The Spokane Hoopfest is the best sporting event you haven’t heard of

Spokane Hoopfest

Every summer, the last weekend in June turns the little city of Spokane, Washington – a town that has always been known for its basketball fandom – into a madhouse. The city itself boasts a population of about 217,000, mostly lower-middle-class working folk who enjoy Spokane’s affordable housing, proximity to water and mountains, and basketball. Oh, do they love their basketball tournament!

A big sign on the east side of the city greets visitors with the slogan “Welcome to Hooptown, USA”. During Hoopfest weekend, that sign helps welcome roughly 225,000 people into the city, beckoning them into the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament on planet earth.

That’s right, a city of 217,000 people doubles in size, just to watch amateur 3-on-3 basketball. The 450 makeshift courts are all right on the street, taking up 45 city blocks, with paint lines and portable basketball hoops lining the city nearly in its entirety.

The History of Hoopfest

Hoopfest just completed its 30th season, making it a staple of Spokane’s history and culture since 1989. Participants as young as five and as old as 90 make up the nearly 20,000 different ballers that take the court each year.

There are family brackets, wheelchair brackets, under six-foot, over six-foot, co-ed, men’s, women’s, elite and recreational formats, meaning there truly is something for everybody.

Games are frequently attended by NBA stars. Isaiah Thomas was there this year, just days before signing with the Washington Wizards. Past years have seen Kevin Durant, Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford, and Nate Robinson attend, and of course the local Gonzaga and Washington State stars – including Klay Thompson, Rui Hachimura, Kelly Olynyk, and John Stockton – almost always make an appearance.

My Experience

This past year was my eighth year participating in Hoopfest. My team has changed a bit over the years, first serving as an opportunity to get my high school friends to come visit me in Spokane (I went to Gonzaga) and now serving as a college reunion with friends who still live in the area. The drive from Seattle to Spokane and back is proof enough of how busy the event is, as traffic is nearly non-stop.

Every team is guaranteed three games, and my buddies and I have rarely played more than that. The competition, even in our adult recreational league, is immense. While that can sometimes boil over into heated exchanges, volunteer court monitors (over 3,000 of them!) help keep tempers cool, even when the temperature in Spokane’s desert climate touches 100 degrees.

Playing physical basketball (you call your own fouls, streetball style) against hyper-competitive strangers in 100-degree heat may not sound like everyone’s version of a good time, but I can promise you that after eight years of suiting up, and a self-reported 5-20 record, that I will be back next year. And you should be too.

If you ever have an opportunity to participate, volunteer or just watch Hoopfest, you’ll see why this little town in Eastern Washington is rebranding as “Hooptown, USA”.

They’ve earned it.

Does Anthony Davis Get a Pass for Making Lakers Super Team w/ LeBron?

Anthony Davis joining the Lakers to make a super team

More than any other major sport, NBA players are judged almost exclusively by their ability to win an NBA championship. While no one (okay very few people) criticizes Mike Trout for not winning a World Series, NBA fans seem only to care about a superstar’s ability to lead his team to an NBA championship. Players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul constantly have their greatness questioned. Yet, we don’t hear that talk about Anthony Davis. The oxymoron is that the same fans typically don’t like it when players form join teams that already feature superstars to form super teams, in an effort to make winning that championship easier. Kevin Durant is perhaps the most notable recent example of a player who was victimized for not winning a championship and then villainized for joining the Warriors in an attempt to do just that.

It’s a cruel, somewhat unforgiving world for these star players, and no one seems to be immune to it.

Except, for some reason, former Pelicans center Anthony Davis.

Now with the Lakers, Davis managed to avoid the heaps of criticism that followed Durant, Lebron, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and numerous other superstars who were first criticized for not winning – and then again criticized for how they attempted to win – by joining an NBA super team.

