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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hoopfest: Color, competition, candidates courting crowds

Greg Jose couldn’t help feeling apprehensive about facing off against former congressman Jay Inslee Saturday at a downtown Spokane Hoopfest court.

“Everybody told me not to touch him, or at least his face, because he’s got to look pretty for the cameras,” Jose said.

Donning a blue jersey with the campaign slogan “Inslee for Washington,” the Democratic gubernatorial contender took the court as thousands began to fill blocked-off streets at the 8 a.m. tipoff for the annual three-on-three weekend basketball tournament.

Political candidates are no strangers to the signature events of Spokane springs and summers. Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Republican hopeful for governor, ran in Bloomsday this year, finishing the 12-kilometer race in a respectable 60 minutes. Inslee’s Hoopfest squad, the Evergreen Dream Team, also featured Marcus Riccelli, a District 3 Democratic candidate for the state House. Riccelli ran in Bloomsday as well.

Inslee’s basketball resume goes back to his school days in Seattle when he played small forward for the state champion Ingraham High School team in 1969. However, now he’s a little older.

“I’m trying to loosen up to remember what it was like to be 35,” said 61-year-old Inslee while pressing his hands against a brick wall to stretch his legs. “I’m the old guy. I’m playing the senior citizen game, which is to try to get the young bucks the ball.”

Prior to this weekend, Inslee hadn’t spent much time on a court since he shot hoops with President Barack Obama on the White House’s South Lawn in 2009. But he and Riccelli showed up to have fun, introduce themselves to voters and see how far they could make it in the tournament.

“It’s just an honor to be playing with our future governor, so hopefully I’ll do an OK show,” Riccelli said. “I’ve been on the campaign trail; haven’t shot a lot of baskets, so I’m trying not to embarrass myself today.”

The Evergreen Dream Team ended up losing its first game of the weekend 20-18 to Nimipu, a Nez Perce team. Jose sank the winning shot, a soaring two-pointer from the top of the court.

Jose had no idea he would play against Inslee before stepping on the court. He was also surprised to see how competitive Inslee was on the court.

“He actually hit a few shots on us,” Jose said. “I knew I missed a lot of free throws and I think (Inslee) was kind of taunting me on the free-throw line a few times.”

23 and counting

This weekend marks 23 years of Hoopfest in Spokane, and the event is larger than ever.

Many streets have been blocked off to make room for 456 basketball courts that stretch across 42 blocks of downtown. About 28,000 players on more than 7,000 teams are registered to play.

Altogether, that makes for 14,000 games in 482 brackets. Hoopfest officials anticipate the event will inject $38 million into the local economy and that about 225,000 people from near and far will show up to watch throughout the weekend.

Putting the whole thing together in just days takes a lot of work. It relies upon the support of about 3,000 volunteers, according to Hoopfest officials.

Bumps, bruises

Scores of injuries occurred within just the first five hours of tournament play. One of the four medical tents set up for the event reported treating 192 injuries by 12:45 p.m., though most were not serious.

Safe Saturday

Day 1 of Hoopfest ended with no major crimes reported downtown.

“There have been the usual little squabbles on the various courts, but nothing we’ve had to get involved in,” said Officer Ben Green with the Spokane Police Department.

Variety adds vibe

Aside from watching or playing in the tournament, those who ventured through the thick downtown crowds Saturday could also watch a slam dunk contest, get autographs from college basketball stars, witness a flash mob at the corner of Wall Street and Main Avenue, and try the newer sport of slacklining.

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