show that.”
Beeman said a byproduct of the movie will be to make non-players want to get on the court and see why so many pickleballers are passionate about the sport..
“It puts pickleball in a good light,” he said. “It shows how fun it is to play.”
It’s one thing to write a movie script. Getting that movie produced, which often starts with raising millions of dollars from investors and getting commitments from actors who are in high demand, is very hard.
“Unless you have an agent, you can’t get an agent, and I’ve tried to appeal directly to Will Ferrel, and found out how hard it is to reach him.”
But Beeman’s not giving up. In fact, he has written a sequel, and sees his movie idea as a potential franchise, not a one-off.
As he points out, movies based on sports have done very well in the box office.
Blades of Fury found its humor in the world of competitive ice skating. Millions of people flocked to the theater to watch the Ben Stiller / Vince Vaughn comedy about dodgeball called Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore cast the stodgy world of golf in a whole new light.
And let’s not forget that even arm wrestling rated a movie with Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top.
Considering all this, it’s not hard to imagine that somewhere, somebody is pitching a feature-length comedy about professional cornhole, and it’s bound to have a bratwurst product placement tie-in.
As for pickleball, the sport already has a built-in advantage on the road to a green-lighted movie deal.
Hollywood movie industry figures and celebrities are some of the most avid amateur pickleball players out there, as a recent story in Vanity Fair pointed out.
“Out of nowhere, pickleball is everywhere,” the story says. “This sneaky-fast amalgam of tennis, badminton, and Ping-Pong has been embraced by Larry David, Melinda Gates, Jamie Foxx, the Kardashians, Owen Wilson, Jillian Michaels, Zach Braff, and Giuliana Rancic. Pro athletes from Russell Wilson to Annika Sörenstam have mastered the dink and drive.”
So, Beeman presses on. As he continues to make the case for more pickleball courts as a way for resorts and hotels to lure guests, he’s waiting for somebody to realize that the time is right for a big-screen pickleball movie, like the one he has already written.
“I’m looking to make a movie that will make other people money,” he said.
Like a good pickleball player, he’s being patient, holding the line, and keeping the ball in play.