The NBA has taken coach Erik Spoelstra and 15-year veteran Udonis Haslem all over the globe in their many seasons with the Miami Heat.
But all of those fun international trips, which included games in Puerto Rico, Paris, London, China and most recently Rio de Janiero in 2014, were all made during the preseason. Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets (10-14) is the first regular-season game outside the United States or Canada for the Heat (11-13).
So can players and coaches still have fun during a regular-season trip to a place they normally don’t go? Spoelstra said he and the team did some of that Thursday between a team meeting and a film session, walking around the affluent neighborhood of Polanco and doing some shopping and eating.
Friday, though, it was all about getting back to business on the practice court and trying to get adjusted to playing 7,382 above sea level, higher than any other stop around the league.
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“[Thursday] was great for a lot of us to get out in the neighborhood, walk around,” Spoelstra said before the Heat practiced at a local high school. “That’s one of the great benefits of being part of this NBA fraternity. We have a great profession that we all get to express ourselves competitively. But then you are able to see the world and are able to help the NBA and help grow this beautiful game that we are all part of.
“Myself and couple of the coaches just walked around the local area as much as we could. We stopped by as many little cafes as we could. We were starting to get full though. We wanted to try as many different restaurants. It was fun to get out, it was great to be outside, it was a beautiful day yesterday. When you go on one of these trips you don’t want to sit in your hotel room. You want to get out there and see as much as you can. I’m glad we had an extra day.”
Haslem said he went shopping Thursday and bought a few things for his wife.
“I’ve never been here before,” he said. “The shopping is good. The food is good. The weather is good. Nice people, waving, taking pictures. Some of the same things you go through back home. Very cost efficient with the shopping, so I think I’m going to go back out and get a few more things. Today, I’m going to take care of myself.”
Dion Waiters, whose right elbow received treatment Friday before practice after he bruised it setting a hard screen in the loss at San Antonio on Wednesday, said he went shopping Thursday with Wayne Ellington. Waiters, who said he expects to play in Saturday’s game, said he used a little bit of the Spanish he knows to greet a saleswoman behind the counter.
“Bought a couple little items, not too much,” said Waiters, whose only other previous international playing experience came when he played against the Heat in Brazil in 2014. “When I said Hola [the woman behind the counter] said something back, but I didn’t know how to respond back. I just said ‘Thanks.’ I didn’t know what to say back.”
Waiters said he was surprised to learn Mexico City was the biggest city in North America, bigger than New York.
“I’ll tell you one thing the cars don’t stop,” he said of the traffic. “It’s worse than New York. It’s crazy.”
Rookie Bam Adebayo said he walked over to a local mall, but made sure to eat inside the team hotel for fear of upsetting his stomach.
“Their mall had snowflakes, snow actually falls in the mall,” Adebayo said. “It’s actually kind of impressive.”
Josh Richardson, a diehard soccer fan, said he was hoping to get a chance tour Mexico’s famous Azteca Stadium on Friday after practice with a couple of his teammates.
“I’ve been to a couple [soccer stadiums], but just in America though,” said Richardson, a diehard fan of Arsenal of the the English Premier League. “I enjoy the sport, everything about it. I’m very excited to have a chance to go."
In the end, Spoelstra and his players said they appreciate the fact they’re able to experience something out of the ordinary during this road trip. Basketball has once again taken them somewhere they never expected to go in life.
“We all get programmed in this league to our schedule,” Spoelstra said. “If you’ve been in the league for several seasons you can kind of feel the rhythm of an NBA season every single year. And sometimes you can take that for granted and then when you do something that’s a little bit different I think it’s fun. I think it helps your guys grow, even just culturely, seeing a different country and a different culture and a different way of living.”
Said Waiters: “At the end of the day you can’t always be so serious about the game. Sometimes you know you’ve got to put basketball aside and appreciate things like that, while also still being in the moment and do what we’re here for, which is to play and actually get a win. But also just enjoy yourself. Sometimes it’s good to get away from basketball sometimes, like mentally, not have to think about it. Just being out here can help you, just the vibe. It helps.”