Suns Mingle in Mexico

Horacio Llamas with fans in Nogales
Former Suns center Horacio Llamas joined a group of alumni and front-office executives, who paid a visit to Nogales, Mexico.

From their trip to Japan in 1990 to open the season to their training camp in Italy in 2006, the Phoenix Suns have always looked for new ways to expand their global horizons. This weekend, the organization partook in that endeavor once again, but this time did not rack up any frequent flyer miles to do some international traveling.

On Saturday, a collection of Suns alumni and front-office executives made a trip to Nogales, Mexico to run a series of events which included everything from a youth basketball clinic to a visit to DIF Nogales - an equivalent to Child Protective Services in the United States. Among those making the rounds south of the Arizona border were Suns President Jason Rowley, the Suns Gorilla, and former players including Tom Chambers, Steven Hunter, Tim Kempton and Horacio Llamas, who became the first player born in Mexico to make it in the NBA in 1997.

“It feels great to be back and I’m so thankful to be a part of this,” said Llamas, who played parts of two seasons with the Suns. “The clinic was a lot of fun, but I also really enjoyed getting to stop at DIF and getting the chance to spend some time with the children there. Those children with disabilities don’t get to see a lot of athletes or celebrities, so for them to get the chance to meet people that they’ve seen on TV was special.”

Kempton, another former Suns center, agreed that the opportunity to go to Nogales and give fans the chance to meet a number of NBA personalities up-close-and-personal was well worth the three-hour bus ride. Among the things that stood out to TK was the talent level of the children he worked with at the clinic.

“I’ve never been to Nogales, despite it being pretty close to Phoenix,” said Kempton, now the Suns' radio analyst. “We had a great time at the clinic and had the chance to see a lot of talent. We got to go over some of the basics with those kids and teach them the proper way to play the game, rather than the things they might see in 'And 1' videos.”

“I first started watching basketball when I was around 7,” 13-year-old Christian Maldomade told Suns.com. “There are so many great players and I enjoy watching it. I’ve liked a lot of the players on the Suns, and went to a game once against the Spurs. It was really entertaining."

Those who had the opportunity to learn from the Suns during their trip included fans of numerous NBA teams, including the Suns, Thunder and Lakers. But one thing they all had in common was a love for the game of basketball and a desire to soak in as much basketball knowledge as possible.

“The kids at the clinic did such a great job of really paying attention and wanting to learn,” Llamas said. “You could tell they were all so happy to have people who understand the game sharing that knowledge with them. It was a very short time, but a short time is better than nothing. This is the first time an NBA team has done something like this, and I think with it being such a success, basketball can continue to be promoted here.”

The city of Nogales was rolled out the red carpet for the contingent from Phoenix, and according to U.S. Consul General of Nogales, Sonora, Chad Cummins, they hope to continue building on their relationship with the organization in the future.

“We’re ecstatic to be working with the Suns,” Cummins said. “Basketball is quite popular here in this part of Mexico, and I was really surprised by that when I got here. We all knew that soccer was popular here, but people also really love the NBA."

Cummins added that while everybody’s presence was much appreciated, it was especially nice to have a local hero like Llamas in the mix.

“Having Horacio here is wonderful. He’s such a great role model for the kids here and they really look up to him for having made it in the big leagues after living in Mexico.”

The Suns were not about to make their visit empty handed. The group of employees and alumni brought 10,000 pieces of purple-and-orange merchandise to be distributed among those in need in the city of Nogales.

“It’s always great to receive the opportunity to travel to foreign countries, but based on our proximity to Nogales, this is something where we feel we can make a big impact in a short amount of time,” Suns President Jason Rowley said. “I think it’s great that we’ve brought along so many members of the organization and that so many people came together to help bring about a better result.”