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

The art of hoops: Hoopfest ball designer Dan Beltran has a knack for a story

After Dan Beltran had finished the design for this year’s Hoopfest Game Ball, the only thing he had left to do was wait. And wait.

By the time Nike finalized and approved Beltran’s design, it was last August – almost a full calendar year before the ball’s unveiling on June 27.

“They were like, ‘Great, sit on this for, like, a year,’ ” Beltran said.

He’s kept his copy of the ball hidden away in his closet since March but somehow managed to keep it under wraps.

Typically, the official game ball is only available at the tournament itself, but this year’s iteration was made available for purchase online for the first time. For a city starved for hoops after the tournament was pushed to August, the immediate public reaction was overwhelming – something far exceeding anything Beltran could have foreseen.

“I didn’t fully grasp the gravity of what it meant to be designing the ball until the situation happened,” Beltran said. “And then all of a sudden, it’s this huge present. It’s fresh air for the world.”

Soon enough, hundreds of orders started pouring in from all over the country. Hoopfest recently received its first international ball order last week.

“Fortunately, we always had great success in retail,” said Matt Santangelo, Hoopfest’s executive director. “I didn’t know how it was going to translate to online, but it’s been fantastic.

“Not only because people are buying it as a collector’s item or buying it to support Hoopfest. They’re buying it because the ball is dope. They’re buying it because the ball is beautiful.”

Beltran, a 2015 Gonzaga alum from the Bay Area, majored in PR and marketing as an undergrad but describes himself as “a self-taught graphic designer” with a passion for sports and growing businesses.

He enjoys blurring the lines between those disciplines through his work, much of which includes design projects for organizations across the NFL, MLB, MLS and NCAA through his recently opened independent creative studio, DESIGNWITHDAN. His work has appeared in Times Square in New York and on the Las Vegas Strip.

“It was a natural fit for me,” he said. “I ride a unicycle down the line. I love logo branding and sports design, and that’s where I find my pitch.”

Many of Beltran’s big-name clients are more recent, but his connection with the folks at Hoopfest goes back to his time as an undergrad. He and Morgan Marum, Spokane Hoopfest’s Director of Corporate & Media Relations, were close friends and PR classmates at GU.

Marum remembers that his eye for design was obvious even back then.

“You could tell he had a talent for it,” she said. “There was something really special about the knack that he was starting to unfold. It’s super powerful now, years later, to see him come full circle and within our friendship to see where he’s grown.”

Beltran recalls first meeting Santangelo at an alumni event shortly before he graduated. He offered his services to Santangelo on the spot and started providing designs for his organization shortly after.

“He’s just an awesome dude,” Santangelo said. “You ask him for help and he says, ‘Yep, I’m in.’

“It’s about that easy when you’re dealing with awesome people like him.”

Thus began a relationship that would come in handy when Santangelo and Hoopfest were again in need of someone with his skill set.

“I had gone to school with Dan and loved our times together and really trusted him,” Marum said. “I knew that if anyone could take on a project like this with a lot of unknowns, it could be him.”

For the design on the ball, Beltran said he drew inspiration “from an outsider’s perspective” of someone “who’s come to know and learn and love Spokane,” boiled down to its simplest elements.

“I was basically like, ‘So what is Spokane?’ ” Beltran said. “Trees, rivers, pavilions, basketball. Let’s do it all.”

The colorful palette of blues, reds and yellows intersected with lined patterns and the shapes of basketball courts was meant to bring to mind the city’s proximity to nature without neglecting its well-known cultural fixation with the sport.

Beltran’s no stranger to seeing his work in public, be it on T-shirts, social media posts or signs. But he admitted he’s never worked with something as tactile and striking as a basketball.

“I think that art comes in many different forms,” he said. “But at the end of the day, to me, art is a story. And being able to tell this story, I didn’t just slap a couple filters on the ball and call it good. … I took it upon myself to really craft the story with this ball.”

The result was another testament to Hoopfest’s commitment to fusing local art to the city’s burgeoning basketball identity.

In 2019, Hoopfest launched a new brand, Hooptown USA, and recently announced artwork commission in partnership with MultiCare and Spokane Arts from three local artists to be painted on three courts across the city.

“They’re typically two mediums that we wouldn’t see intersect, and we’re passionate about giving them a platform to be able to,” Marum said. “And we have incredible local artists here in Spokane, so to highlight them in Hooptown USA, for us, it just makes sense.”

This was also the first year that the ball was designed by a local artist with a more hands-off approach from Nike.

“It’s art, you know, basketball’s more than just a sport,” Beltran said. “And there’s this culture that rallied behind it. … They’ve absolutely done a fantastic job in stepping up and allowing artists to be empowered by their brand.”

It goes without saying that excitement is percolating at a time when the reality of Hoopfest happening in 2020 still remains in flux.

In a year that many were expecting to be its biggest iteration yet, the tournament has been downsized so as to comply with social distancing measures in a potential Phase 3 environment.

A decision as to whether it will be held in late August as planned will come by mid-July. But in the midst of a COVID-19 resurgence in Spokane, the path to making that a reality is increasingly difficult.

“We’re still planning; we’re still remaining optimistic,” Santangelo said. “We understand it’s a long shot, and each passing day it’s becoming a longer shot.”

All precautions aside, Beltran is inclined to agree that this year’s Hoopfest might mean somewhat more than usual – if it can happen. Seeing his design bouncing on dozens of courts wouldn’t hurt either, but it’s hardly the foremost priority.

“Community is so important,” Beltran said. “We have this opportunity that brings people from around the world and the country and the city and the state.

“But now, it’s more important than ever, in the sense that this event stands for a path forward.”

As Santangelo has said repeatedly before: “We still wholeheartedly believe that some Hoopfest is better than no Hoopfest.”

Even if “some Hoopfest” is a ball that feels like it represents so much more.