Man With a Big Heart

Ronny Turiaf returns to Spokane. Plus, what to watch for at Hoopfest, what to shout and which teams have the best names.

Ronny Turiaf
Ronny Turiaf

He's a multimillionaire who nearly died young. In the space of just five months back in 2005, Ronny Turiaf went from highs (completing his Gonzaga career and being selected in the NBA draft) to lows (being diagnosed with a heart defect and facing potentially career-ending surgery).

Now, after making a six-month, faster-than-expected recovery from his surgery to repair an enlarged aortic root, Turiaf is preparing to start his seventh NBA season. (He’s now with the Knicks, after stints with the Lakers and Warriors.)

And he’s making a three-day Hoopfest stop this weekend: unveiling a community court on Thursday, headlining a fundraising dinner on Friday night for his foundation, and judging a slam dunk contest on Saturday afternoon.

Six years ago, the news of Turiaf’s brush with mortality hit hard, not just because he was only 22 at the time, but because he was so fun-loving — the guy whose smile lifted your day whether or not you cared anything about basketball.

When I interviewed him in January 2002, back when he was a 19-year-old freshman with the Zags, he was a lot more concerned with festivities than mortality. He was going to live forever, man.

He’d already made the shift from his home in Martinique to a colder climate in Paris for his high school years, but nothing like snowbound Spokane “I already seen [snow] in France, but little, it wasn’t big like this,” he said. He’d done his first snow angel, “all by myself, it was my first time here. You lay down on the snow and shish, shish, shish” [waving motion].”

His fun-loving personality blended into his style of play: “On the court, I know I make some crazy play, ’cause I’m so inn-air-jick [energetic], so … [gesticulates, laughs] I’m like a badger on the court. I just want to give my best, so could be happy to my teammates.”

And his face brightened into a big smile when he recalled the “festivities” during carnival time in Antigua: “You have to go, that’s like weird gyrating and embracing [raises arms joyfully, demonstrates a hip-wiggle]. WHOOO! [laughs]. That’s big-time.”

But Ronny Turiaf is older now. Wiser. In addition to his NBA career — the workouts, the travel, all the publicity demands — he has a foundation to run. The Ronny Turiaf Heart-to-Heart Foundation ( funds prevention, detection and treatment for kids with life-threatening heart conditions.

At 19, Ronny was a party boy, running through a birthday-spanks gauntlet formed by his Zag teammates at practice one day. Now he’s giving back, helping with the financial and logistical needs of kids with heart ailments.

When he was 22, Turiaf himself was like one of those kids. He’s still a kid at heart, which is why Hoopfest — and all of Spokane — is looking forward to having him back.

Ronny Turiaf’s Hoopfest appearances • Community Court Unveiling • Thurs, June 23, from 3:30- 4:30 pm • Fri, June 24, from 7-9:30 pm • Heart-to- Heart Foundation fundraising dinner with Cedric the Entertainer • $100 • Lincoln Center • 1316 N. Lincoln St. • • 327-8000 • Slam- Dunk Contest judging • Sat, June 25, from 1-2 pm and 2-3:30 pm • Nike Center Court, Riverfront Park • • Hoopfest Saturday Night • Sat, June 25, at 9 pm • $10 - $15 • 21 • The Lincoln Center • (800) 325-SEAT

Team Name Throwdown

If the following groups of players are as clever with their no-look, behind-the-back passes as they are with their team monikers, they should at least make it to Sunday. Out of more than 7,000 team names, here’s who should face off in our imaginary playoffs.

Wasted Entry Fee vs. Dorks in Shorts
Too Slow for Replay vs. We Bribed the Ref
This Is Not Soccer vs. Poultry in Motion
Menace to Sobriety vs. Knird Reeb
Hobbits of the Shire vs. Bloodbath and Beyond
Little Jimmers vs. Future Vandersloots
Hashtag Winning vs. I’d Like To Buy a Foul
Belieber Fever vs. Blondetourage
Nerds with Arthritis vs. Incredibad
Call Me Swishmael vs. To Kill a Blocking Nerd
Liger Blood vs. Festivus Miracles
Heffalumpers vs. Geriatric Thunder

Last Years Loosers vs. Likely To Reoffend
Craig Sager’s Jackets vs. Merch Madness
Big Dumb Animals vs. Wedgie Buddies
Better at Trivia vs. Par for the Court
Mediocre’s Best vs. Failure Is an Option
Milk of the Penguin vs. Snap, Crackle and Pop
Tenth Time the Charm vs. Wii Not Fit
Re-abilitated vs. Recipe for Disaster
Taylor and the Swifts vs. Queenies and Weenies
We Lose for Booze vs. Rim Are Crooked
Speedos and Burritos vs. Puke and Rally

Action on the Sidelines

Who cares about the basketball? You’re at Hoopfest for one reason: to ogle players and spectators. A guide to the best viewing spots:

General people-watching: All along the Elite Division courts on Spokane Falls Boulevard (near the carrousel), along with the block on Howard south of the Rotary Club fountain. And don’t forget Main Avenue in front of the River Park Square mall. Watch the eyes of the scantily clad in these sectors; they’re not exactly studying basketball techniques. What they find motivational is flirtational.

Athletic, bare-chested, sweaty men: Again, the Elite Division courts on Spokane Falls. When he tumbles out of bounds and sprains his ankle, be ready with the ice pack. He’ll be grateful. Your eyes will meet. Soon you’ll be playing in an Elite bracket all your own.

Wheelchair athletes: Only one court for these guys, a block north of the Post Street bridge. Carrying the ball in their laps, they pop wheelies, reverse direction and drive hard to the hoop. The result? Twisted metal.

Cute little third-graders: In the parking lot across the street from the INB Center, and also on the Washington Street Bridge, north of the tunnel. They play on the most adorable little 8-foot baskets. When they dribble-drive, the ball bounces up to their shoulders. They grimace and wear sweat bands just like their elders.

Attention, high school boys: Did you know that 300 of Hoopfest’s 7,000 teams are comprised entirely of high school girls? On a couple of courts at the south end of that same parking lot across from the INB Center, 30 of those teams will be playing. That’s 120 girls to watch, all day long.

Lingo for Newbies

You found the court, unfolded your lawn chair, got your Big Gulp. But what to yell in support of your uncle, cousin Dexter and that guy from down the street? (“Way to go, guys!” and “Woo-hoo!” seem so trite.)

We gotcha covered. Just memorize the following phrases and then, in the midst of 3-on-3 action, shout them authoritatively and at random.

“Defensively, we need more weakside help.”
Problem is, defensively, your team’s weak side is actually on both sides of the court.

“Back-cut and throw the alley-oop.”
Excellent advice, if only cousin Dexter could outleap a shoe box. He can’t.

“You guys need to give 110 percent.”
Your team may have brought their A game, but it’s actually more like a C-minus game. They’ll need to give 157 percent, minimum.

“Turn and face, then use your crossover step for the ol’ over-and-under.”
This will confuse post players. Use it when the opposing team’s big man has the ball down low. He’ll immediately commit a traveling violation. Better yet, shout it at the other team’s point guard: instant turnover.

“Hedge the on-ball screen, but don’t let them slip the pick-and-roll.”
Nobody actually knows what this means. Still, you’ll get knowing nods from your fellow lawn-chair occupants. Either that, or they spiked their Big Gulps.

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.