19 | ENE | 2020
NBA Mexico Games, a story of success
The NBA has come to Mexico since 1992 – Photo: Taken from NBA’s Facebook account

NBA Mexico Games, a story of success

Mexico City
Edward Fernando Salinas
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Since 1992, Mexico has become one NBA's favorite destinations

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Mexico has become one of the favorite destinations for the National Basketball Association (NBA) that this year celebrates its 30th game in the Aztec land when the Phoenix Suns measure their skills against the San Antonio Spurs.

“It’s clear that Mexico is the most important market for the NBA in Latin America; with these, there will be 30 games played in our country, with the relevance of being regular-season matchups” comments Fernando Tirado, analyst and anchor in ESPN and the official spokesman of NBA Mexico Games.

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To understand the success of this amazing history, it is necessary to make a review and to remember the most representative games played in Mexico: from the first time the NBA visited our country, the three places that have hosted the event, as well as recognizing the Mexicans that have been able to play a game in their country, up to the last games in this new stage.

Everything began when the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks played a thrilling matchup on October 27, 1992, in the Sports Palace in Mexico City.


The fans witnessed the brilliant participation of legendary 34 Hakeem Olajuwon, considered one of the best players in basketball history and who took the Rockets to victory with a 104-102 score against the Mavs.

The NBA Challenges in Mexico
The so-called NBA Challenge was a series of games between different teams invited by the league that would take place between 1994 and 1996. The Seattle SuperSonics (who would later become the Oklahoma Thunders) won the first edition.

“I remember well the visit of Shawn Kemp (Seattle SuperSonics), he was very surprised because he didn’t expect to be so popular in Mexico and couldn’t believe the love of the fans must surely be among the historical players most loved by Mexican fans,” says Enrique Garay.


In the second edition of the NBA Challenge in 1995, David Robinson had an outstanding participation leading the San Antonio Spurs to victory with a 125-107 score against the Washington Bullets (who would later become the Wizards); in addition, he would be appointed MVP of the season.

“Teams with star players have come to our country, from that visit of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Mario Elie, or Kenny Smith, who made history in NBA,” mentions Fernando Tirado.

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For the third edition in 1996, in a very tight matchup, Jason Kidd would appear with the Mavs winning with a 107-102 score against the Utah Jazz, despite them having the historical John Stockton and Karl Malone.


The first regular-season game
The moment had arrived and for the first time, the NBA brought a regular-season game to Mexico. On December 6, 1997, the Rockets would defeat the Mavs 108-106 like in the first game in 1992.

“When the NBA sees the answer of the people attending and the rating levels, it decides to bring a regular-season game to Mexico; they realize that besides sports, it’s a good business,” explains the TV Azteca anchor.


Eduardo Nájera, the triumphant return to his land
Nájera is probably the best Mexican basketball player to have played in the NBA and who defended, through 12 years of career, the colors of the Dallas Mavericks, the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Nuggets, the New Jersey Nets, and the Charlotte Bobcats.

“Eduardo is without a doubt the best Mexican basketball player of all times; someone who played ten seasons in the NBA is a big deal. A brilliant career in the Oklahoma University and to have come with one of the most important teams as the Mavs was really interesting; hopefully, there will soon be more cases like his,” says Fernando Tirado, ESPN anchor.

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During his presentation on October 5, 2003, with the Mavs in the Sports Palace, the player born in Meoqui, Chihuahua was highly acclaimed by the public despite losing 85-90 with the Utah Jazz. Three years later, on October 14, 2006, he would meet his people once again in the Arena Monterrey, defending the colors of the Nuggets along with another great sports figure: Carmelo Anthony.

“Eduardo is a great Mexican representative in the NBA; it’s historical to have played 12 years in the same basketball league; in addition, there is important respect for the Mavs thanks to Nájera; at some point, he could become a coach in the league,” mentions Enrique Garay.


The last game played in the Sports Palace would take place on October 12, 2010, with the Spurs as protagonists with a stressful triumph 100-99 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs came to Mexico with the so-called “The Big Three” made up of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginóbili.

For Fernando Tirado, the NBA is “An extraordinary product, it’s elite; it represents the highest aspiration for those who like this sport and Mexico City, with over 25 million inhabitants, is the ideal stage for an NBA game.”

The capital surrenders to another Mexican
After the era of the Sports Palace games ended, began a news stage of NBA Mexico City Games and since October 7, 2012, the venue would be changed to the Arena Ciudad de México. Anthony Davis led the New Orleans Hornets, who would win 85-80 against the Orlando Magic, that had Mexican Gustavo Ayón on its files and who was acclaimed by the public.

“It was extraordinary to have Mexican Gustavo Ayón in the first of the games of this new stage of the NBA in Arena Ciudad de Mexico; with a good development in the Orlando Magic. His story is special since the beginning in the Autonomous People’s University of the State of Puebla (UPAEP) and watching him in the court with a main NBA team in his country, it must be remembered as one of the most outstanding success stories in Mexican sports,” explains Fernando Tirado.


Born in Zapotán, Nayarit, Ayón is another of the talented Mexicans that could be part of the greatest basketball competition in the world. He wore the colors of the New Orleans Hornets, the Orlando Magic, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Atlanta Hawks.

After a long wait, the regular-season games would come back to Mexico and on November 12, 2014, the Houston Rockets, with players like James Harden and Dwight Howard, would prove their condition as stars winning 113-101 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the debut of this franchise in the country, with the incorporation of Andrew Wiggins.

“Bringing the kind of regular-season games they have brought talks about a good organization. To start, they must find a team that wants to hand over home games and sometimes it’s not an easy negotiation,” points out Fernando Tirado.

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Another debut of one of the most popular franchises and of most tradition in the NBA would take place on December 3, 2015, with the presentation of the Boston Celtics that easily defeated 114-97 the Sacramento Kings thanks to Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder. For their parts, the Kings came with players like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Rajon Rondo.


2017 would be complete madness in Mexico City for there would be four games in the same year (two in January and two in December) that would include the arrival of the Miami Heat. In addition, there would we an authentic sea of starts with Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Booker, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginóbili, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker with the Spurs, while Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony came with the Oklahoma Thunder.

Perhaps one of the most expected debuts of Mexican fans would take place on December 13, 2018, with the Chicago Bulls, a team where legendary Michael Jordan played and which marked a golden age for basketball.


This 2019 writes a new chapter of the successful relationship of NBA in Mexico with the celebration of the 29th and 30th games in history: the Detroit Pistons against the Dallas Mavericks and the matchup between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs.

“The major attraction of this year has been the Mavericks with one of the prodigy players in the history of this sport as is Luka Dončić, who with only 20 years of age has an extraordinary talent seen once in many generations, even over players like ‘Magic’ Johnson,” says Fernando Tirado.

“This year, four games are coming; the great attraction of the Mavs are Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis, but I also consider Demar DeRozan from the Spurs in this 30th game,” concludes Enrique Garay.

The 30th game is a special celebration that reflects the complete success of the NBA in Mexico; there are still many players to come and more memorable matchups to take place in the Aztec land, as well as many stories left to write.

Did you watch the 29th NBA game in Mexico?


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