Mexico City Game

Relationship with Mexico City deepens after 3 decades of NBA contests

The question of possible expansion into Mexico City dominated NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s pregame media availability.

Adam Silver on Mexico City: 'I love being down here, it's a great experience'

  • The potential for expansion to Mexico City dominated Adam Silver’s news conference before Thursday’s Global Game between the Hawks and the Magic.
  • Three decades of hosting NBA contests has the city and its fans eager for a deeper relationship with the league.
  • The G League team, Capitanes, and an NBA basketball academy also have dialed up interest for pro basketball.

After whetting Mexico City’s appetite for NBA basketball with 32 games since 1992, the league finds itself with an international market hungry to eat.

An hour before the latest edition of the NBA Global Games, which took place Thursday with Atlanta and Orlando playing at Mexico City Arena, commissioner Adam Silver met with reporters. Most of the questions he took were variations on the theme: More, please?

Often at his news conferences, whether at the Finals, at All-Star Weekend or after Board of Governors meetings, Silver will get a question about expansion. Typically it’s domestic, focused on eager markets such as Las Vegas and Seattle.

This time, it was all international and, specifically, about Mexico City. Of the 10 questions he fielded, eight touched on a possible franchise for the city, more games and stars coming to town soon, continued globalization of the league and even the development of homegrown NBA talent in the country.

“We think there’s an enormous opportunity to continue growing the game of basketball here in Mexico City and throughout the country,” Silver said in his opening remarks. “And we also see this as a gateway essentially to the rest of Latin America.”

In a later remark he added: “My predecessor David Stern … this was also part of his dream, as he worked for many years to continue growing the game globally. And we’re seeing that.”

The back story

Mexico City’s long history of hosting NBA games dates back to Oct. 27, 1992, when Houston and Dallas played a preseason game. Since then, there have been 18 additional preseason games and now 13 regular-season contests.

The Mavericks and the Rockets returned in 1997 to play the first of those regular-season games. Then it was Houston and Minnesota in 2014, beginning a stretch of nine games in six years. Last December, it was San Antonio and Miami rekindling the tradition.

So one journalist Thursday inquired if the NBA would come back next season for not one, but two games yet again. Silver pledged at least one for 2024-25.

Another media member wondered when LeBron James or Steph Curry might play in North America’s largest city. The commissioner noted that 23 of the league’s 30 teams already have traveled for games to Mexico City, with all 30 likely to have made the trip after several more seasons.

What’s next?

This state-of-the art arena, officially the Arena Ciudad de Mexico, was sold out for Thursday’s game. Members of the Hawks and the Magic made appearances and participated in basketball clinics as part of the Global Games initiative.

Also, the league opened in recent years its NBA Academy Latin America, one of its full-service facilities to attract and develop talent internationally. And a G League entry, the Mexico City Capitanes, are about to begin their third season.

It’s only natural that so much excitement might lead to expectations of a greater NBA presence in Mexico.

Silver walked a line between encouraging the interest and preaching patience. While noting that such a move would be “very doable,” for instance, he added: “We’re not in expansion mode at the moment.”

Pressed further, the commissioner said: “I don’t want to put a specific timeline on it. We don’t expand all that often.”

And he reminded the assembled media how strong the relationship already is: “There’s no market we’ve been to more than Mexico City, with the exception of Canada, outside the United States,” Silver said. “So we really believe in this market.”

Expansion within the U.S. borders, when it comes, will be a big deal for the league. Starting what would operate, with Toronto, as the league’s second international franchise would be a heavier lift. Though Silver did indicate multiple G League options are being explored elsewhere in Mexico and Central/Latin America.

The Hawks-Magic game offered an opportunity for further reconnaissance.

Said Silver: “One of the reasons for me and for deputy commissioner Mark Tatum to be here in person is to have meetings, to see with our own eyes the passion. To meet here with the media and get a sense of that. Then we go back, we talk to our colleagues, we talk to the team owners about the prospects of continuing to expand. Because of course you need the players to be our partners here in wanting to relocate to Mexico City.

“So I can’t set a specific timeline on it. But a main part of my job, if not the most important part, is to grow this league. It’s something I think about a lot.”

More from Mexico City

Watch the commissioner's full media availability

Ahead of the 2023 NBA Mexico City Game between the Hawks and Magic, commissioner Adam Silver speaks on the state of the league.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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