HoopFest 2016
Hoopfest, the largest three-on-three basketball tournament in the world
Hoopfest, the largest three-on-three basketball tournament in the world

The last weekend of June, a few days before the Independence Day Holiday, marks one of Spokane's iconic events: Hoopfest.

Billed as the world's largest three-on-three basketball tournament, this year Hoopfest took place June 25-26. Over two long days of tournament action, 25,000 players from across the country competed to distinguish themselves on the court as an estimated 225,000 supporters and spectators looked on.

Event setup began Friday night. A cold front had blown across eastern Washington earlier in the day, driving thunder cells and sporadic downpours across the city, but by dusk, the weather had calmed and the final light of sunset promised fine weather for the weekend. As night fell, forty-five city blocks were closed to traffic, and volunteers began the task of marking out the lines and erecting the hoops for 450 basketball courts.

Last minute practice before the games begin
Last minute practice before the games begin

Saturday morning broke clear, and as the sun began to punch a hard light between the downtown buildings, teams drifted out to their courts, taking warm up shots in an attempt to ease their jitters. The smoke from vendors selling authentic kettle corn drifted through the air. At 7:55 the public address system crackled to life, the National Anthem was sung, and finally, when the clock struck 8:00, the games began.

Each team has four members: three active players and a substitute. A normal basket counts for one point, while a shot from behind the three point line counts for two. The game is won by the first team to reach twenty points, or the team that is ahead when a twenty-five minute time limit expires.

A fierce battle beneath the basket
A fierce battle beneath the basket

For the next forty-eight hours, teams of all sizes and abilities would live and die by the jump shot and the inside play of their tall trees. Hoopfest is divided into several divisions: men, women, players over six feet tall, players under that height, family, coed, wheelchair, and elite. All of the teams are placed into brackets, and as the games play out beneath the hot sun, some advance, most fall, and some end their careers in the medical tent.

A young competitor hones her crossover dribble
A young competitor hones her crossover dribble

By Sunday evening, the last games have been played. The winners have been feted, and the crowds of spectators, who have been well-entertained, are returning to their homes. All that remains are the courts, which must be torn down for the Monday morning commute, the empty vendors' booths, and the determination to do better next year.

Hoop dreams
Hoop dreams
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Copyright, 2016 Richard J. Goodrich