Halfway through the 6-foot-and-under men’s semifinal at Nike Center Court on Saturday, a few turned their backs towards the court. They gazed down Stevens Street and pointed at something that had caught their eyes.
A few others looked up to see why some had began ignoring the game. They took out their cell phones and started leaning over the back of the bleachers to grab a better photo.
Then the crowd erupted.
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant surprised thousands of Hoopfest players and fans on Sunday as he made his way between the bleachers along Stevens and to the center of the court.
Young fans rushed from the bleachers, grabbing their basketballs, gym bags, hats, whatever they could find, for the 2017 NBA Finals MVP to sign.
But Durant stayed on the side of the court behind a circle of body guards and police and watched the final minutes of the 3-on-3 semifinal the thousands of fans had forgotten about. He looked around at all of his young fans who had spent the entire weekend on the streets playing the game that has defined Durant’s fame.
“It makes me smile, man. Basketball is just so precious to me and the game is just so much fun and I want everybody to experience the amount of fun I have when I play,” Durant said. “(Hoopfest) is sparking a lot of young kids. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of NBA players come through here.”
Durant said visiting Hoopfest on Sunday brought about some old memories of when he used to play in his neighborhood 3-on-3 tournament called Hoop It Up. His quick trip to Spokane also brought him back to his college days and reminded him of where his NBA career is rooted.
In 2007, Durant led Texas to the NCAA Tournament in Spokane where they fell in the round of 32. He cut his college career with the Longhorns to one year when he was selected in the first round by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007.
“Seattle was one of the best years of my life,” Durant told the crowd.
Durant left with the Sonics when the team was taken to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder. After nearly 10 years, Durant said he hopes Seattle will lock down another NBA team soon.
“I know how tough it was for the team to move so hopefully we get a team there,” Durant said. “I’m hoping and praying that they do. They deserve it.”
But, of course, there’s always Hoopfest – the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the world. This year, Hoopfest, which normally collaborates with Nike, made Durant, the face of the tournament.
That brought a smile to Durant’s face.
“It feels great …. to be the face of street basketball. That’s pretty cool to me,” Durant said.
After he greeted to the crowd on Sunday, Durant took a few younger kids from the crowd a played a quick 3-on-3 game. Within a minute, the 6-9 forward took the ball up to the rim and stuffed it, sending a roar through the stands.
Durant stayed long enough to watch five contestants battle is out in the slam dunk final. He grabbed a T-shirt gun and shot a few shirts out to the crowd – and some to the surrounding streets – before waving goodbye.
Hoopfest also introduced Durant’s new shoes, KD10s, at the 3-on-3 tournament this year. The shoes will be available online beginning July 1.
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