Posted Oct 12 2010 9:01PM
The NBA is heading south Tuesday, continuing a longstanding tradition of games in Mexico, and much further south in the years to come. As in the other side of equator.
Ole, ole, ole, ole.
Preseason games are coming to Brazil either before the soccer-crazed country hosts the 2014 World Cup or the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, David Stern said last week. The NBA has never staged games in Central or South America.
"We are well aware of the World Cup and Olympic expectations," the commissioner said during a press conference in Paris. "And we expect to be following up on that opportunity relatively shortly."
Though the league isn't ready to make a formal announcement on dates, planning for exhibitions in Brazil has been an ongoing project. Anderson Varejao (Cleveland), Leandro Barbosa (Toronto), Nene (Denver) and Tiago Splitter (San Antonio) are the current Brazilians in the NBA.
Philippe Moggio, NBA vice president for Latin America, said the league is working diligently on expanding its presence outside of North America. The NBA has a local office in Mexico City and is expected to open one in Brazil by the end of the year. Argentina, another country like Brazil with a strong basketball background, is also in the mix.
"We are committed to creating new grassroots basketball development programs jointly with the local basketball federations, government entities and our marketing partners, focused on youth development, basketball participation and social responsibility," Moggio said. "As you can see, we have great aspirations for our sport and our brand in Latin America."
The NBA has enjoyed a lengthy relationship with Mexico. The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers meet Tuesday night at the Palacios de los Deportes, marking the league's 17th visit to Mexico City. It's also the 19th game overall in Mexico -- easily the most of any country outside the United States and Canada -- dating back to '92.
"The NBA has been in Mexico for a long time and through this period we have built a solid and passionate fan base," Moggio said.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili spoke of the natural connection Mexican fans have with Spanish-speaking NBA players, such as himself and Splitter.
"All Latin American people, we kind of relate to each other," said Ginobili, an Argentinean.
For new Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, the trip to one of the world's largest cities serves a dual purpose.
"We were selected to go down to Mexico, we want to represent ourselves well and the league," he said. "We want to just keep on building the NBA brand. It's another opportunity for us to get better, it's another opportunity for us to become closer on and off the court, and I think all of those things build chemistry. With this young team, that is very important."
Though it's a neutral site, expect San Antonio to enjoy the home-court edge.
"I heard the Spurs are very popular and the NBA is well-followed, a lot of fans," Ginobili said, "so I'm excited."
As with any international event, safety is an issue. Stern alluded to extra security measures for teams traveling in Europe this preseason. The Spurs and Clippers have been briefed regarding this trip.
"We've been advised to not go outside the hotel that much," Ginobili said.
The league has taken a global approach bringing its teams and stars to diverse locales. Just this month, the two-time champions Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks played a series of preseason games in Barcelona, London, Milan and Paris. The New Jersey Nets and Houston Rockets are taking part in exhibitions in China this week.
The first regular-season games in Europe are taking place in March, with New Jersey and the Toronto Raptors hooking up for two in London. Mexico and Japan are the only other two international countries to host games during the regular season. Mexico City did so in '97, with the Houston Rockets beating the Dallas Mavericks before a sold-out crowd.
Moggio didn't rule out the possibility of a game that counted in the standings coming back to Mexico someday.
"While there a currently no existing plans for a regular season game in Mexico this season," he said, "the opportunity to bring a regular season game back to Mexico in future seasons is clearly there."
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