That’s not to say Davis doesn’t have his critics, particularly from the New Orleans faithful who weren’t too happy to see him demand a trade and sit out last season after six and a half seasons with the team. They’ll survive, particularly now that they have the rights to Zion Williamson and a haul of talent from the Lakers, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a boatload of first round draft picks coming their way.

Why Doesn’t Anthony Davis Get Criticized?

Still, it does make you wonder why Anthony Davis has managed, by and large, to avoid this kind of scrutiny. Is he not on the level that LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant are? Does this kind of criticism not apply to post players, only to guards and forwards? Does he get a pass because he played in New Orleans? Are people actually mad, we just aren’t hearing as much about it?

Hard to say.

For what it’s worth, I think judging players by how many championships they win is disingenuous. Robert Horry is not ten times the player that Karl Malone or Charles Barkley was. Steve Kerr has more championships as a player than Steph Curry, but that doesn’t mean anything.

However, the NBA is the sport where one player can most impact a team. A truly elite NBA player has a bigger impact on a single team than anyone in a baseball, hockey or soccer game, and arguably more than any football player, although an elite quarterback can sometimes make-or-break an entire team.

Therefore, elite players who can’t win championships draw that criticism, whether it is fair or not. They’ll say that “Jordan did it” (he didn’t – he had HOFers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman alongside him) or they’ll say “Kobe did it” (kinda – but he struggled without Shaq and needed Pau Gasol) but once a player decides to join a team with another superstar or two, they are a pariah that is destroying the parity in the game and hurting the small-market teams who can’t go out and collect multiple superstars.

Of course, destroyer of super teams Kawhi Leonard may have proven that one doesn’t need a super team to win it all.

NBA Super Teams are the norm

So I guess the question becomes, do we care that Anthony Davis joined the Lakers? If so, why? If not – why has he been exempt from that criticism in the past?

One thing is for sure, even with Antony Davis and Lebron James, the Lakers are going to have a hard time getting through the still-stacked Western Conference in 2019, even if the Warriors are without Durant and Klay Thompson next season.

When Should Criminal Charges be Filed for Incidents at NBA Games?

Masai Ujiri NBA fans and players criminal charges

Last week in Oracle Arena, the Toronto Raptors clinched their first NBA championship. The Raptors had a lot to celebrate as they not only made franchise history, they made NBA history. The Raptors made franchise history by bringing the franchise its’ first championship. Amongst the people who made their way to the floor was the Raptor’s president of basketball operations and general manager, Masai Ujiri. Ujiri made his way to the floor he allegedly had an altercation with an Alameda County Sheriff deputy. A video of the actual altercation has yet to surface, however, there is a video of the aftermath.

During the altercation, the deputy allegedly stopped Ujiri from entering the court because he did not have proper credentials. Ujiri allegedly shoved the deputy. Witnesses say that Ujiri did not shove the officer. However, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department plans to charge Ujiri with misdemeanor battery. Ujiri may face criminal charges for this altercation. NBA fans are questioning whether the Alameda County Sheriff’s department is going a little too far or if Ujiri actually deserves to be charged? However, this situation presents a broader question. That question is whether players or fans should be charged with crimes for incidents that occur inside sports arenas?

Should Players or Fans Face Criminal Charges for Incidents that Happen at Games?

The short answer to this question is it depends. The issue of potential criminal charges certainly depends on the severity of the act. This season, the NBA has experienced several instances where it was forced to address player and fan interactions. All of the incidents brought up what is considered a sore spot for the NBA. That “sore spot” is the night of what became known as “Malice at the Palace.”

In 2004, during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, a brawl between the fans and players took place. It all started when a fan threw a drink that hit the Indiana Pacers star, Ron Artest.

