Spokane Hoopfest offers diverse 3-on-3 basketball experience

This story originally appeared in The Gonzaga Bulletin, the student newspaper of Gonzaga University, and was authored by Zack Oates, who gave us permission to share it here.

Photo credit: Gavin Doremus

Zack Oates rises up for a jump shot over a defender during Spokane Hoopfest in late June. [Photo credit: Gavin Doremus]
An entire city shut down for basketball. 7,000 teams, 3,000 volunteers, 225,000 fans and 450 courts.

This is the spectacle every year at Spokane Hoopfest, the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to participate eight straight years in this event, the most recent being this June when my buddies and I finished fourth out of the 15 teams in our bracket.

During our second game this year, we thought we had a win, up 17-10 with only a few baskets to go, when a guy on the other team proceeded to hit five two-pointers in a row to finish the game.  Anyone who’s ever played sports knows how mad something like this will make you. I slammed the ball down in disgust, as the other team slapped hands in celebration. If you ask anybody on my team, we would have won our whole bracket had we won that game, but it wasn’t to be.

That amazing finish was something my teammates and I will laugh about for years to come. And that’s the great thing about Hoopfest. Every year has a different memory, a different story to tell. Whether it’s the year we won the consolation bracket and got T-shirts that said “13th Place,” the year that we played in uniforms with poop emojis on them, or the year we won the championship. Every year has a memory that makes it stand out.

There’s a certain energy in the air at Hoopfest that I have not seen anywhere else. Families arrive on Friday evening to get settled into their hotels, as courts are beginning to be set up by volunteers and roads are starting to shut down. This was always a very exciting night for me, walking around with friends after dinner and practicing on the street courts for our games the next day.

Being a basketball player my whole life, the night before a game brought a variety of emotions for me, depending on the situation. Sometimes it was excitement, sometimes nervousness, and sometimes straight fear. But on the Friday night of Hoopfest, my emotions were, and have always been, nothing but positive.

Saturday morning is when the real fun begins. By this time, the entire city is consumed by basketball hoops and booths serving various foods and beverages, not to mention thousands and thousands of people everywhere you look. Anyone trying to drive through town is going to be harshly disappointed. At 8 a.m. the national anthem plays over the loudspeaker, and the madness begins. Walking through the streets you can see people of all ages and all skill levels. There are players ranging anywhere from age 5 to age 75. There are games of all intensity levels.

This year my sister played in a coed bracket. During one of the games, the other team made it very clear that they were too tired to play another game and even asked my sister’s team if they wanted to win. Once the game started, they proceeded to start throwing up backward shots and passing the ball to my sister’s team on purpose. Everyone on the court laughed and laughed until my sister finally banked in a shot to win the game. But I sat there in shock. How could this game be happening at the same event as my games are? In every game I play, both teams want to win so badly that it often gets overly physical and the court monitor sometimes has to step in. Clearly games of all 2competitive levels can be found on the streets of Hoopfest.

And that’s the magic of it. There is a place for everyone. Whether you’re a year-round player or someone who has never touched a basketball in your life, you will feel welcome at Hoopfest.

By the time Sunday rolls around, teams are locked in and ready to make a push for a championship. At this point, a good portion of the teams have been knocked out of their brackets, so the streets are a tad less crowded, but the level of competition has increased even higher. With a few Sunday wins, one team will take home the crown. Whatever team is fortunate enough to win their bracket is rewarded with a T-shirt that reads “Hoopfest Champion,” but from just watching the games, you’d think they were playing for a million bucks. Some people train all year for Hoopfest, and Sunday is when it all goes down.

Winning the championship seemed like a regular thing for me after my first year. My team decided to play in the recreational division, and it didn’t take us long to learn that we may have undersold ourselves. We beat each team by at least five baskets in a rout to the championship. At the time, I assumed every year would be a smooth ride like this, but eight years later that remains my only Hoopfest championship. It is not easy.

After all the games have been completed, and championship teams have collected their shirts, people begin to exit the city. Streets are cleaned up. Hoops are taken down. And the music fades from the speakers. In just a matter of hours you would never know that 300,000 people had inhabited those streets.

For such an incredible event, the euphoria is short-lived. But I think I speak for many when I say that those three days are packed with more great memories than much of the year.

It’s definitely something I look forward to all year round, and something I hope to be doing until I’m an old man. I plan to bring my kids there, grandkids there, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to sit in my wheelchair and my watch my great-grandkids drop in three-pointers someday.

