MEXICO CITY — The 2019 NBA Mexico City Games began with a fourth consecutive sellout. A crowd of over 20,000 Latino fans voiced its raucous approval through the Mavericks’ 122-111 victory over Detroit, highlighted by Luka Doncic logging the first NBA triple-double in Mexico.
Here’s a look at the best moments from Thursday night’s game:
1. The buildup
Fans were sitting outside the arena four hours before tipoff, many of them wearing jerseys from a multitude of teams and eras. Among them: Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (Lakers and Cavs), Ben Wallace, Kyrie Irving (Celtics), Derrick Rose (Bulls), Doncic, Jamal Mashburn (Mavericks) and many more.
When the teams ran out for pregame warmups, they were greeted with postseason-level roars, immediately setting the tone for a highly anticipated night of NBA basketball.
2. Star recognition
Whenever the center-hung scoreboard focused on Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond or Derrick Rose, the reaction was instantaneous. The ovations were even louder during opening introductions and highlight plays. Latino fans are well-versed on the NBA’s star power, and they clearly appreciated the chance to see it up close and in person.
3. Luka, Luka, y más Luka
You could not have scripted a better first impression between player and país. It began before tipoff, with Doncic greeting the crowd in Spanish.
“Hola, cómo estaís?”
Mexico boomed its approval, which the 20-year-old kept by playing the best individual game the country has ever witnessed. His 41 points were a record by an NBA player in Mexico City. His behind-the-back passes, 3-pointers and dunks rocked the arena. And his final free throws earned him MVP chants that would rival those Doncic might hear in Dallas.
“The fans treated me so well,” Doncic said. “They had fun, and we played a good game for them.”
Conclusion: Mexico loves Luka, and they probably will for a long time.
4. Reactions matching highlights
When it ventures to neutral sites, the NBA surely hopes the fans will not be disappointed from an entertainment standpoint. Mexico City wasn’t.
Aside from the aforementioned Doncic domination, Kristaps Porzingis’ high-flying action on both ends of the floor made him an instant fan favorite. Blake Griffin drew oohs and aahs with a crossover and dunk. Christian Wood opened eyes with a couple slams of his own. Rose continued to remind faithful fans of his prime.
Just as impressive as the highlights were the responses to them. Shouts, claps and whistles combined to form a cacophony of NBA enjoyment, perhaps a portent for Mexico’s newly announced G League team (which arrives in 2020-21).
“They treated every play like it was playoff game,” Drummond said afterwards.
5. G League breakthrough
The first highlight of the night didn’t happen on the court, but in a conference room. Adam Silver, in conjunction with Mexican team Capitanes owners and NBA officials, announced the formation of a G League team in Mexico City.
The news was greeted by immediate excitement from the Latin American media, and will surely earn a similar reaction from Mexican sports fans in general. The men delivering the news were just as thrilled, however, embracing one another and smiling over the international milestone being reached in the biggest North American market.
“I believe that the years to come will be amazing,” said Capitanes owner Gilberto Hernandez. “We’re really, really exited. I mean, words can’t describe how I feel right now. Thank you so much. Thank you, Adam, Shareef [Abdur-Rahim].”
6. In-arena experience
Every amenity a fan might see in an NBA arena was on display and available in La Arena de la Ciudad de México. Photo booths, apparel shops, shooting games and much more featured lines well beyond the roped-off markers before, during and after the game.
Mexico City’s experience with NBA basketball may be short compared to the U.S. and Canada, but it proved (again) more than capable of housing the entertainment value to go along with the sport itself.
7. Drummond vs. allergies
Allergic reactions are no joke, and neither were Drummond’s eyes after accidentally consuming avocados shortly after arriving in Mexico City. The two-time All-Star was unable to participate in the team’s two practices, and was a game-time decision before ultimately suiting up.
Drummond credited the team medical staff, which helped completely reduce the swelling in his right eye and partially help his left. It was enough, as the Pistons big man finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
“I couldn’t see for about 48 hours,” Drummond laughed. “The medical staff did a great job of helping me get ready to play.”