Despite uncertainties around being able to host events HoopNation's annual Tauranga basketball competition will have a record number of players on the court.
The Labour weekend tournament, this year called The Classic, started this morning and
will see 1664 athletes from around New Zealand in 163 teams playing 469 games over four days.
Co-founder Paul Berridge said as New Zealand battled the Covid-19 pandemic there were concerns the annual competition would not be able to go ahead due to uncertainties around mass gathering and travel restrictions and player availability.
In its 10th year this year, Berridge said they had not been expecting huge numbers due to those doubts but were "optimistic" and had their "fingers crossed" so when entries reached record numbers organisers knew people had been missing basketball.
"We're pretty excited about that," Berridge said.
The first year the event was held in Tauranga, 52 teams entered. Last year, 150 teams, with more than 1500 athletes entered. This year's numbers had surpassed last year's even without Australian teams competing this year - and Berridge reckons there is still space for future events to grow even more.
"Every year the numbers have increased," he said.
It's long days for those involved, with matchups being played between 9am-9pm today,
8am-10pm tomorrow and Sunday and 9am-4pm on the final day on Monday.
Berridge said the quality of athletes that would be competing was high, particularly in the Men's Elite division, saying there were about six teams that could win, but talent across all five adult divisions and 11 youth divisions was strong.
Among those competing are Waiata Jennings, Hawaiki Leach and Anthony Ohia - and even though they're playing in different teams, across different divisions they're all part of the same squad - family.
It will be the first time all three of the Rotorua cousins will have played in a HoopNation tournament at the same time and they're looking forward to playing the game they love while also being able to watch and support each other's games during the four-day event.
Hawaiki, 15, was meant to travel to Las Vegas in June to compete in a basketball tournament but due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, he was unable to.
So, most of those in his travelling team decided they'd come together to play in this weekend's The Classic tournament.
The Rotorua teenager, who has been playing basketball for about seven years, is excited to be playing again, jumping on court with his teammates.
"I haven't really, like, played a proper tournament in a long time."
Another highlight of the HoopNation tournament is the uniform and given its 10-year milestone, Berridge said a lot of thought had been put into it. After NBA great Kobe Bryant died in January of this year Berridge said "a tribute to Kobe" was "going to be the focus".
However, when New Zealand came together in their fight against Covid-19 Berridge said it was important to honour that effort, using the New Zealand flag and colours as inspiration to pay tribute to "New Zealand's team of 5 million", while also Bryant - or Black Mamba - through his Lakers' colours on the back.