Posted Oct 19 2009 7:47AM
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Steve Nash took the mic before the tip of Sunday night's Mexico Game 2009 and greeted the enthusiastic throng at Arena Monterrey. The crowd roared its approval for the Suns' two-time MVP, who added a personal touch to the welcome.
He did it in Spanish.
Nash promised a good show and the Suns and 76ers delivered. The 18th NBA game played on Mexican soil ended with Philadelphia running away with a 116-94 victory behind 23 points from Andre Iguodala, but the final score was just part of the evening.
"We're trying to grow our game and we're obviously neighbors to Mexico, so it's important for us to extend as much of ourselves as we can," said Nash, who had 14 points and seven assists. "And to be honest there are so many Mexican-Americans that are our fans that it sort of feels like coming home in a way. Our culture in America is unavoidably linked to Mexico and for me that's fantastic. It's really great to come down here and grow the game."
The players on both sides understood the game was about more than just basketball. Even with the work that has to be done during the preseason -- Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan and Phoenix counterpart Alvin Gentry are both beginning their first full seasons at the helm of their respective clubs -- the cultural impact of the weekend wasn't lost.
"Other than the actual game, it's been a great trip," Gentry quipped. "It's a great culture here that embraces athletic-type things."
The teams took part in a hospital visit, a tree planting at an elementary school and a Special Olympics clinic on Saturday. Sixers forward Jason Kapono, one of the volunteer coaches for Special Olympics clinic, had previously taken part in an NBA-sponsored basketball clinic in Mexico City.
"It's always interesting to experience different cultures," Kapono said. "This is more of a soccer area, so to expose our sport and have a chance to show them what we do and how we grew up and how basketball has meant a lot to us, like what soccer has meant to them is rewarding. You develop a lot of the same friendships and camaraderie and competition."
Billed as a run-and-gun clash, the Sixers were the only ones putting their track shoes to use early. They had a 19-point lead before the first quarter was done, with Iguodala, Lou Williams and Samuel Dalembert getting easy looks at the rim against the undersized Suns.
"They jumped on us early," Gentry said. "They created turnovers. It's hard to defend against turnovers."
Phoenix rallied in the second quarter and had the deficit down to a manageable level early in the third before Iguodala took over again. Philly's second coming of AI brought to the crowd to its feet with a Dr. J-channeling windmill dunk midway through the third that began to signal the end of the Suns.
Having a little fun with the moment, Kapono acted as a one-man shield and didn't let any of his teammates congratulate Iguodala after the slam. No sense in sharing the spotlight.
"Andre Iguodala really took the bull by the horns and brought us to another level," Jordan said.
Talks are in the works to bring another preseason game to Monterrey next year. The NBA also plans to utilize the new arena being built in Mexico City for future regular season games. Exhibition games in South America are also likely in years to come.
The league's commitment to Hispanic fans in North America is also on the upswing. The NBA is launching a new marketing initiative on Monday, dubbed enebea, which is the Spanish pronunciation of NBA. The multi-platform program includes television and radio broadcasts, a new Spanish-language Web site (nba.com/enebea), and an extensive advertising campaign.
Exposing the league to new fans is a never-ending mission.
"It's a privilege to play in the NBA," Sixers forward Elton Brand said. "It's always an honor to get to places that don't get to see NBA games. We know we have a lot of fans all over Mexico, so just to come here and let them see us and interact with them is just a great time."
Art Garcia has been covering the NBA since 1999. If you have a question or comment, send him an email.
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