Chaos immediately ensued and several NBA players got into a major fight with several fans. The NBA issued some of the harshest penalties in NBA history. Several of the players and fans faced criminal charges for misdemeanor assault and battery. In this case, criminal charges were appropriate especially on the part of the fan who threw the cup at Ron Artest. After all, that was the catalyst that started the whole brawl. The incident was a clear fight between the players and fans. Whether a fight takes place inside of the arena or outside of the arena, such acts cannot be tolerated. Valid self-defense arguments could be and was made in this case. However, the prosecutor did not overstep in this case, as there was clear video showing a major brawl with multiple parties at fault.

Player Interactions With NBA Fans This Season

The NBA was forced to address the issue of player and fan interactions several times this season. Two incidents involved Oklahoma City Thunder star, Russel Westbrook. Another took place during the NBA Finals in Oracle Arena. The most recent took place immediately after the last game of the NBA Finals involving Masai Ujiri.

Russell Westbrook’s Incident With a Young fan in Denver

During a game in Denver, Westbrook was touched by a young boy on the sideline. He politely told the father that it was not appropriate for his kid to touch the players. Ultimately, this was a no harm no foul situation. However, it did lead to discussions about players, fans, and safety and how those issues should be addressed. Clearly, in this situation, there was no need for any type of criminal charges to even be discussed. However, later in the season, Westbrook experienced an encounter with a fan in Utah where such a discussion may have been warranted.

Russell Westbrook’s Interaction With Hostile Fan in Utah

During a game in Utah, Westbrook is seen yelling expletive comments to a fan. After the game, Westbrook stated that the fan made disrespectful and racial comments towards him. The fan told Westbrook to get down on his knees like he was used to. Clearly, in this situation the fan was wrong. The fan’s conduct was extremely inappropriate. This again led to discussions of how players are treated by fans. The Utah Jazz organization immediately addressed the situation and banned the fan from the arena for life. The punishment definitely was the appropriate action for this situation. No one was physically hurt, so any criminal charges would have seemed a bit over the top, especially with the Jazz making sure the fan could no longer attend games at the arena.

Kyle Lowry Shoved by Golden State’s Minority Owner

During game three of the 2019 NBA Finals, Toronto Raptors star, Kyle Lowry, was shoved by Golden State Warriors minority owner, Mark Stevens, when he divided for a loose ball. Here, Stevens shoved Lowry for no reason. He had no reason to touch him. This case again reignited the discussion about player and fan interactions. It had overtones of how the “Malice at the Palace” brawl began. Fan assaults player and the incident gets out of hand from there. Current NBA players took up for Lowry and called for Stevens to be punished. Most notably LeBron James spoke out and made the point that if it was the other way around people would be up in arms calling for Lowry to be suspended and maybe even put in jail.

This is a case where misdemeanor battery charges could have been made because Stevens intentionally shoved Lowry for no reason. No such charges were made in the case. However, Stevens has been fined $500,000 and banned from all team events next season. This punishment is certainly appropriate given Stevens’ actions.

The Masai Ujiri Case

Given the limited details of what actually transpired between the deputy and Masai Ujiri, it would seem that criminal charges may be going a little too far. This is a determination that will be made after the investigation is done. If an assault occurred then criminal charges may be appropriate. If an assault did not occur then criminal charges are not appropriate. From the facts that have come out so far, the altercation appears to be a huge misunderstanding. A misunderstanding like this can be resolved without criminal charges against Masai Ujiri.

Whether Players or Fans Should Face Criminal Charges at Games Must be Determined on a Case-by-Case Basis

The NBA and its teams have a duty to ensure the safety of both fans and players during games. This is especially true if the NBA does not want another “Malice in the Palace” situation. Whether and if criminal charges at games should be filed is a fact-specific determination. In most cases, it appears appropriate punishment can be given out without ruining people’s careers by invoking criminal charges.

MLB: Are the Three True Outcomes of At-Bats Killing Baseball?

MLB Players only Walk, strikeout or hit a homerun Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge

These days, it hardly seems like you can watch a single MLB at-bat where the hitter doesn’t walk, strikeout or blast a home run into the seats. Indeed, a quick look at the data shows that the “three true outcomes” are happening at the highest rate of all-time. Just over 1/3 of all at-bats resulted in either a walk, home run or a strikeout in 2018.

