| 03.18.2018

Street Ballin’


 Summer on the Palouse can fall into a quiet monotony but for one weekend near the end of June hundreds of thousands of people gather in Spokane for the world’s biggest 3-on-3 basketball tournament – Hoopfest.

Players scramble for the ball at the 25th annual Hoopfest in downtown Spokane.

Players scramble for the ball at the 25th annual Hoopfest in downtown Spokane.

Hoopfest celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with crowds and activities that quickly banished the boredom of summer university life. This year Hoopfest took place on June 28 and 29. According to the organizers, it brought 6,905 teams, 27,000 players and 225,000 fans to Spokane. This influx of basketball crazed people sold out Spokane hotels, filled up hundreds of its portable toilets and bought thousands of overpriced bottles of water.

While the center of Hoopfest is the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the event has expanded into a two-day festival celebrating basketball. Downtown Spokane closes down 42 blocks so 450 basketball courts can be taped out in the streets. Food vendors spring up at every street corner and Riverfront Park is filled with sponsor booths, rest areas and the specially constructed Nike Center Court.

The streets are packed with spectators lining the curbs and wandering the stores. Some shop, but most are just looking for air-conditioning and a soft place to sit. For one weekend nobody is surprised to see shirtless athletes in the lobby or lines of sweaty players at every restaurant. The downtown mall bears the brunt of the assault. Its air-conditioned lobby is like a magnet to tired and sweaty people and its escalators are packed with players and fans seeking a respite from the summer sun.

The days are long with games starting early and dragging late into the evening. Most teams only play a few games per day and downtime is spent wandering the streets, watching other games and resting up for coming games. 

Downtown Spokane loses its normal traffic and becomes a basketball mecca, complete with bleachers, hoops and hundreds of portable toilets. Players throng the streets, dressed in the latest in basketball gear. Thousands of supportive friends, family, and other fans come with them, hauling coolers and camping chairs.

Many families have been coming here for years, building traditions around this two day tribute to basketball. Veteran Hoopfest attendees come prepared with chairs, umbrellas, and coolers full of beverages. Hoopfest is nearly always sunny and full days outdoors call for sunscreen and hydration. Those who do not come prepared pay dearly for it as street vendors hike their prices in anticipation of the demand.

Hoopfest hosts teams of every caliber, from Division 1 athletes down to children who play on lowered hoops. The streets are packed with crowds of people from different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common – a love of basketball.

Along with the games, Hoopfest offers opportunities to meet star athletes, compete in different basketball related contests and watch events like the Slam Dunk competition. 

While diehard ballers will enjoy themselves at Hoopfest, the less basketball obsessed still have plenty of opportunities for fun. There are recreational divisions, complete with themed teams and costumed players. Downtown Spokane undergoes a complete transformation for Hoopfest and many stores have sales and specials for the event.

Hoopfest is a unique event. It is an ode to basketball set in the northwest. Far more than just a 3-on-3 tournament, Hoopfest offers a respite from the summer boredom of Moscow, an opportunity to play basketball in the streets of downtown Spokane and a weekend of entertainment for the entire family.

 Cy Whitling can be reached at argonaut@uidaho.edu

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