Anna Garwood Created A Makeshift Pickleball Court In Brooklyn. The Durant Family Foundation Noticed

Anna Garwood Brooklyn

By Karen Price
Red Line Editorial

Months before Anna Garwood and Samin Odhwani met, they unknowingly crossed paths on a weekly basis.

Odhwani was training for the 2022 New York City Marathon, and every Sunday he ran past the asphalt lot at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park where Garwood regularly hosts open play pickleball games.

“I saw the crowds getting larger and larger and larger, and I was like, ‘What is going on there?’” Odhwani said. “Then when (Garwood) and I came across each other at an event in the fall I was like, ‘You’re the Williamsburg Pickleball lady! I’ve seen what you’ve done.’ It’s wild.”

Now, they’re teaming up to bring new pickleball courts to Brooklyn to serve a community that Garwood, a USA Pickleball Ambassador, described as “exploding at the seams.” Odhwani is the director of business operations at 35 Ventures, which was founded by NBA star Kevin Durant and business partner Rich Kleiman. Durant recently purchased the Brooklyn Aces of Major League Pickleball, and his Durant Family Foundation has built basketball courts all across the world. 

“It’s been a focus through the foundation to bring sports to underserved communities,” Odhwani said. “To date, the focus has been on basketball, but now that we’ve embedded ourselves in owning a team in Major League Pickleball it’s now a focus and something we’re working on. There’s no reason why we can’t bring what we’re doing with basketball to pickleball.”

Right now, the options for playing pickleball in Brooklyn are slim, especially when one considers that the borough has a population of 2.5 million people. There are only three parks through the parks department with official courts, Garwood said, which translates into long waits. And none of those parks are located in north Brooklyn. 

Enter the makeshift courts that Garwood created to help fill the need. She was fairly new to the sport late in the summer of 2021 and had noticed during her frequent COVID-era walks around the neighborhood that no one was ever using a slab of asphalt at McCarren Park. 

It was always this empty lot,” said Garwood, a longtime tennis player who’d recently become a pickleball convert. “One day, I was standing staring at it and had this vision, like Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams’ or something, like: This could be something. We need to make this into something.”

She bought a net and convinced a friend to come with her to set it up, draw some lines and get a game going. Every time they played, people walking by would stop and ask what they were doing. Before long, Garwood had about 20 people listed in her phone with the last name “Pickleball” from collecting contact information from folks who wanted to play. She started the @WilliamsburgPickleball Instagram account in February 2022, and by early summer she had a lot more people coming out for open play than they had room to accommodate.

“So I bought a second net, and then people started buying their own nets and putting more lines on open courts, and it turned into a big party,” said Garwood, who became an official USA Pickleball Ambassador around the same time. “We’d play music, people would come out every Wednesday, we’d get drinks afterwards and that’s how it grew from there.”

She met Odhwani in the fall at an event hosted by CityPickle, which is installing 14 pickleball courts at Wollman Rink in Central Park now that ice skating season is over. Talk quickly turned to the need for more places to play in and around their shared neighborhood. 

Garwood has now identified unused spaces in three north Brooklyn parks where pickleball courts could be located. The team will present their proposal in front of a committee on April 26. 

“The Durant Family Foundation has agreed to help fund construction as long as we get approval from the parks department, so that’s what we’re advocating for,” Garwood said.

Their proposal includes refurbishing existing sports surfaces and utilizing spaces that need to be overhauled. Odhwani envisions building courts with a similar vibe to the basketball courts they’ve funded, with murals and artwork and a laid-back feel that’s accessible to the community. They hope to be able to reach people, including youth, who haven’t been exposed to the sport as well as fill the need for athletes of all levels to have options for play.

“That’s the great thing about pickleball is that everyone can compete, whether you’re a beginner and you just want to be out in the fresh air having fun with your friends, or looking for intermediate play or you’re hyper-competitive,” Garwood said. “There’s a lot of passion and enthusiasm (for pickleball in Brooklyn). Once people start playing, they get obsessed very quickly. It’s a thriving scene.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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