MLB’s attendance dropped in 2018 as well, to its lowest point in the last 15 years. Is the rise of three true outcomes truly causing the decline of attendance in baseball, or is this simply a coincidence, with other factors at play?

After all, while baseball is increasingly become a battle between pitcher and hitter, and less about the defense, it’s not like this is a brand new phenomenon. Bobby Bonds, the father of the great Barry Bonds, recorded 32 home runs, 81 walks and 175 strikeouts way back in 1969, which meant a whopping 41.7% of his plate appearances resulted in one of the three true outcomes.

Bonds may be one of the first, but the ringleader for this group of sluggers is no doubt Adam Dunn. Dunn mashed in the big leagues from 2001 to 2014, hitting 462 home runs while drawing 1,317 walks and striking out 2,379 times. His career 49.9% three true outcomes rate is the highest of all-time, and he is truly the catalyst for this time of slugger.

A New Era: MLB Analytics

However, near 50% rates of three true outcomes is becoming more commonplace, as sluggers like Joey Gallo, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Paul Goldschmidt have embraced the “launch angle revolution”, which is the idea that it is more beneficial to swing with a heavy uppercut, intending to hit the ball in the air more often. This tends to lead to more strikeouts, but obviously more fly balls = more home runs.

Plus, with the ever growing shift in play, these sluggers have seen their chances of getting a hit on a ground ball nearly evaporate. Why try to hit the ball hard on the ground if the defenders are shifting to your pull side, effectively neutralizing your ability to get a hit?

Sure, the obvious response is “well these guys could bunt, or learn to slap the ball the other way” but – as they would tell you – they don’t get paid excess of $100 million dollars to slap the ball the other way, they get paid to get on base, drive runners in and hit home runs. While striking out isn’t a part of that equation, most (all?) managers will accept that as a necessary evil if their guy is also hitting 40 home runs and drawing nearly 100 walks per season.

As for the fans, well it’s kind of up to them. If you watch baseball because you like watching a shortstop make a play deep in the hole and throw someone out at first, then yes, this revolution is hurting the game you love.

Baseball’s Bigger Issues

However, pointing the finger at the three true outcomes is ignoring the bigger issues the game is facing. Namely, a lack of competition from roughly 50% of the league’s teams, as well as increasing ticket/concession prices, poor marketing of the team’s biggest stars, and a divide between the “old-school” line of thinking and the happy, celebrating “showboating” style of the game’s younger (and predominantly Latino) stars.

That’s a story for another day. For now, accept that baseball is going to have a lot of strikeouts, a lot of walks, and a lot of long, fun-to-watch home runs in the future. Even if that means your favorite shortstop doesn’t make as many plays.

Should We Say LeBron is the GOAT or Greatest Player of This Era?

Jordan Lebron GOAT

King James has fans up in arms once again. In the latest episode of the docu-series “More Than An Athlete,” LeBron James made comments proclaiming himself to be the Greatest Player of All Time (GOAT). The “More Than An Athlete” docu-series, which airs on ESPN+, tells the story of James and his three friends and business partners Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, and Randy Mims.  As can be seen in the clip below, James stated that winning the 2016 NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the Greatest Player Of All Time. James’ comments have added even more fuel to the GOAT debate.[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”87AIZBYuIXY” pagination=”off” title=”off” description=”off” player=”modestbranding=0&showinfo=0&rel=0″]

Fans and critics have been debating whether James or Jordan is the GOAT?  Fans and critics have been debating whether a great player should proclaim himself to be the GOAT? Perhaps these are the wrong questions. The question should be whether there can truly be a Greatest Player of All Time? Or should the debate focus on the greatest player of each era?

Should a Great Player Proclaim Himself the GOAT?

