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Favorite son Eduardo Najera, then with the Nuggets, now with the Nets, played in Monterrey in 2006.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

League extends its reach south of the border once again

Posted Oct 16 2009 7:49PM

In anticipation of Mexico Game 2009 between the Suns and 76ers, All-Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire relayed a heartfelt message to the NBA's fans south of the border.

"I'm definitely looking forward to playing in front of you guys," Stoudemire said recently. "You guys have been loyal fans of the Phoenix Suns for a long time, even before I became a Phoenix Sun, and I'm very grateful.

"Not only playing in front of you, but a lot of fans here in Phoenix are from Mexico and they love the Phoenix Suns and they love us, so we love you guys just as much. It's going to be fun thing to be a part of."

The NBA has had its share of fun in Mexico over the years. Dating to 1992, Sunday's preseason matchup marks the 18th time the league has staged a game in Mexico -- more than in any country other than the United States or Canada. The games have drawn more than 300,000 fans.

Arena Monterrey, a state-of-the-art facility in Mexico's third-largest city, welcomes the NBA for the second time. The Warriors and Nuggets took the court before a sellout crowd there in a 2006 preseason game. League officials are expecting close to another full house Sunday.

"Any time you play for an audience that doesn't have an NBA team there playing every night, it seems to be very exciting for the players and exciting for the coaches," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "The crowd is usually really into the game. It's almost a festival-type atmosphere."

As much as the NBA is committed to extending its reach overseas -- preseason games were held in Europe and Asia this month, including the first in Taipei -- Mexico remains a vital market internationally. Not only is the country's proximity convenient, the popularity of the game continues to grow in the soccer-rabid nation.

"It's just a good basketball market," said Emilio Collins, NBA senior vice president for international development and partnerships. "Basketball is the second-most popular sport throughout Mexico and really widely played throughout."

It's also being viewed in more homes across the country. Currently, NBA games are available every week on two pay-television networks -- ESPN and Sky Mexico -- in about nine million homes. Negotiations are under way to broadcast additional games this season on over-the-air networks.

Unlike a number of countries, Mexican fans have embraced the NBA despite a lack of their countrymen on the court. Nets forward Eduardo Najera, only the second-born Mexican player ever in the NBA, has pretty much been the league's poster boy this decade.

France, for instance, had nine players in the NBA just last season. Serbia had six. Spain and Argentina each had five. Mexico could be up to two this season if free-agent long shot Romel Beck sticks with the Rockets.

So instead of rooting for individual players specifically, as is the case with other basketball junkies around the world, Collins believes Mexican fans are more apt to follow the NBA in general.

"There's definitely an increased popularity for our Texas teams -- the Spurs, Mavericks and Rockets -- and you have a broader fan base for other teams," he said, "but there also seems to be a lot of fans for just the NBA. We've been fortunate throughout this decade, in particular, where the league has just become so much more diverse."

As popular as basketball is becoming in Mexico, it's likely to remain the only country in North America without an NBA team. Travel isn't a roadblock, as it is in Europe and Asia. And facilities, with Arena Monterrey and a new NBA-level building in Mexico City opening in 2011, aren't an issue.

Collins said it comes down to infrastructure and finances. The per capita income in Mexico is roughly a third of that in the United States.

"It's certainly an opportunity that's down the line and one we need to keep an eye on," Collins said. "The biggest challenge whenever we look at any potential international expansion, we have to make sure the market has the right economics to support the league and the team business model. We have not quite seen that yet in Mexico."

But expect to see more games in Mexico. Collins said plans are in the works for preseason games and possibly regular season contests in Mexico City and/or Monterrey. Mexico City had a previous regular season game in 1997 between the Mavericks and Rockets.

Other than eight games in the Caribbean, the NBA has yet to venture further south in Latin America. That appears to be changing.

"In the past year we have received numerous expressions of interest from various entries throughout South America," Collins said. "There is a tremendous opportunity for the NBA throughout Latin America. Obviously, there is a very strong basketball market in Brazil and Argentina. There's an opportunity in Chile, as well. We have been exploring the possibility of having exhibition games in South America."

Brazil, home of the 2016 Summer Olympics, appears to be the frontrunner. Nene's homeland currently has several arenas capable of hosting preseason games, including a 20,000-seat building in Brasilia.

As for this weekend, the Suns and Sixers are making sure the trip is about more than just a game. The teams are taking in a caravan of community relations events Saturday, including a hospital visit, a tree planting at an elementary school and a Special Olympics clinic.

"We're very happy and humbled about going to Mexico," Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said. "I think it's a great situation for our players and our franchise to go represent the NBA. We're playing the Phoenix Suns -- it's going to be a very exciting game [between] two teams that like to get up and down the floor and stay up-tempo, so the fans will certainly have a delight watching the game."

The NBA in Mexico
Sunday's game between the 76ers and Suns in Monterrey will mark the 18th time an NBA game has been held in Mexico.
Event Date Score Pre/regular season
MONTERREY 2006 10/14/06 Nuggets 115, Warriors 121 Preseason
MEXICO 2003 10/5/03 Jazz 90, Mavericks 85 Preseason
MEXICO 2000 10/14/00 76ers 84, Wizards 80 Preseason
MEXICO 1999 10/24/99 Warriors 117, Nets 91 Preseason
MEXICO 1997 12/6/97 Rockets 108, Mavericks 106 Regular
CHALLENGE 1996 10/26/96 Cavaliers 104, Suns 92 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1996 10/26/96 Mavericks 107, Jazz 102 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1996 10/27/96 Jazz 111, Suns 105 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1996 10/27/96 Mavericks 88, Cavaliers 86 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1995 10/28/95 Spurs 125, Wizards 107 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1995 10/29/95 Pistons 110, Wizards 99 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1994 10/28/94 Spurs 121, Rockets 112 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1994 10/28/94 Supersonics 133, Clippers 105 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1994 10/29/94 Rockets 111, Clippers 103 Preseason
CHALLENGE 1994 10/29/94 Supersonics 124, Spurs 95 Preseason
MEXICO 1993 10/24/93 Knicks 103, Rockets 93 Preseason
MEXICO 1992 10/27/92 Rockets 104, Mavericks 102 Preseason

Art Garcia has been covering the NBA since 1999. If you have a question or comment, send him an email.

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