Spokane’s downtown filled with thousands of jersey-clad players Saturday, including some who dunked, drove and screened their way to Hoopfest victories. Others learned that in the dog-eat-dog world of street ball, somebody has to wear the Milk Bone shorts.
Saturday’s Hoopfest tournament had 6,120 teams revolving on and off 388 makeshift courts erected on city streets that were closed to traffic. The turnout was the second largest in the event’s 15-year history and maintained Hoopfest’s standing as the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.
And that was just the athletes. The real crowd was the spectators, who lined sidewalks and skywalks, shoulder-to-shoulder in places, watching family members, friends and strangers, from 4-foot girls just learning the game to towering men with experience in the pros.
“That’s the fun: the diversity, the different ages and sizes and shapes of the players,” said Spokane’s Kathleen Turcotte, whose two grown sons were participants.
Things ran relatively smoothly in the first day of the two-day event, although a couple of oddities sent players and spectators scrambling for safety.
A confused elderly driver took a wrong turn off Post, driving through a block of basketball courts on Sprague, interrupting games and warm-ups and nearly hitting a child.
On Sprague Avenue, a teenager from Seattle who was trying to make the play of the day smashed into a window of the Fox Theater, shattering the glass.
Emmanuel Launivao was taken by ambulance to Deaconess Medical Center, where he was treated for cuts to his right arm and released.
“He was lucky. It could have been a life-threatening cut,” said a medic on the scene who asked not to be identified.
The ambulances set up for Hoopfest emergencies were parked next to Launivao’s court on Sprague.
According Matt Smith, 16, who was on the opposing team, Launivao – part of a team called And Another One – dived to save a loose ball, then flipped it over his head and went sailing toward the window.
He tried to stop his forward momentum on the window, which was about 12 feet away from the curb.
“It was a nice move, but then he went through the glass,” Smith said.
Richard Klingler of Premera Blue Cross coordinated medical volunteers from area hospitals to run first-aid tents.
This year, Klingler said, more people suffered breaks, sprains and pulled muscles, but fewer minor injuries. Last year, 1,100 people were treated over the weekend.
Volunteers treated 540 people Saturday, including 25 who were sent to the hospital with injuries that included broken bones, sprains and damaged muscles.
For a brief period, skies darkened and thunder clapped. A few minutes of rainfall turned courts into Slip ‘N Slides.
The Barracudas – a girls team from Puyallup – were fish out of water when it came to dealing with slick pavement.
They lost control of their second game but were still one for two going into the afternoon.
“It was really slippery. Every time you started to run too fast, you started to fall,” said Amanda Imhof, 13.
Marshals tossed out some troublemakers.
“There’s been a couple fights between whole teams,” said Jim Dribble, a volunteer with the operations committee.
One spectator who suffered a broken nose told those treating him that he was cheering for a friend on a sideline when he was punched by an opposing team member, then jumped by the entire team. Police were looking into the matter.
Dribble said the marshals, volunteers with backgrounds in law enforcement and security, kept small problems from getting big.
“I can’t say enough about the tremendous job they do taking volatile situations and diffusing them so police don’t have to get involved,” he said.
Players by and large behaved themselves while competing intensely.
Jerry Talley, 65, of the Spokane-based team Waste Management, bit the pavement while blocking a member of the opposing team, Bank-It.
Members of Bank-It grew up playing against Talley and knew they needed to shut him down. “He’ll shoot lights out if you let him,” said Rodger McDaniel, of Spokane.
The tactic worked. Waste Management narrowly lost.
Bank-It team member Barry Thornton said play gets easier in the older brackets because there’s less fouling among adults.
“We’ve got jobs to go to on Monday,” he said.
Band Geeks, a team with two trumpet players, a drummer and violinist who attend Bowdish Middle School in Spokane Valley, rose to the top for catchy names but couldn’t pull a victory over team Magic Williams.
The Geeks made several impressive 2-point shots, but “I thought we could have done better,” said drummer Josh Tomlinson, 13, who suggested adding more defensive screens for the next game.
Magic Williams can play basketball, but can they play the William Tell Overture?
The crowds meant big business for Domini’s sandwich shop, which had one of its best weekends of the year.
“We have restrooms,” said co-owner Joe Domini.
“That’s the big draw, and it’s air conditioned.”
Business was slow for Spokane Uniform House, and employee Carol Eggles decided to watch a few plays from inside the store.
“For the past five years, I’ve really enjoyed Hoopfest because the wheelchair boys played outside,” she said.
“This year they moved them, so I get to watch little girls.”
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