Many fans and critics do not think so. After James’ comments, fans, critics, and the media went into a frenzy. While most acknowledged that James is a great player, many felt his comments were inappropriate.  Critics argued that no one should proclaim themselves as the GOAT because it is disrespectful to other greats who came before.[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”56pTyJKcqKY” pagination=”off” title=”off” description=”off” player=”modestbranding=0&showinfo=0&rel=0″]

Of course, it would not be a GOAT debate involving LeBron James if Michael Jordan was not mentioned. Critics of James’ comments referred to a  2009 interview of Michael Jordan when he was questioned about being the GOAT. Jordan stated that he would never say that he was the greatest player because he never had the chance to play other great players that proceeded him like Wilt Chamberlin and Jerry West. This statement, essentially proves that there can never be a true greatest player of all time. 

Can There Ever be a True GOAT? Or Should the Debate be Focused on the Greatest Player of Each Era?

There can never truly be a GOAT because there are too many players who were regarded as the greatest during their era. Great players have stood above the rest throughout basketball history. Given the number of great players to play at various times within the sport, it is very difficult if not impossible to single out one person to be the true GOAT. How does one choose between Bill Russell, Oscar Roberston, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, just to name a few? Bill Russel played during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.  He became a player-coach and went on to win 11 NBA championships. Oscar Robertson was the first basketball player to average a triple-double. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still holds the NBA all-time leading scorer record.

The answer is that one cannot choose because they were all great in their own right. One could argue that they were the greatest players of their eras. However, it would be difficult to designate one of them the true GOAT because they all made invaluable contributions to the game.

Furthermore, the game has evolved over the years. The style of play has changed and continues to change, which makes it very difficult to designate a true GOAT. Plays that are thought of as great today were not before. For example, the game today has largely shifted to three-point shooting.  This is largely due to the dominance of the “Splash Brothers,” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Before their unprecedented three-point shooting, stopping to shoot a three instead of going for the “easier” bucket was unheard of. Due to their unprecedented three-point shooting, Curry and Thompson will also go down as two of the greatest players of their era.

The 2016 Finals Did Not Make James the GOAT, Because it is not Possible to Designate a True GOAT

First, let us acknowledge that James was correct in some of his comments. He did do something special that had never been done when he led the Cavaliers to defeat Golden State. In 2016, Golden State was arguably unstoppable.  The Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls’ record for most wins in a season finishing at 73-9. The Cavilers came back from being down 3-1 in the series and defeated the Warriors for the Championship.  No team had ever come back to win after being down 3-1.

King James was already a phenomenal basketball player and his accomplishments in the 2016 NBA Finals solidified his greatness that much more. However, does that performance make King James the GOAT? No, it does not make him the Greatest Player of All Time simply because there are too many great players who dominated at different times to have a true GOAT.  However, it may make him the greatest player of his era.

King James’ Performance May Have Solidified his Position as the Greatest of his Era

King James’ performance in the 2016 NBA Finals certainly makes him the greatest player of his era because they beat a team no one thought they could beat against all the odds.  The Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit and beat what is the best team in NBA history, as far as the record goes. The Cavaliers cemented their win with a pivotal moment that was offered by none other than King James.  James ran an almost full 94 feet to block Andre Iguodala’s shot to keep the game tied in game seven. At that moment, the momentum officially shifted to the Cavaliers.

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The Cavaliers rode that wave all the way to victory. With beating the team with the best NBA record, ending a 52-year championship drought, and making the big play to push the team to the win, it is likely that the 2016 NBA Finals may have made James the greatest of his era.  However, King James is still playing. He surely has many great moments to come that could rise to or even exceed the 2016 NBA Finals.  We will see.

We cannot forget that LeBron James is winning in ways no other NBA player has. He has helped start a school, send over 1100 kids to college, won’t “Shut Up and Dribble“, and produced a documentary highlighting the NCAA hypocrisy.