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Looking back at the history of NBA Mexico games

Learn about the history of the NBA Mexico games as the Spurs play the Heat in Mexico City on Dec. 17 (5 ET, NBA TV).

NBA Mexico City: A Look Back.

For 30 years, the NBA has played games in Mexico and a new matchup in the country is afoot.

The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will square off in Mexico City on Dec. 17 (5 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in the first of two Global Games this season and the 12th regular-season contest hosted by the country.

The NBA has played 117 international games — 84 preseason games and 33 regular season games — and the inaugural game took place in 1984. Countries from all around the world have hosted these global games, including the Bahamas (one), Canada (one), Dominican Republic (one), Philippines (one), Brazil (two), India (two), Italy (two), Spain (two), Taiwan (two), United Arab Emirates (two), Germany (three), France (five), England (16), Japan (16), China (25) and Mexico (30).

The first NBA game in Mexico took place on Oct. 27, 1992, when the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks in a preseason game. Since then, 18 preseason games and 11 regular-season games have been played in Mexico, which leads the way as the NBA’s international host.

The last time the NBA Global Games were played in Mexico was in December 2019, when the Mavericks beat the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 12 and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Phoenix Suns in overtime on Dec. 14.

Out of the 30 NBA games played in Mexico, 28 have been played in Mexico City and two have been played in Monterrey. The last 12 contests have been held at the Mexico City Arena, which will be the site for Saturday’s contest.

Below is a look at some of the standout performances and team marks that have taken place in Mexico City games.

Standout performances in Mexico

Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic celebrates during the Mexico City game from 2019.

Throughout the history of the NBA’s Mexico games, there is one performance that stands above the rest. The last time Mexico hosted the Global Games in December 2019, Luka Doncic put on a performance that Mexico’s NBA fans won’t soon forget. Being one of the NBA’s best international stars, Doncic didn’t shy away from his international audience. The Slovenian guard dropped 41 points on the Pistons while adding 12 rebounds and 11 assists in his 16th career triple-double.

Doncic’s performance in Mexico City was not only one of his top games of the season, but a top individual performance from any NBA player during the 2019-20 season. Throughout that season, there were only five instances where a player recorded a 40-plus point triple-double. Doncic is the only player to record a triple-double in Global Games competition, and his performance is the second-highest point total in a Global Game.

Luka Doncic scores 41 points, grabs 12 rebounds and delivers 11 assists in a 2019 win vs. Detroit.

The Mexico City crowd marveled at Doncic’s behind-the-back dribble crossovers, no look alley-oop dimes and deep 3-pointers. He enjoyed being the showman in Mexico, often sporting a grin after dazzling the crowd with his signature moves. Doncic gave Mexico’s NBA fans a taste of the league’s incredible star power.

Other notable performances include Devin Booker dropping 39 points twice (Jan. 12, 2017, and Jan. 14, 2017), Kawhi Leonard notching 38 points, four rebounds and three assists (Jan. 14, 2017), Michael Finley tying a then career-high 35 points to go along with seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal (Dec. 6, 1996) and Charles Barkley notching 19 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block (Dec. 6, 1996).

Best team records in Mexico

The Suns and Mavericks have played the most regular season games in Mexico.

The Suns and Mavericks are tied for the most regular season games played in Mexico with three each. The Magic and the Rockets are both undefeated with two wins in Mexico.

The New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets have played the most Global Games overall (seven) and are 4-3. The Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder have played five games each and are both 4-1.

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are the only undefeated teams to have played multiple Global Games, both 2-0.

Best moments from NBA Mexico

The NBA’s first ever south-of-the-border matchup in October 1992 featured the Rockets and the Mavericks. NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon wowed the crowd with his dunking and playmaking. This game marked the beginning of the effort to globalize the game in Mexico.

Hakeem Olajuwon plays in his second game in Mexico City in 1994.

The Rockets and Mavericks were brought back to Mexico for the NBA’s first regular season game in the country in December 1997. The Rockets narrowly defeated the Mavericks, 108-106, behind Charles Barkley’s 19 points and 17 rebounds. Mavericks guard/forward Michael Finley tied a career-high 35 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Rockets. After the tight win, Barkley threw the ball in the stands ecstatically.

Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley talks after his Rockets beat the Mavericks in 1997.

In a preseason matchup between the Spurs and the Clippers in 2010, Gary Neal hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, lifting the Spurs to a 100-99 victory.

Gary Neal

Gary Neal’s game winner in 2010.

In 2017, Leonard and Booker had memorable duel as they traded buckets down the final stretch as Booker threw down a go-ahead dunk following a Leonard 3-pointer. Overall, Booker had 39 points to Leonard’s 38 as the Suns won, 108-105.

Kawhi Leonard and Devin Booker duel it out in Mexico City in 2017.

Come Dec. 17, the Spurs and Heat will make it 30 years of the NBA playing in Mexico. The game will be a clear reminder of the NBA’s international ties as the league’s top talent will be on display as the game is further globalized.