We at Gonzaga should feel lucky that we get to live in a town that puts on such a great event like this. If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend all Gonzaga students make the trip back for Hoopfest during the summer, whether you’re playing or not.

An entire city shut down for basketball. 7,000 teams, 3,000 volunteers, 225,000 fans and 450 courts.

This is the spectacle every year at Spokane Hoopfest, the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to participate eight straight years in this event, the most recent being this June when my buddies and I finished fourth out of the 15 teams in our bracket.

During our second game this year, we thought we had a win, up 17-10 with only a few baskets to go, when a guy on the other team proceeded to hit five two-pointers in a row to finish the game.  Anyone who’s ever played sports knows how mad something like this will make you. I slammed the ball down in disgust, as the other team slapped hands in celebration. If you ask anybody on my team, we would have won our whole bracket had we won that game, but it wasn’t to be.

That amazing finish was something my teammates and I will laugh about for years to come. And that’s the great thing about Hoopfest. Every year has a different memory, a different story to tell. Whether it’s the year we won the consolation bracket and got T-shirts that said “13th Place,” the year that we played in uniforms with poop emojis on them, or the year we won the championship. Every year has a memory that makes it stand out.

There’s a certain energy in the air at Hoopfest that I have not seen anywhere else. Families arrive on Friday evening to get settled into their hotels, as courts are beginning to be set up by volunteers and roads are starting to shut down. This was always a very exciting night for me, walking around with friends after dinner and practicing on the street courts for our games the next day.

Being a basketball player my whole life, the night before a game brought a variety of emotions for me, depending on the situation. Sometimes it was excitement, sometimes nervousness, and sometimes straight fear. But on the Friday night of Hoopfest, my emotions were, and have always been, nothing but positive.

Saturday morning is when the real fun begins. By this time, the entire city is consumed by basketball hoops and booths serving various foods and beverages, not to mention thousands and thousands of people everywhere you look. Anyone trying to drive through town is going to be harshly disappointed. At 8 a.m. the national anthem plays over the loudspeaker, and the madness begins. Walking through the streets you can see people of all ages and all skill levels. There are players ranging anywhere from age 5 to age 75. There are games of all intensity levels.

This year my sister played in a coed bracket. During one of the games, the other team made it very clear that they were too tired to play another game and even asked my sister’s team if they wanted to win. Once the game started, they proceeded to start throwing up backward shots and passing the ball to my sister’s team on purpose. Everyone on the court laughed and laughed until my sister finally banked in a shot to win the game. But I sat there in shock. How could this game be happening at the same event as my games are? In every game I play, both teams want to win so badly that it often gets overly physical and the court monitor sometimes has to step in. Clearly games of all 2competitive levels can be found on the streets of Hoopfest.

And that’s the magic of it. There is a place for everyone. Whether you’re a year-round player or someone who has never touched a basketball in your life, you will feel welcome at Hoopfest.

By the time Sunday rolls around, teams are locked in and ready to make a push for a championship. At this point, a good portion of the teams have been knocked out of their brackets, so the streets are a tad less crowded, but the level of competition has increased even higher. With a few Sunday wins, one team will take home the crown. Whatever team is fortunate enough to win their bracket is rewarded with a T-shirt that reads “Hoopfest Champion,” but from just watching the games, you’d think they were playing for a million bucks. Some people train all year for Hoopfest, and Sunday is when it all goes down.

Winning the championship seemed like a regular thing for me after my first year. My team decided to play in the recreational division, and it didn’t take us long to learn that we may have undersold ourselves. We beat each team by at least five baskets in a rout to the championship. At the time, I assumed every year would be a smooth ride like this, but eight years later that remains my only Hoopfest championship. It is not easy.

After all the games have been completed, and championship teams have collected their shirts, people begin to exit the city. Streets are cleaned up. Hoops are taken down. And the music fades from the speakers. In just a matter of hours you would never know that 300,000 people had inhabited those streets.

For such an incredible event, the euphoria is short-lived. But I think I speak for many when I say that those three days are packed with more great memories than much of the year.

It’s definitely something I look forward to all year round, and something I hope to be doing until I’m an old man. I plan to bring my kids there, grandkids there, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to sit in my wheelchair and my watch my great-grandkids drop in three-pointers someday.

We at Gonzaga should feel lucky that we get to live in a town that puts on such a great event like this. If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend all Gonzaga students make the trip back for Hoopfest during the summer, whether you’re playing or not.

So save the date for Spokane Hoopfest 2017!

June 24 & 25, 2017

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