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5 storylines to watch during the 2019 Mexico City Games

Matt Petersen, NBA.com

For the fourth straight season, Mexico City will play host to two NBA regular season games: Mavs vs. Pistons on Dec. 12 (9 ET, League Pass) and Spurs vs. Suns on Dec. 14 (5 ET, NBA TV).

The league is sending a record four different teams for the 29th and 30th games played within its southern neighbor’s borders. Community events, service projects and clinics will sandwich the games themselves, making for an entire week of NBA outreach in Mexico.

Here’s a look at five key storylines that will develop within one of the largest cities in the world.

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1. Spanish-speaking ambassadors

Latin American media — and subsequently their consumers — will immediately flock to the players and personnel that speak their language. That list is headed by two extremely familiar names.

As if talent wasn’t enough, Dallas superstar Luka Doncic also has the Spanish language in his arsenal from his days of playing professional basketball as a teenager with Real Madrid. The Slovenian sensation is fluent and will likely hit it off with local fans (if his highlights haven’t already done that for him).

Phoenix point guard Ricky Rubio will be the other most recognizable figure for Latin American basketball fans. The 29-year-old has been a fixture on the Spanish national team and was inundated with questions in his native language during a pre-Mexico conference call with the media last week.

2. Star power

There is a reason Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors jerseys remain incredibly popular in Latin America. Superstars (and teams) are remembered and celebrated long after their heyday. This week’s games offer up a bevy of talent, and it should be easy to see which players draw the most enthusiastic following.

Doncic figures to be an early favorite in this regard. At the tender age of 20, he’s already a Kia MVP candidate and figures to be good for a long, long time. The odds of him being an immediate fan favorite are more than solid, especially given his fluency in the local language.

This trip will mark Devin Booker’s second trip to Mexico City. The last time he was here in 2017, the Phoenix Suns guard dropped back-to-back 39 -point games to the delight of the local fans. Throw in the fact that his maternal grandfather hails from Nogales, and Booker has all the groundwork to further his own prominence in the region.

Detroit boasts one of the league’s best rebounders (Andre Drummond) and popular former MVP Derrick Rose. San Antonio, meanwhile, represents the most recent NBA champion of the four teams as well as the closest NBA market to Mexico City. That city annually welcomes over two million overnight Mexican visitors, making San Antonio one of the league’s natural gateways between the two countries.

3. Local impact

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NBA Cares will be out in full force this week. The league’s global social responsibility program will host a clinic on Wednesday, followed by a project performed by the Phoenix Suns on Friday. The league has also planned a referee clinic on Friday.

The country’s first official NBA Store in Mexico City opened its doors on Tuesday. In doing so, Mexico joins the United States, Manila, Italy, China, Taiwan and the Phillippines as countries with physical NBA Store locations. This gives fans a place to see, customize and purchase current merchandise of their favorite teams and players.

Such initiatives further emphasize the league’s commitment to Mexico, which has hosted more NBA games than any country other than the United States and Canada.

4. Global outreach

While Mexico is the host country, the entire Latin American sports community will be taking in the games on a worldwide scale. In addition to the local and NBA League Pass broadcasts, ESPN Deportes and Televisa will help deliver the Mexico City Games to more than 200 countries and territories. In turn, those viewers will see NBA action backdropped by capacity-size crowds (both 2018 Mexico City games sold out) inside the Arena Ciudad de México.

5. The games themselves

The break in routine, location and foreign interest in the games will lend an almost exhibition-like atmosphere, but these are regular season contests that will count in the standings.

San Antonio (9-14) boasts the worst record of the four teams, but even they are only two games out of eighth place out West. A win over the current eighth-place team (Phoenix) now could make all the difference later.

Dallas, meanwhile, has carved out a spot for itself at the contenders table. Championship hopefuls typically don’t mess around against teams with significantly worse records, yet Detroit has won four of their last five. Blake Griffin and the Pistons appear to be rounding into shape after Griffin missed the first two weeks of the season.

This week will mark a celebration of basketball for Mexico and the Latin American community, but that won’t diminish the impact a loss will have on two of these teams.

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