Spokane’s love affair with 3-on-3 basketball is well-established, to be renewed this weekend with the 21st edition of Hoopfest.
Now it appears there’s a new player in town.
Sponsoring nine Hoopfest elite courts on Spokane Falls Boulevard is the fledgling 3BA, a professional full-court, 3-on-3 league with designs on opening play in the summer of 2011 with teams in the United States and China – including the Spokane Slam.
Commissioner Garry Merritt – former general counsel for the NBA’s Houston Rockets – heads a 3BA delegation here for Hoopfest weekend to seed interest in what he called “the perfect market” to launch this endeavor.
“This is the ‘heart’ of basketball,” Merritt insisted. “The 3BA game features pure basketball skills, all the things we love about basketball – ball-handling, movement, spacing, shooting – that often get muted.”
The game is full-court, but the court itself is 72 feet – 22 shorter than regulation – and the shot clock runs just 18 seconds. One significant rule – “similar to offsides in soccer,” Merritt noted – prevents that playground bugaboo, cherry-picking.
So it’s up-tempo – and up-up-up there in scoring.
If the 3BA sounds even vaguely familiar, it may be because five exhibition games were staged in 2008, including in Seattle and Portland, to test potential appeal. Merritt and his aides were brought aboard to develop the game into a league.
The Slam are one of just two teams announced to this point, along with the Las Vegas Voltage. But “eight to 10 North American teams” are envisioned, according to Merritt, including a Northwest-based division – along with an eight-team Chinese division being pulled together by vice president Bruce Oneil, once the head coach at the University of Hawaii with long-established ties to Asian basketball through his United States Basketball Academy.
The owners/operators of the Slam are Gayland Hammack and his wife, Juli Koentopp-Hammack, daughter of former Gonzaga athletic director and former Spokane Indians owner Larry Koentopp.
“There are local investors,” she said, “but we can’t disclose them right now.”
What they can disclose is why they think the 3BA will be different from the countless leagues that have floated the notion of professional basketball in Spokane over the last two decades. One is the 3BA game itself; the other is the playing season – June to October – which Merritt and Oneil said will give the league entrée to truly professional talent.
“The time of year we play is the opposite of all the other pro leagues, stateside and internationally,” Merritt said. “The guys we think that will be playing in this league will be playing professionally in the winter either overseas or in the NBA Development League or other North American leagues.
“Ideally, they will be players with local ties – and that’s one of the reasons we think Spokane is ideal. But regardless, it will be a high level of basketball.”
Rosters will include just seven players. Merritt said the salary structure will include slots for two “premier” players who could earn as much as $40,000 for the 30-game season, three middle slots ($25,000) and two “developmental” players ($10,000-15,000).
“I see our players being younger, with a big upside,” said Oneil. “I coached in the old Continental Basketball Association where you had a lot of former NBA guys who were slugs, guys looking to score 50 and get a paycheck. We want guys who still have a shot of playing and aspiring to a higher level.
“We’re going to have an overabundance of talent. We’re going to have (NBA) D-League-type guys, at least.”
Merritt said the full slate of teams and a 2011 schedule will be announced in October. More exhibitions may be played in the fall in the league markets.
“Spokane for this league is a no-brainer,” said Hammack. “This is a basketball town, with home-grown talent and fans. It takes Hoopfest to another level.”