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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A little taste of the NBA

It has quickly become a tradition for one of Canada's most rapidly-growing sports right here in Winnipeg.

The NBA's 3-on-3 basketball tournament comes to the Red River Exhibition Association grounds once again this weekend.

"It's been a great run for the park, with as many as 3,000 to 5,000 kids and parents coming out," Kevin Clifford, the association's events manager, said yesterday. "Our first one was in 1998 and it's nice to be able to help out the Toronto Raptors and Basketball Manitoba."

Actually, Winnipeg started hosting these tourneys, then known as Hoop It Up -- with the help of NBA Canada -- before the Ex took over as hosts in '98 and the Raptors are more actively involved now.

Winnipeg is the second stop on the circuit, which started in Calgary this year.

"This is all about bringing the NBA type of experience to Winnipeg," said Rajani Kamath, the Raptors manager of corporate communications. "It's about growing grassroots basketball, which continues to grow in popularity. In fact, it's one of the two fastest-growing sports in Canada, along with soccer.

"This is the only national 3-on-3 basketball tournament and it is one of the most popular 3-on-3 tournaments out there for all ages and skill level. There will also be a number of related activities, with entertainers, mascots and clinics."

In fact, former Raptor Jerome (Junkyard Dog) Williams -- who is now the Raptors' community rep -- will be on hand on Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

"I remember when (Canada's) Steve Nash (now of the Phoenix Suns) was here for a clinic," Clifford said. "The popularity ebbs and flows a bit. When we first started, we had a lot of ex-university players and some (Winnipeg) Thunder players in the top events.

"I'm seeing a lot of younger teams now. And it's amazing the number of girls who come out."

Spectators are welcome to watch the unique 3-on-3 games. Although admission is free, parking is $3.

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