Hoopfest pulled off its big surprise on Sunday when it welcomed Kevin Durant to Nike Center Court.
It was a quick visit for the Golden State star, who had landed in Spokane a little after 2 p.m. and was back in the air on a private plane a couple of hours later.
Durant’s short stay was packed with screaming fans, photos, autographs, t-shirt guns and, of course, and quick 3-on-3 game at Nike Center Court where his name was displayed on the backboard. He spent about an hour in the middle of the thousands fans who had populated the downtown streets of Spokane for last weekend’s 3-on-3 tournament.
It was the “special moment” Hoopfest executive director Matt Santangelo has always envisioned for Spokane’s street event that has grown to be the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the world.
Hoopfest was determined to shock everyone on Sunday with its special guest, but pulling off the big surprise required a bit of secrecy. Hoopfest officials only hinted to Sunday’s guest appearance on Friday and Saturday in hopes that the rumors would draw some excitement.
Of course, keeping Durant’s trip to the Northwest a surprise would mean only a few thousand fans would get to see him in person. It also meant there might be some disappointed Hoopfesters who would miss out on seeing the 6-9 forward because they weren’t in the right place at the right time.
But keeping the special appearance hushed was essential to building the anticipation and to make Durant’s experience in downtown Spokane the best it could be.
“KD got to feel the love and got to feel the magic of what Hoopfest really is,” Santangelo said.
Santangelo said Hoopfest officials weren’t aware that Nike had strongly considered sending the face of its brand to Spokane until the middle of last week. On Wednesday, Nike representatives told Santangelo there was a 50 percent chance of Durant making a pit stop in Spokane on Sunday afternoon.
Nike called again on Thursday with some better odds, and on Friday, Nike gave Santangelo a thumbs up.
“Wednesday it was 50/50, Thursday it was 90/10, Friday was, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening,’ ” Santangelo said on Monday.
So how did Hoopfest manage to collaborate with Nike and pull off such a memorable moment?
Santangelo said getting a big name to appear at an event like Hoopfest takes several years of building relationships with the right people, specifically the people at Nike.
Of course, using the tournament to introduce a new product was a huge draw for the brand. Nike, Durant’s other employer, was able to use the 3-on-3 tournament to release its new shoe, KD10, just a week before the shoe is to be officially launched online. Durant was seen wearing his KD10s while visiting Hoopfest.
But it was also an opportunity for Spokane to showcase its incredible event to a larger audience, and to hopefully entice other professional athletes and celebrities to visit Spokane on Hoopfest weekend.
Santangelo said even if Hoopfest doesn’t draw another big name in the near future, that doesn’t change what the street tournament means to the Northwest.
“Hoopfest is going to be magic if there’s a signature athlete there or not,” Santangelo said. “It’s bigger than one person … it’s really about the game of basketball.”
But some center court eye candy definitely helps create a national buzz around the event. Durant’s presence drew thousands of onlookers to the center of Spokane and garnered plenty of attention on social media.
Durant even went to Twitter himself a few hours after he left Spokane to post photos of Hoopfest and to recognize the city for its love for the game.
“Spokane shut the city down for the game I love,” Durant posted on Twitter. “Hoopfest was on another level.”
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