LAS VEGAS – No one in Spokane appreciates a good game of basketball better than Jon Heimbigner.
But even at the age of 72, Heimbigner prefers a sweaty gym and the ball in his hands to a comfortable seat in the crowd.
Yet another idiosyncrasy: Heimbigner and his wife Karen have no major ties to Gonzaga, but they’ve never missed a West Coast Conference tournament since it landed in Las Vegas more than a decade ago.
They also have season tickets for the GU women – partly because the men’s tickets “are so darn spendy,” said Hemibigner, a retired bank executive – but mostly because the GU women’s game has flourished.
“The aggressiveness, and how fast the women’s game has progressed, it’s just so much fun to watch,” said Heimbigner, who also catches the men’s games in Vegas.
For that, he appreciates the coaches – Kelly Graves for establish a winning tradition and Lisa Fortier for building on it.
Another tradition is the Heimbigners’ annual snowbird excursion to the Southwest. Usually it’s Vegas first, followed by a week in Palm Springs.
“But this year we had to switch around,” Heimbigner said, before explaining that he and Karen need to back in Spokane to help with the NCAA men’s first and second rounds at the Arena.
If sports is in the eye of the beholder, Heimbigner has beheld more than anyone in the Inland Northwest.
For more than five decades, the Odessa, Washington, native has dribbled, pitched, hurdled and run the gamut of sports.
A player at Spokane Falls Community College, the Eastern Washington grad is enshrined in two softball halls of fame as well as the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame.
As a 34-year member of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission, he helped push for the move from the old Coliseum to the new Arena. Stepping down to from that role in 2012, he was elevated to another hall of fame, at his alma mater, EWU, where he’s a season ticket holder for football and men’s basketball.
“He’s a huge fan of all sports,” said Mike Roth, the athletic director at GU. “Everyone who knows sports in Spokane, knows who Jon is.”
And even while working in a demanding profession, the ball was always in his hands.
For the last 20-plus years, Heimbigner has assembled senior games teams loaded with former local high school and college stars, each wanting to play the game as long their body allows.
In 1998, Heimbigner’s 5-on-5 squad took second in the world, he said, when the format was regulation 5-on-5 basketball.
Past rosters have included Ron Cox, Eastern Washington’s former all-time leading scorer, and Jim Thacker, a former Idaho guard who later coached at Walla Walla and Lake City high schools.
And Hoopfest, that’s a given every year. Last year, Hiembigner’s Swinging Doors team included players with a combined age of 288.
“God has given me a body I have kept in pretty good shape. My knees, hips and ankles are good,” Heimbigner said.
So is his heart.
In July 2018, Heimbigner took four senior basketball teams to the Washington State Senior Games in Olympia.
Just days later, at Roos Field in Cheney, he competed in the USA Track and Field Masters Outdoor Championships.
In the culmination of months of training in the high hurdles, he took first place with a time of 16.5 seconds.
Then he was back on the courts – basketball, and his newest passion: tennis.
After 3-on-3 games at SFCC, kids one-fourth his age often ask his secret. There are many, but his biggest – in sports and life – is simple.
“Find something you’re passionate about and do it – doing it or watching,” Heimbigner said.
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