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Wayne Boich, Jimmy Butler & the Power of Padel

The inaugural Blockchain.com Miami Padel Open runs through Sunday at the luxurious Island Gardens, featuring top-level pros and A-list entertainers.

Eight years ago, Wayne Boich was in France when somebody showed him padel for the first time. He was 38 years old and long removed from his days starring as the No. 1 junior tennis player in Florida. He quickly learned that padel stoked the passion he always held dear for tennis.

The CEO and chairman of Boich Investment Group loved padel so much that when he arrived back home in Miami, he incorporated the now-surging racquet sport into his daily routine.

“A bunch of us who used to play tennis all started to play a little bit, but there were no real courts,” he told Boardroom. “There were a couple courts in the Aventura area, but nothing to speak of. We got a little clique together. Gradually, people started to play. I built a court at my house, and then people started to come to the house and play. I started to bring over some of the pros, and with that, people started to watch it more. As they watched it, one club got built. Two clubs, three clubs. Now, it’s become the talk of the town.”

And so, it felt like the perfect time for Boich to bring the World Padel Tour — based in Spain — to the United States for just the second time over the last five years with the Blockchain.com Miami Padel Open. The inaugural six-day spectacle began Tuesday and will run through Sunday, Feb. 27, at the picturesque waterfront Island Gardens. The tournament officially kicks off the 2022 World Padel Tour season.

Boich serves as the primary organizer and licenser of the event — a role he has often held over the years alongside his wife, Cynthia, from hosting charitable efforts to buzzing Art Basel bashes.

“Doing a one-night dinner and parties like a Basel party or a one-night charity event is one thing,” Boich said. “Doing a six-day event? I cannot take credit for everything that is the Miami Padel Open.”

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To bring the Miami Padel Open to life, Boich Investment Group has not only tapped Blockchain.com as the title sponsor but also luxury watch brand Richard Mille as the presenting sponsor. The Richard Mille Luxury Boxes are home to 76 individual VIP boxes, where food and drinks are curated by the likes of ZZ’s Club, Pura Vida, and La Fête du Rosé. On top of that, beloved Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler is serving as the tournament’s honorary chair.

While the world’s best professional padel players duke it out for the title, attendees will be treated to top-notch entertainment away from the court. Beginning Thursday night, the day’s festivities will be capped off by special performances from Rick Ross, Ludacris — fresh off his appearance at NBA All-Star Weekend — Gianluca Vacchi, and Wyclef Jean.

“If you’re coming to an event to watch padel, that’s one thing, but coming to an event and also having access as part of that ticket you’re purchasing to also see incredible acts is pretty special,” Boich said. “We’ll stay true to the vibe of Miami with all of that.”

Rooted in Tennis

Padel is played on a 33-by-66-foot court — bigger than a pickleball court and smaller than a standard tennis court. The scoring is the same as tennis, but the points are prolonged because the padel court is surrounded by glass. Balls are allowed to bounce off the glass before players — usually playing in doubles — return it over the net to their opponents.

“It also helps people that are new to the game — or maybe don’t move as fast — feel like they’re getting good at the sport more quickly, as opposed to tennis where there is more court to cover, you’re chasing balls around, and if the ball gets by you, the point is over,” Boich said.

And he certainly has plenty of experience in tennis to be able to dissect the differences between it and padel.

Growing up partially in Miami, Boich started to hit a tennis ball against his garage door at around five or six years old. By the time he was competing in 12-and-unders, he was ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 3 nationally for his age group. That led his parents to move him to an academy near the Tampa area. He traveled the world, playing in junior grand slams, including the U.S. Open, and eventually landed a full tennis scholarship to the University of Miami, where the Neil Schiff Tennis Center scoreboard now boasts the Boich name.

“[Tennis] was a big part of my life, and that obviously bolsters the passion I have for padel because I still get to play,” he said. “I’m getting old compared to these pros, but I still get to play with them and be competitive.”

Boich tries to stage games at his court — which is, more or less, Miami’s unofficial padel stadium — five days out of the week and he remains in the loop about the growth of the game at all times.

“Over the last year or two, it really has exploded in Miami,” he said. “The people that teach the game now in Miami are also good friends of mine. You can tell the demand for lessons from them — there’s just not enough time in the day. The demand for new clubs. People call me all the time about padel, and kind of joking, they will say, ‘We thought you were kidding; we thought this was ping pong.’

“[That all] led me to think that now is the time to really take advantage of it for the sport because you’ll get enough buzz around it that you can create this special event that will be the first of many.”

A Bond with Butler

Shortly after a four-team trade landed Butler with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2019, a mutual friend introduced Boich to the six-time All-Star at a dinner. Unbeknownst to Boich at the time, they shared a passion for padel, which quickly ascended the ranks among Butler’s ever-growing interests outside of basketball that famously already included coffee, soccer, and wine.

“I heard about you, Wayne,” Butler said that night.

“How’s that?” Boich asked.

“I heard you play padel pretty good.”

Boich confirmed what Butler had heard.

“Well, I think I could kick your ass,” Butler floated.

Boich wasn’t having that: “There’s a better chance I beat you one-on-one than you beat me at padel, buddy. If you want to come to my court, you’re welcome any day.”

Butler accepted the challenge and turned up to Boich’s court the next day. He watched Boich play padel and saw all he needed to see.

“I’m never gonna play padel with you,” Butler conceded. “But I can still beat you in one-on-one.”

Butler was originally exposed to padel through his friendship with Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar. The sport paved the way for a friendship with Boich, too. It felt natural to Boich, then, to ask Butler to be involved in the Miami Padel Open once it came to fruition.

“Anything he can do or help with, he’s been more than happy and willing to give his time and energy,” Boich said. “I had told him that I was considering hosting an event here with the best players. He’s been at my house when I’ve had some of the [pros] in town to play. When I brought it up to him, he said, ‘Man, that’s a great idea. Tell me how I can help out.'”

Like Boich, Butler’s affection for racquet sports is split between padel and tennis.

Padel holds the edge, though.

“Padel became an instant obsession for me back when my trainer first introduced me to the sport as a new conditioning workout,” Butler said in a press release. “I love to compete. It really drives me, which ultimately drove my passion for padel to where I’ll play two to three hours a day when I can.”

But the Miami Padel Open isn’t a selfish venture.

Giving Back, Pushing Forward

The goal is to jumpstart padel’s infiltration into communities across the U.S. in the same way it has within Boich’s inner circle and Miami as a whole over the last couple of years.

While pursuing that, Boich plans to simultaneously use the Miami Padel Open as an annual charitable effort.

This year’s event will dedicate portions of the proceeds to local athletes’ charities — such as Alonzo Mourning’s Overtown Youth Center, as well as organizations supported by Butler, Dan Marino, and Udonis Haslem— and several local hospitals.

Money aside, Boich knows firsthand the power of padel and the influence it can have on your life. In the same way tennis was ingrained enough in American culture for him to know to hit a ball against the garage door as a boy, he wants the Miami Padel Open to create momentum for padel training facilities to be built for kids “to grow and ultimately become great players.”

“If there’s one challenge for all of us who play at a similar level in the U.S., it’s that we’d love to have a lot more people in the U.S. that are playing at a high level,” Boich said. “Part of what this tournament and future tournaments will do is open the eyes to people from overseas to try and find out how we bring this sport at a professional level to the U.S.”

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