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Sports >  Area sports

NBA star Isaiah Thomas teams up with Hoopfest

UPDATED: Sun., June 30, 2019

ParaSport Spokane's Phillip Croft plays a game of HORSE against Denver Nuggets guard and Tacoma native Isaiah Thomas during Hoopfest on Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
ParaSport Spokane's Phillip Croft plays a game of HORSE against Denver Nuggets guard and Tacoma native Isaiah Thomas during Hoopfest on Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

Hoopfest has been known in recent years to pull in famous athletes to show off during the busy weekend. After Rui Hachimura on Saturday, Hoopfest went a step further and brought Isaiah Thomas to town.

The Tacoma-native and former University of Washington star took in his second Hoopfest on Sunday and first since 2012, but this time it was more impactful for him and the community.

Thomas partnered up with Guardian Life Insurance to play a game of H-O-R-S-E against Phillip Croft, a local ParaSport Spokane athlete. Thomas beat Croft H-O-R. to H-O-R-S-E

“Once I did my research for what (ParaSport Spokane) stands for, it was a no-brainer,” Thomas said. “Disability does not mean inability. No matter what you go through, what your situation you’re put in, you continue to push through. And these kids and the other people here in wheelchairs are still out her competing and out here having fun, working hard and not making an excuse.”

Croft plays basketball and competes in track events. He didn’t know who Thomas was before the event, but he was happy he was able to meet him and play against him.

“It’s awesome, it’s great and so nice for him to come out here to Washington, to Spokane and do Hoopfest with us,” Croft said. “Get to come out and see this crowd and play basketball with us. I really appreciate it and it was really awesome to have him.”

Thomas carried a foldable chair to make the match more equal and struggled the first few shots before settling in and winning.

“I was like, ‘yes, he’s playing on my level now,’ ” he said. “We have to take the legs out if you want to play on my level, but he still won and it’s awesome that he won, it was all for a good time.”

Croft kept things close until Thomas pulled away, but the event was more than just who came out as the winner. Croft wanted the crowd to see that ParaSport athletes can do everything that others can do.

“Let people know that just because your legs are not functional and you have a disability, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing anything else,” he said. “I can still go to college, get a job and live on my own, but I might do things way differently, but we still get things done.”

A large crowd gathered at the corner of Boone and Howard for the two-time NBA all-star who has been a vocal proponent of bringing an NBA team back to Seattle.

“Everybody in NBA circles miss that Seattle trip,” he said. “Hopefully one day soon, I believe there will be a team back in Seattle. It just sucks for the generation of kids from 2008 to now that don’t know anything about having a basketball team. And that is a big missing piece in the city and the state.”

There is one part of the state that isn’t missing its basketball and that is the fans of UW and Gonzaga. The two universities extended their home-and-home series through 2023-24 and Thomas is happy to see the rivalry extended, even if he never experienced it in school.

“It is big. I just wish I was able to be a part of it,” he said. “My three years in college we went away from playing Gonzaga, so to see that back, to see that rivalry clash again – two great programs going back and forth – it is what the state, what the cities need to see who is the best in the state.”

Thomas does have a connection to the Bulldogs through former Zag Kelly Olynyk. The two played on the Boston Celtics from 2014-17.

“One of the best teammates I have ever had,” he said. “Kelly and I still talk to this day. He knows my kids, he knows my family and we always interact when we see each other we always talk to each other. He’s the man out here, he’s the man everywhere he goes. He’s always going to have a snapback on with his long hair and he is an unbelievable person.”

Dunk contest

It was going to take something special for Jakobe Ford to knock off defending dunk contest champion Isaiah Edwards.

But on Sunday at Nike Center Court, Ford – a Shadle Park alum who owns the state record in the high jump – did just that. With two dunks – both off a bounce to himself – one through the legs and one behind his back, Ford brought home the hardware this year.

One of the honorary judges, Zykera Rice, jumped from her seat after Ford flushed home his second to last dunk.

“It feels good because I have been in it the last three years, but have never made it to the second day, so it feels good to win,” he said.

His dunks were impressive especially considering he had never practiced them before. The only experience he had was watching others do them on YouTube.

Edwards finished third behind Rosalia-native Tyler Blakely.

Also unique to Ford is his lack of dunking practice in general. He occasionally threw them down at the gym, but he mainly works on track and field exercises.

After two years of disappointment, Edwards wanted to make more noise this year.

“Just thinking about it more, practicing a little more and making my dunks,” he said.

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