As Michael Phelps toed the line, he did his customary pre-event backslap, his 6’7” wingspan rivaling that of a pterodactyl. He flapped his arms about his chest to the sheer delight of a packed house, while his focus remained unmoved. Only on this day, Phelps was staring down a different opponent than he had faced so many times before in the pool.

The man he was staring at was a great athlete with his own impressive wingspan, former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Two of the best athletes in the world were competing again. Only this time, it was in pickleball.

This scene played out at the PPA Tour event earlier this year in Phoenix, Ariz. Fitzgerald and Phelps played doubles, pairing with top pickleball pros. Fitzgerald, the local favorite, showed great skills, skying high to hit winning overheads. Phelps, more of a novice to the game, battled hard to the joy of the crowd.


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“Having the opportunity to play pickleball with Michael Phelps and Larry Fitzgerald—two of the most accomplished and iconic athletes of all time—was truly a special moment both personally and for the growth of our sport,” said No. 3-ranked pickleball pro Matt Wright. “Aside from the obvious athletic superiority, their humility, kindness and generosity are what stood out the most and stole the show.”

Fitzgerald, ever the fierce competitor, even agreed to a singles battle with the No. 1 woman in the world, Anna Leigh Waters, who happens to be 15 years old. It was quite the challenge for Fitzgerald, but the deck was stacked in his favor. He was given the serve and a 9–0 lead in one game to 11. Despite this advantage and his good-natured comments about Waters’ curfew time, Fitzgerald was not able to score, losing 11–9.

The highlight of the night, though, was when 10-year-old Leo Chun was pulled from the crowd to play. He presented Fitzgerald with a Cardinals paddle, then proceeded to unleash the skills of a seasoned veteran on the 38-year-old—once again proving that pickleball is truly a sport for all ages, and all types of players.