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Nets games in Mexico helping to grow NBA south of border

Two sellout games show possibility of G-League team in Mexico.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Alex Abrines, left, dribbles past

Oklahoma City Thunder's Alex Abrines, left, dribbles past Brooklyn Nets' Demarre Carroll in the first quarter of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City. Dec. 7, 2017. Credit: AP / Rebecca Blackwell

MEXICO CITY — The two games the Nets played at Arena de Ciudad Mexico against the Thunder on Thursday and the Heat on Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the first NBA games played in Mexico in 1992. The growing popularity of basketball here is evident, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver used the occasion to announce plans for an NBA Academy in Mexico City to develop Latin American talent and plans to study the possibility of establishing a G League team in Mexico City.

The two Nets games, which are part of the NBA’s Global Games series to grow the sport around the world, attracted two energetic sellout crowds. “It’s a great impact,” said Raul Zarraga who is vice president and country director-Mexico for the NBA in charge of promoting the sport here. “The fans can watch NBA games in different formats, but nothing is better than being at the game to feel the real stuff, watching the stars, two sellouts in a row. It looks very good for the game.

“We have marketing partners who are participating with us. There are lots of things happening around the games. The games are like the centerpiece and a very important part of the bigger puzzle.”

Soccer clearly is the No. 1 sport in Mexico, but Zarraga said basketball is the second most-practiced sport because of the widespread availability of basketball courts at most schools. “For those kids that are specifically interested in basketball, they have been getting opportunities with the junior NBA and now the Academy and other initiatives to offer them organized tournaments and organized leagues for them to play in,” Zarraga said.

“We are trying to find those players that can go to the highest levels regardless if it’s a Mexican team, the Mexican League or the NBA or an international league.”

According to Silver, the NBA is studying a league-operated Mexico City G League team as opposed to most G League teams, which are owned and operated by NBA franchises. Zarraga noted that it would have a larger impact because such a team would represent Mexico, not just a particular franchise.

Silver confirmed reports the NBA also is considering the idea of establishing independently owned G League franchises in other locations in Mexico. “We believe it makes sense as a first step to have a development league team here and to work out some of the issues to better understand what it would mean to have a team in Mexico,” Silver said. “But the opportunity isn’t reserved just for Mexico City. Our partners in this arena have facilities in other cities as well. We’ll continue to look at all options.”

Down the road Zarraga said it’s possible there is a path to placing an NBA franchise in Mexico City, but for now the G League is the top priority. “I believe that definitely we’re going to make this a healthy business for the owners,” Zarraga said. “I strongly believe there is a good opportunity in Mexico City and in Mexico as a country to put the pieces together and find a business model that could be attractive to local investors.”

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