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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

More about ‘fest’ than ‘hoop’

There’s basketball galore, but there is so much more for everyone at a Hoopfest weekend

Every last weekend of June, the streets of dowtown Spokane are filled for the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament. (File)

Rick Steltenpohl slept just fine last night.

You’d think the Hoopfest director would have a case of pre-game jitters, multiplied by 14,000. Not a chance.

Instead, Saturday morning is his favorite moment, and Steltenpohl isn’t afraid to admit that he gets emotional as the sun shines and the National Anthem plays through the streets of downtown Spokane.

“It’s a bit of a tear-jerker for me,” Steltenpohl said. “All those months of work and preparation …and so many people sacrifice so much for this weekend.

“That really is a special moment.”

At that point it really is fun and games, even for the man in charge. Steltenpohl doesn’t sweat the small stuff, unless he’s playing – which is all weekend if his team is winning. He’s one of only 58 players who’ve played in all 23 events.

But the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament didn’t get that way on sweat alone. Most of the 27,000-plus players have a cheerleader or two, and it’s that larger audience that has defined the evolution of the event.

After 23 years, Hoopfest is more about the “fest” than the “hoop.”

“One of things that’s surprising is how popular it is with people outside of basketball,” Steltenpohl said. “With so many people downtown, the vast majority could care less about basketball.

“It causes us to focus more on continuing to entertain the crowd.”

That crowd is the most diverse Spokane will see in the course of a year, and the music selection reflects that.

“The music has been important to us because it creates a vibe, it creates a fun atmosphere,” Steltenpohl said. “It’s important to me, because it creates that fun atmosphere.”

Now there’s fun on every corner. A big-time slam-dunk contest, a Nike store that’s the closest thing to NikeTown Spokane will see for awhile, an athletic challenge course and a trio of NBA mascots.

“We want to keep the players and the visitors entertained,” Steltenpohl said.

Indeed, the latest Hoopfest newsletter recounts a message from an out-of-town family whose youngsters were asked what’s their favorite holiday: Easter or Christmas.

Their reply: “Did you forget about Hoopfest?”