Video created and provided by Nike Basketball
With its humble, non-sponsored beginnings in our inaugural tournament in 1990, Nike Center Court has become an energetic hub during Hoopfest Weekend. Each year, elite teams step onto the sport court ready to compete, vertically-gifted athletes rise to the rim to display their slam dunks and crowds gather to take it all in.
This year, Nike Center Court also hosted a surprise guest appearance from NBA 2017 Finals Champion and Finals MVP, Kevin “KD” Durant.
You read that correctly. Less than two weeks after winning his first-ever NBA Championship and NBA Finals MVP honors, the Best Basketball Player in the World came to be apart of the Best Basketball Weekend on Earth.
As news quickly spread that the Golden State Warrior was walking amongst Hoopfesters in the streets of Spokane, Nike Center Court became a sea of KD fans, each excited, shocked, amazed and thankful. One of those fans in disbelief was Hoopfest’s very own Executive Director, Matt Santangelo.
“Hoopfest has been growing our partnership with Nike since I began in 2014. We have discussed athlete appearances in the past, including KD, but it always seemed like a stretch,” Matt explains. “So when I received the call just last week it set off a flurry of activity and phenomenal energy! On Wednesday, it was 50%. On Thursday, it was 90%. But, it wasn’t until an operational meeting on Saturday that I finally allowed myself to believe that KD would be at Hoopfest.”
Although standing at an intimidating 7’0″, it is safe to refer to KD as the “Gentle Giant” that joined our Hoopfesters. As fans swarmed, he continued to politely interact and remained genuinely engaged as he signed autographs and quickly paused for a few pics. He even took a Hoopfest selfie!
“My first impression is of a humble, quiet and unassuming man. I believe it to be the same impression he gave all of us,” agrees Matt. “He literally could have been anywhere in the world but he chose to share that moment with us. He has tremendous love and passion for the game of basketball and I believe he had that same love and passion on full display at Hoopfest. It was instant recognition and appreciation. I also believe that Hoopfest made a great impression on KD!”
While it was Durant’s first time at Hoopfest, it wasn’t his first time in the great state of Washington, or Spokane, for that matter. As a standout freshman at the University of Texas, Durant’s one season of college basketball actually came to an end at the hands of the USC Trojans in the Spokane Arena.
Shortly after his final collegiate game, he officially declared for the 2007 NBA Draft. Durant was selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics before the team was relocated to and renamed as the Oklahoma City Thunder. After many seasons with the Thunder, Durant returned to the Pacific Northwest with a trade to the Golden State Warriors.
So, you could say that Durant has a lot of fans in Washington State and the West Coast, making his Hoopfest visit even more incredible.
“It was amazing to witness fans of all ages, from all walks of life coming together to celebrate this athlete and his presence at our event,'” explains Bailee Neyland, Hoopfest’s Director of Brand Strategy and Business Development. “You could feel the buzz once news began to spread and to be a part of this ‘moving mob’ as he made his way to Nike Center Court was incredible. Even the members of KD’s crew were visibly excited to be at Hoopfest!”
With his new NBA title and MVP award, Nike and KD’s surprise visit will definitely be in the hearts and minds of all who were at #Hoopfest2017. But KD didn’t just come, wave and sign a few basketballs.
He participated in a Q&A session with Matt, participated in a 3on3 game with some young hoopers and stuck around to watch the Slam Dunk Competition Finals, all to the delight of the crowd.
“To catch the attention and gain the respect of the hottest hooper on the planet earth … WOW! What more can I say?!” Matt expresses. “KD brought a tremendous amount of energy to our event.”
As a unique event, Hoopfest tries each year to add to and elevate current elements to create new memories for the quarter of a million people who pack the streets of Spokane.
“It was ESPN in 2015, our players for the ALUMNI GAME in 2016 and Kevin Durant in 2017,” Matt says. “Hoopfest 2017 will forever be remembered as the year KD showed up. It was a special moment for all of us. It also goes to show that you just never know what Hoopfest has in store for you!”
If you missed out on KD’s return to Spokane during #Hoopfest2017 or want to reminisce on his epic surprise, we got you; just check out this video from Nike Basketball! Join us next year for more 3on3 action and to see what Hoopfest is capable of.