The Orlando Magic may be the host of these 2018 NBA Mexico City Games, but the Chicago Toros are the fan favorites.
"I didn't understand how many fans there were here for us, so I am looking forward to going out there and putting on a show," Zach LaVine was saying Wednesday afternoon before Bulls practice in the Mexico City Arena. "I think we have a lot of support here and we are very thankful for that. I think it's going to be pretty cool; it's not every day you come to play in Mexico."
It's also a nice way to put the uneasy events of the last week in their rear view mirror, at least outside the United States, as perhaps 200 media members from around Mexico surrounded Bulls players on the eve of the game with the Magic. The temperatures were mild and the media was idolatrous.
It's an annual NBA rite these days to play outside the United States, but more special in Mexico City to have the Toros. The fans here don't so much remember Fred Hoiberg or know who Jim Boylen is or even much care about the Bulls 6-22 record. They remember Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Phil Jackson, and the golden era of Toros basketball.
"All this is very humbling for me," said Robin Lopez, who seemed to be enjoying the half hour of open media interviews the most, trying out Spanish for one local broadcaster and threatening the Orlando mascot, Stuff, for the benefit of other prying local reporters. "Basketball is such a global sport, being second to soccer. When you travel around the world you see people repping your team, occasionally repping your name. That's very special, that's a bond that can't really be broken. I keep hearing how popular the Bulls are here; that's a huge honor. I realize the NBA has a brand that is very global. But there aren't many brands that travel as well as the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps only the Los Angeles Lakers. It's very humbling and a huge honor to be a part of that."
Local reporters frequently told Bulls players how much red would be in the Arena Ciudad de México 8:30 p.m. Thursday for the game. Though while Lopez and his mascot-like mane of curly hair was an appealing draw even as he was called Brook a few times, it was LaVine who took the starring role.
LaVine was asked repeatedly about the 2016 All-Star weekend dunk contest which he won over Orlando's Aaron Gordon. Though Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1984 is more famous and Vince Carter's in 2000 was considered perhaps the most spectacular, LaVine's dunk off with Gordon was considered probably the most competitive and appealing dunk contest in All-Star weekend history.
Would LaVine and Gordon be going at it again in Thursday's game?
It seemed often more a plea than a question.
"We'll have some moments where we are going to go at it," LaVine said with a shy smile "I think a lot of people understand what we did in the dunk contest. We have to see how the game goes. We are going to go out there to compete and win. I'm going to go out there and do what I have to do for my team and I know he'll do that for his team, too.
"I think we obviously know how to put on a show," LaVine added. "It's team first; it's not going to me versus Aaron Gordon. We know what we have to do. But I've heard how much they are Bulls fans I am excited for that. It's going to be good to see so much red in the arena. We are thankful to play in Mexico and I feel it will be fun. Maybe there will be some moments."
And a good Ole'. Because here come Los Toros.