Thousands of basketball players descended on downtown Saturday for the annual Gus Macker three-on-three tournament, including one hometown celebrity who created a buzz by showing up to play: Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane.
The Chicago Blackhawks forward and South Buffalo native played on the "Monstars" in the 20 to 24 division with his cousin James, who was on the Fredonia State College basketball team this past season.
Kane said it's the first time he's been back to Buffalo since scoring the game-winning overtime goal that gave the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
"It's good to be back home," Kane said Saturday. "I can just relax and chill and have some fun doing things like this."
Kane — who said he played in the Macker about five years ago — was relatively incognito among Saturday's basketball crowd, but he raised eyebrows among those who recognized the young NHL star on the court. They were surprised Kane — who signed a five-year deal last season reportedly worth more than $6 million a year — would risk injury playing in the rough-and-tumble street ball tournament.
"I didn't know it was him until after the first game," said Demetrius Rhodes, a Gus Macker volunteer from Rochester, who refereed Kane's games. "I was surprised he was even playing."
Kane's team won the first game, and lost the second. Later in the afternoon, light rain made the courts slick, so rather than risk injury, the team forfeited its third game, Kane's Macker teammate Mike Rautenstrauch told The Buffalo News.
"The first game, I would say he was trying. He wasn't out there just to be out there," Rhodes said. "The second game he really didn't do much."
Organizers didn't realize Kane was playing until word started getting around late Friday, said Bob Youngs, event manager for Gus Macker's national staff.
Macker staffers took a picture with Kane.
"He made history with scoring the winning goal, so we went down [to the court] and wanted to see him," Youngs said. "All of our tournaments have something unique about them, and him being here added a little something special."
This is the 20th annual Gus Macker tournament in Buffalo, which has become the largest of the more than 40 tournament sites around the U.S.
Roughly 4,000 players representing 966 teams played Saturday on 65 makeshift courts created on streets surrounding Niagara Square, said Susan M. Gonzalez, the city's special events coordinator and executive director of the Buffalo Police Athletic League.
Buffalo's Gus Macker is well organized, said Youngs, who praised Gonzalez and Mayor Byron W. Brown. He marveled at the number of volunteers, which allows for two referees on each court.
"We run some tournaments with no officials on the court," Youngs said.
It says a lot about how much the entire Buffalo community has embraced the Gus Macker tournament, Youngs added.
"I think it's just an opportunity to continue to play for people at the end of their careers and kids just getting started," Youngs said.
Buffalo native Steve Krukowski lives in Maryland but came to Buffalo to play in the Gus Macker with his buddies.
"I came in late last night, and I'll leave after the last game tomorrow," Krukowski said Saturday.
"I've played for the past 12 years, and we have a really good time, even though we don't do well," added Krukowski, 24.
Brian Cleary and Erik Hibit of Hamburg are veterans, too.
"I just like basketball," said Cleary, 17. "We usually come here with all our friends. It's fun watching all the people."
Meanwhile, it was the first time Ariel Manney has played in the Gus Macker.
"It's OK," said Manney, 16. "I like the competitiveness."
It was also the first time Linda English attended the event.
"I like it very much. They're pretty talented," said English of Buffalo, who was watching her nephew play. "We came here when it wasn't too crowded, but there are a lot of people now."
Buffalo police were a noticeable presence at the event, and made several arrests for disorderly conduct, after some minor fights broke out in the crowd.
"In most cases the skirmishes were stopped before they even started," said Michael J. DeGeorge, Buffalo police spokesman. "Others were stopped before they even had a chance to escalate."
The tournament continues today.