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NBA returns to Mexico City for first time since before pandemic with Heat, Spurs

NBA Mexico Games 2022 - All Access

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - DECEMBER 15: Jeremy Sochan #10 and Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs visits the The Angel of Independence monument as part of the NBA Mexico Games 2022 on December 15, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

An NBA game in Mexico City was an annual ritual and part of the NBA schedule for more than a decade — since 1992 the league has been coming to the largest city in North America to showcase the game and make inroads in a massive market.

Then the pandemic hit.

Saturday, for the first time since 2019, the NBA is back in Mexico City with the Spurs taking on the Heat. The game tips off at 5 p.m. Eastern on NBA TV.

The NBA’s greatest growth over the next decade will be international and the NBA is again reaching out to those markets. Mexico City is one of the world’s great cities for food, history, architecture and more, a vibrant big city that unfortunately often gets an unfair rap in American media. However, the NBA has recognized the market’s potential — basketball is the second most played sport in the country according to a recent survey — and set up a dedicated regional office based in Mexico City. There’s also an NBA Store in a trendy shopping district (Mexico is the fourth largest market outside the United States for sales).

The Spurs, in particular, have reached out into that market to try and expand their base. To help with that, the NBA also hosted a youth basketball experience and a coach’s clinic in the city.

However, the NBA has potential bigger ideas as Mexico City continues to come up as a secondary option if (when?) the NBA decides to expand in a few years. NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said this week that Mexico City “has to be in consideration” for potential expansion (Seattle and Las Vegas remain the clear frontrunners to land teams).

As a trial run, the NBA now has a G-League there, the Mexico City Capitanes. After COVID forced them to play last season in the United States, they are playing their home games in Mexico City now and teams from the states (and Canada) are traveling to play them. It lets the NBA gauge the experience for teams, players and fans.

For now, the fans in Mexico City will get treated to a rivalry from the last decade, when the Spurs and Heat were atop the NBA.