by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & ight now, Seattle is locked in a battle to keep its SuperSonics in town. New owner and Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett wants to move the team to his hometown, and the whole mess is stuck in court, as lawyers debate luxury boxes and secret e-mails. But what they don't talk much about is basketball. It's all about the money.
A Seattle courtroom is the wrong place to feel the spirit of basketball -- no, for that Spokane is the place to be this weekend, as Hoopfest will again top itself as the universe's biggest three-on-three tournament. And between Hoopfest, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the WSU Cougs, this is a hoop-happy kind of place most of the year.
I thought of the Seattle/Spokane comparison when my old boss came through town earlier this month. Knute Berger, the former editor of Seattle Weekly, was here to cover the Democratic state convention for Crosscut.com and I do believe we enchanted him.
"I hit my limit before the final gavel sounded," Berger wrote of finally tiring of all the therefores conventions are famous for, "and snuck off to find peace, quiet, and uncomplicated fun outside the walls of the convention hall, where it was sunny, blue, and in the high 70s.
"I blame Spokane for tempting me to play hooky: The beautiful Riverfront Park, wonderful historic downtown buildings, California weather, a city that seems to be scaled (and priced) more sanely than the Pugetopolis that is gobbling the wet side of the mountains. Spokane is the livable city Seattle once was, only it has sunshine."
He should come see Hoopfest. (Or Ironman. Or Bloomsday. Or a Spokane Indians game.)
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o kind of in honor of Hoopfest, but mainly just for fun, I've compiled my own top five favorite basketball moments.
Crazy Joe Mueller. At one Hoopfest back in the mid-1990s, while Team Inlander struggled to win the media bracket championship game, one of our players, Joe Mueller, crashed into the metal backboard support, opening up an ugly gash on his scalp. It was a wicked bleeder. Mueller went off in a daze to the medical tent, and we played on without a sub. As if in some kind of basketball movie, Mueller broke out of the crowd with a turban-like bandage around his head -- ready to go back in the game. All I remember after that is him driving to the basket, his bloody turban unraveling and fluttering as he flew through the air, his defender watching with an I'm-not-guarding-that-crazy-bastard look on his face. Man those first-place T-shirts feel nice by Sunday afternoon.
X-Man v. Air Jordan. The Bulls were in Seattle -- always a big event -- probably 1987 or '88, and Jordan was arguing a call that didn't go his way. As he argued, the Sonics walked to the other end of the court. Xavier McDaniel -- the coolest Sonic of all time -- calmly stuck his finger in his mouth, and as he walked by His Airness, he stuck it in his ear and wiggled it around for a second. A textbook Wet Willie. Maybe not the example of sportsmanship you want to teach your kids, but the fans loved it and the grin on X's face let you know it was all in good fun.
Huskies 80, Duke 78. It was spring break of my freshman year at UW, 1984, and my friend Todd Weaver and I drove down to Pullman for some March Madness. Our own Huskies, with a couple Germans (Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp) and one Lewis and Clark kid (Clay Damon), eked out a win over Duke. Watching Duke lose on TV warms the heart, but seeing it happen at the hands of your own team, live and in person, well... I'm still savoring it.
Coach Craig Ehlo. One of my favorite Inlander stories was when I wrote about former WSU and NBA star Craig Ehlo leading the hard-luck Rogers Pirates. There he was, giving back at the same school his father-in-law had coached at -- instilling a love of the game in kids, just the way his coaches had done for him. Ehlo told me about Lenny Wilkens, George Raveling and even his high school coach down in Lubbock, Texas, Joe Michalka, who, Ehlo still remembered, always made time for his daughters at practice. The next night, when Rogers played the Sean Mallon-led Ferris squad, just before the game, Ehlo crouched down at midcourt, taking a couple minutes to talk to two little girls. Just like old Coach Michalka, Ehlo gave one, his own daughter, a big hug before she ran off to the stands. Right there, a perfect basketball moment of the spirit of the game passing down through the generations.
John Stockton, Superstar. One of the great Spokane stories of all time is how a kid who entered Gonzaga University at 148 pounds went on to become one of the greatest basketball players ever. I was a freshman at G-Prep when Stockton was a senior, putting the hurt on the rest of the GSL in games at the old Boone Street Barn. Like all of Spokane, I followed his career, and through it all, his toughness, work ethic and super-sized achievements seemed to somehow reflect back on Spokane. I love how Stockton did the NBA his way, never changing who he was, as his first pro coach, Frank Layden, had advised. "I haven't even changed the length of my shorts," he deadpanned to his Utah fans when he retired in 2003.
John Stockton always got that it was about the basketball -- not all the other stuff.
And nothing can change Hoopfest, either. There are no luxury suites to get rich off; nobody could move Hoopfest to Oklahoma. Hoopfest reaches new heights each year, but it stays true to the game. It's no wonder that John Stockton and Hoopfest came from the same place.