Hoopfest would be the perfect event if it could just figure out how to get rid of the one niggling, nagging, disappointing element.
Not all the players. Stuff 14,000 of them in one city as Spokane did over the weekend and there are bound to be a few good ones out there somewhere.
Unfortunately, in answering almost every challenge over six years, the organizers of Spokane’s 3-on-3 basketball tournament still haven’t figured out how to rule on human nature.
What do you do with personality flaws?
I’m not sure why, but reasonably decent people adjust the goggles and tighten up the knee brace - and suddenly you’ve got Jekyll and Hyde at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Post.
Every year, Hoopfest gets bigger and bigger, and every year, fewer people are smiling and laughing.
I don’t think it’s my imagination. Maybe it’s just a carry-over from organized ball, where winning is the point. Winning is the fun.
OK, but for all its magnitude and music nobody ever heard before, this is Hoopfest. So be real. Nobody cares. Nobody but you and your circle.
I’ll say this: Play four games on a street corner on Saturday and Hoopfest takes shape. It becomes a mirror that suddenly appears right in front of your beady little eyes. By making you play four games at 8, 10:30, 5 and 7, Hoopfest eventually shows you up for what you are.
If, for example, you’re a whiner, you can cover yourself for a game or two, but three or four games on a sizzling Saturday will turn the socially acceptable closet complainer into a howling fool.
The whiner is Hoopfest’s new menace.
For purposes of this discussion, we’ll define “whiner” as a player who takes notice of the score and starts calling every bump a foul. The flow of the game degenerates into a free-throw contest.
In one game, the testimony went like this.
“That’s a foul.”
Now, in the not necessarily good old days, when defense called fouls and there were no free throws, “bull” meant end of discussion, especially when it came from the obviously disadvantaged - the vertically impaired, like me.
This year, however, “bull” meant the discussion was just heating up.
“You can’t do that. That’s a foul.”
“Bull. It’s a charge.”
Enter the court monitor, who this year carried dictatorial power. In theory, this is good. In practice, it is “bull.”
Not that free throws are bad, but some people - the whiners - will take a good argument over a good game any day, meaning they will invent ways to go to the line for the easy point.
See, Hoopfest started in 1990 with 512 teams and a problem. Play was brutal because, at first, nobody was an official. The finals in too many brackets came down to the jerks vs. the thugs. Crime paid.
Now, everybody’s an official. This year, they let everybody call fouls, and everybody did. It was Hoopfest as Little League baseball - organized to a fault because a few good rules aren’t enough.
Ever wonder why the NCAA handbook is a bazillion pages? Pass a rule and smart guys will bend it and eventually break it softly, so hardly anybody notices. In real basketball, we call this coaching.
Basketball needs coaching. Hoopfest doesn’t. We give and take too much of it as it is.
This event has assembled some of the best basketball minds in town to improve it. I have a suggestion for them, a new rule from the grass roots.
Write this one down: Everybody shut up.
Court monitors, coaches, especially players.
Shut up, play hard and take immense pleasure in the joy of your health and the use of some of your fingers.
It’s a beautiful happening with an ideal urban setting for the best game in the world.
What we do with it next year and beyond is up to us.
I teamed up this year with my two oldest sons.
That mirror I mentioned? I looked hard. I didn’t see jerk, thug or whiner staring back. Our wounds are superficial. We won and we lost and we spent time together. I’ll treasure the memory.
But one thing’s going to change. If we play next year under the same rules, I’ll need something a lot more original than “bull.”