Brian Levine stands with a teammate next to a trophy.

Pick up your paddle: Pickleball is the next big thing

After 25 years with Goldman Sachs, alumnus Brian Levine is ready for his second career.

Brian Levine and his wife pose at a sports event.

Brian Levine (BSBA ’92) recently accepted a position as interim CEO of the only professional team league in America’s new favorite sport – Major League Pickleball (MLP).

“If you knew me, you’d know it’s not shocking at all that I took on this role,” he said. “The sport of pickleball has surged in popularity for many reasons, but largely because of the inclusiveness and positivity engrained in its culture. I want to spread that joy by sharing the incredible experience of watching professionals play with the world.”

Throughout his life and career, Levine has sought opportunities to intersect his passion for sports, aptitude for business and contributing to a positive impact on society. During his career at Goldman Sachs, he made the most of his position as Partner of the company by establishing multiple sports-themed fundraising events to benefit underprivileged children.

One such charity event he created was an annual wiffleball tournament for Goldman Sachs employees, hosted near the company’s headquarters in New York. The tournament benefited DREAM Charter Schools, a local non-profit that runs a charter school and after-school sports programs. Using his position as Goldman’s Global co-Head of Equities Trading, Levine organized 120 teams of employees to spend a work day competing for a good cause.

Upon retiring from Goldman Sachs after working with the company for 25 years, Levine decided to take a break from his pure finance background and try something new.

Brian Levine and his teammates pose at a Pickleball match. When COVID first hit Manhattan in early March 2020, Levine, his wife Beth (BSBA ’93) and their three kids left their home in New York City and relocated to South Florida. 

A year after retirement and a few months into the pandemic, Levine was introduced to Dr. Charity Dean, the protagonist of the most recent book by acclaimed author Michael Lewis called The Premonition (Levine was a positive character in Flash Boys, a previous Lewis book about the stock market). The Premonition focused on Dr. Dean’s accurate forecast of COVID and her frustrations with the government’s response to the pandemic. She and Levine then co-founded The Public Health Company to integrate public health expertise into software. Three years later, the company now has over 50 employees and recently completed a $40 million funding round.

Like many other Americans, COVID also affected Levine psychologically. In addition to the uncertainty and isolation that came with the early days of the pandemic, Levine was struggling with managing a startup in addition to adjusting to a brand-new location for him and his family. 

It was then he was introduced to pickleball, which became an oasis of relief from the daily stresses.

“I could have easily been in a bad place like a lot of people were through COVID, but this sport gave me an outlet to find new friends, compete and exercise regularly,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why pickleball took off the way it has, because it’s the perfect way to cope with the isolation.”

Commitment to the sport motivated Levine to take lessons, study videos on YouTube, and get into the best shape of his life. His dedication paid off: Levine quickly worked his way through the levels to advance to the Senior Pro Level and is now ranked among the top 20 Senior Pro players in the country.

A group of four people playing pickleball on a court while a referee watches.

Because of his background in business, Levine noticed the investment opportunity that pickleball presented. Living in it, he could see that the sport was exploding, gaining popularity with other people and athletes.

“You could see the positive influence it was having, not just on me, but on these other people around me,” he said. “You hear all these stories of people having personal issues or substance issues, and then they found pickleball and it changed their life.”

Pickleball is also becoming popular among celebrities. Big names such as LeBron James (NY Hustlers), Naomi Osaka (Miami PC), Tom Brady (Vegas Night Owls) and Gary Vaynerchuk (Jersey Fives) enjoy both playing the sport and participating as owners of the MLP entity. At a recent MLP tournament in Arizona, competing owners and NFL legends Drew Brees and Larry Fitzgerald played against each other on the court between Pro matches.

“It’s not just the fun of the game, it’s the culture of positivity and inclusivity that is specific to pickleball that has caused the sport to skyrocket,” Levine said.

Brian Levine playing Pickleball. Levine speculates that another reason why pickleball is so popular is because of the pace of the game. Compared to sports like baseball, where the ball is only in play for 4% of the time, pickleball offers more action. In pickleball, the ball is in play for nearly half of the game, keeping audiences engaged.

Fueled by his excitement for the advancing sport, Levine started looking for ways to become involved in its business aspect. Since he accepted his role as interim CEO, MLP has already doubled their franchises from 12 teams to 24 teams. Levine and his colleagues are eagerly anticipating their next event of the year, which will be held in nearby Daytona Beach from March 23rd through 26th.

“I couldn’t have planned this, there’s no way I would have said a year ago that I’d be in this situation running Major League Pickleball,” he said. “But you ultimately put yourself in the right position by constantly doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Amidst all the activity, Levine takes time to reflect on the events that led him to where he is today. After graduating from UF in 1992 and earning his MBA from Emory University in 1994, he began applying to financial companies, but had difficulty landing an interview due to his lack of work experience. Every day, he sent out resumes to various companies, and every day he received rejections. Instead of giving up, however, Levine motivated himself by creating a “Wall of Shame” where he taped up every rejection letter. Before long, he had 80 letters up on his wall and was still without a job offer.

“I often think about what would have happened to my career and my life if I had stopped at the eightieth letter,” he said. “You never know, right?”

Brian Levine and Danny Wuerffel pose with gold medals and Pickleball paddles.

Brian Levine poses with UF alumnus and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.

Finally, Levine got an informational interview with Goldman Sachs in New York City. Leading up to the interview, he began calling everyone he knew, trying to find a connection to someone who already worked at Goldman. He got a name on a Monday and called right away but was told that his connection was out of the office.

On Tuesday, he tried again, only to receive the same response. Same story on Wednesday, Thursday… on Friday, he tried one more time. This time, the connection picked up the phone and Levine got the response he had been waiting for: “Brian, you’re very persistent, what do you want?”

“It’s not a prepackaged lesson to ‘make sure you call someone five times,’” he said. “It’s about not fearing rejection and giving it your all. Ninety-nine times out of 100, those five calls were in vain, but you never know about that last one.”

Unflagging effort instigated many opportunities for Levine, and he encourages others to pursue their passions with the same dedication. Whether it’s pickleball, business or simply trying to positively impact society, don’t give up.

“If you do find something interesting, dive deep into it,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to come out of it, but don’t get discouraged, it could change your life.”