July 1, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Ode to Spokane’s Hoopfest: A native returns to hoop it up
By Kaelyn Sayles
Kaelyn Sayles went to middle school and high school in Spokane. The University of Washington graduate now lives in Seattle and is a sports news assistant for The Seattle Times.
Hoopfest started with a bang.
Literally. As long as you’re not an I’m-such-a-deep-sleeper-people-check-my-pulse-type of person, you woke up at 5:30 a.m. Hoopfest morning in Spokane.
And despite it being the most magical time of year for many, it wasn’t out of sheer excitement that everyone woke up at the same time.
Loud, deep, rolling thunder and almost immediate flashes of lightning put on a show that would continue intermittent encores throughout the the day Saturday. Not the usual Hoopfest weather, but that didn’t deter hoards of people from flooding into downtown Spokane.
On Sunday, the heat came back and made Hoopfest feel more like normal. The smell of sweat, food vendors and asphalt hung thick in the air without the rain to keep it at bay.
Regardless of the weather, it’s rare to leave early. Too much has been built up around this annual event it to not fully experience it. We post all over Facebook a week in advance, the anticipation overwhelming, announcing to the world our excitement.
It’s the only time people will voluntarily drive hundreds of miles to get to Spokane if they don’t have family there. I’m not trying to put down Spokane. I’m proud to be from there. But let’s be honest – it’s no “Palm Springs of Washington” like Yakima. Spokane’s airport claims to be the “Las Vegas of Washington,” but I always thought that was a joke. It’s just not a destination hot spot.
That is until the last weekend in June.
Hoopfest is one of those events that almost everyone can agree is a great time.
People from Spokane love it. It’s the one thing that’s uniquely ours, something we can be proud of, claiming we hail from the same city as the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.
This past weekend, I drove 280 miles by myself just to make it back. Spending my middle- and high-school years in Spokane, I, like a lot of people my age, got out of Spokane once I got my diploma, and escaped to “the big city”.
I moved to Seattle five years ago, I don’t even know that many people playing in Hoopfest anymore, but I still wouldn’t miss it.
In the last 11 years, I’ve gone to Hoopfest weekend 10 times. The one year I missed it, I was in Seattle and couldn’t figure out transportation. I spent the entire weekend thinking about what I was missing.
Between the teams, fans and volunteers, over 200,000 people take up about 42 blocks with 450 courts. Downtown is so overrun by the event you’d think it doesn’t feel like home.
But it does. It feels exactly like home.
That’s especially true for me, since during the event, parking in downtown Spokane is similar to trying to find parking anywhere in Seattle. My two worlds colliding.
Hoopfest is a time when we’re actually excited to show off our hometown to a bunch of strangers from out of town. I hate to speak for all Spokanites, especially because I now consider myself a Seattleite, but I’m going to do it anyway:
Spokane is a basketball city. We’re proud to claim Gonzaga and we’re proud to have that include Kelly Olynyk, who was just selected 13th overall in the NBA draft.
And we’re proud to claim Hoopfest.
It’s an event for everyone – every age, every gender, every status.
Plus, it’s just fun. Never will you see so many different age groups get so passionate and so feisty, all in such close quarters.
The sounds of basketballs dribbling on the pavement, shoes scuffing across the asphalt, people cheering and laughing and talking, speakers blasting music – those sounds continued to ring in my ears even after I called it a day.
I look forward to hearing them again soon.
I gladly drove across the state to weave through crowds and push myself to the brink of heat exhaustion. I’ll gladly do it again next year.
See you in 2014, Hoopfest.
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