Saturday’s game between the Heat and Nets marked the 25th NBA game – preseason or regular season – played in Mexico since 1992, an area of the world the league would like to continue to expand into and will do so soon when it opens a league-run basketball academy in Mexico City early in the new year.
The next step, commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday, could be putting an NBA G League team in Mexico City to gauge whether or not putting a NBA team somewhere in Mexico down the road is truly feasible.
“We’re just beginning to look at what the cost would be for putting a G League team here in Mexico City,” Silver said. “Right now, the teams are almost exclusively owned by NBA clubs. There are a few independent owners, but there is not, in essence, a market for G League teams. They don’t sell independent of NBA franchises. It would be something that would be worked out with a partner here, and we’d determine, ultimately, what the value of that team is and the cost structure for operating in Mexico City.
“In brief, the attraction of the Mexico City market, as I said, is it’s the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, over 20 million people. It’s part of a 130-million-person country. There is a very strong and passionate Mexican-American fan base back in the United States, and this is also potentially a gateway for all of Latin America. So there are many reasons why this is an attractive market for us.”
Silver said if the NBA does put a G League team in Mexico “it would not be operated by one of our 30 franchises, but operated in partnership with the league office.” There are currently 27 G League teams with corresponding NBA teams. The three NBA teams without an exclusive G-League affiliate – Portland, New Orleans and Denver – have their developmental league players spread out on G-League teams.
“It would be a lot of fun,” Heat center Kelly Olynyk said of the possibility of an NBA team one day playing in Mexico City. “I think it would do really well. I think the fans would really embrace it. I think the players would love it. It’s just a matter of trying to get it. I don’t know how easy or hard it would be.”
On Saturday the NBA announced a G League All-Star team will play the Mexican National Team in the NBA G League International Challenge at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Feb. 18.
Friday, Heat assistant Octavio De La Grana and shooting coach Rob Fodor worked a clinic for special needs local youth in Mexico City following the team’s practice at a local high school.
There’s only been four Mexican-born players in the NBA and forward Eduardo Najera was the most recent, playing for five different teams over 12 seasons through 2012. Silver believes the academy, the seventh built by the NBA worldwide, will help promote the sport in a soccer-crazed country.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who has coached at those academies in the past in South Africa and the Philippines, said the NBA is taking the right steps in Mexico.
“The first thing you need is some awareness, so us being down here with games that continued to be played down here help,” Spoelstra said. “[With its academies] the NBA does such a phenomenal job of setting up a foundation of skill development, of teaching the game, not skipping steps, not just making it about playing as many games as you can but it’s more about emphasis on fundamentals, of practices, the importance of learning how to play together, to learn the habit of team work, all of these things.
“I think the NBA does a tremendous job and that’s why I’ve been involved with the grass roots part of building the game, particularly at the youth level, the academy levels around the world because I have such a great respect of how the NBA has done it.”
▪ Spoelstra said starting shooting guard Dion Waiters sustained a slight hyperextension of his right elbow after he set a hard screen in Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio, but practiced Friday and received enough treatment to start Saturday’s game alongside Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson – the same lineup Spoelstra trotted out against the Spurs.
▪ Asked pregame Saturday about what Dragic, 31, might do when his career is over, Spoelstra had a funny response: “He’s one of the few guys who will be able to pick if he wants to continue working in this NBA fraternity either as a coach or in the front office, an ambassador, or, he can go back to Slovenia and run for president. He’s got a lot of options.”