The NBA announced this week that two games during the 2013-2014 season will be played internationally – one in London and another in Mexico City, where the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves are likely to receive a warm welcome.
Basketball is the country’s second most-practiced sport – after much-adored soccer – according to Mexico’s National Professional Basketball League, or LNBP. People play in the thousands of courts that anchor schoolyards, gyms, and public parks.
When indigenous Zapatista communities in Chiapas gather for a celebration, the festivities often open on a basketball court. Women play fierce games, sometimes in skirts, frequently preferring bare feet to sandals.
Tournaments for both men and women take over public parks in Mexico City on Sunday mornings. And Mexico’s northern states, where people are known for their height, have produced three NBA players.
NBA is coming
Luis Balmore ignores an impending rainstorm as he dribbles and shoots hoops in a Mexico City park. He plays in a local league and says he practices every day – and he’s excited to hear the NBA is coming.
Ever since Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls, he’s been a San Antonio Spurs fan.
“There are a lot of Mexicans over there,” he says. “Plus, it’s an international team with players from France and Argentina.”
The one Mexican currently in the NBA, Gustavo Ayon, plays for the Orlando Magic. But there were two others before him, Horacio Llamas who played for the Phoenix Suns during the 1990s and Eduardo Najera who played for the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets, among other teams, during the 2000s. All three men top 6 feet, 8 inches.
The LNBP was founded in 2000 and, according to its retired president Modesto Robledo, it has become, “in a very short time, one of the three most important [leagues] on the continent,” after the NBA and Argentina’s professional league.
The Dec. 4, match-up will be only the second regular-season NBA game played in Mexico City; the last was in 1997. It will be the league’s 21st game played in Mexico.
The NBA has been working to reach more fans internationally, especially in the Spanish-speaking world. It started a website in Spanish, éne-bé–a, in 2009. The two teams slated to play in Mexico City feature well-known Spanish speakers, including the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from Argentina and the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio from Spain.
“Given the deep-rooted Mexican heritage of San Antonio and our proximity to the Mexican border," said Rick Pych, the Spurs' president of business operations, in a statement, "Mexico City is an ideal location for us to play our first regular-season game outside of the United States and Canada.”