This isn’t simply a matter of bringing the NBA to a new country. It’s about bringing a new country, along with its people and its customs, to the NBA—something the league has been doing since 1946, when the Toronto Huskies drafted Italian-born Hank Biasatti, making him the first international player to suit up in the Association for Canada’s maiden team.
It isn’t the NBA’s debut in Mexico, either. The league has been engaged in this cultural exchange since 1992, when the Houston Rockets played the Dallas Mavericks for the inaugural NBA Mexico preseason game. Mexico leads all international countries—outside of Canada—in hosting the NBA, with 30 appearances. The magnitude of the game has only grown in 2023.
“There are 30 million people who identify as NBA fans in this country,” says Anna Laura Ramírez, a lifelong basketball fan from Veracruz who now works for NBA Mexico. “Before, not everyone had access to watch the NBA here, unless you had money for ESPN. But nowadays the average Mexican can access the NBA on social media and in ways that weren’t possible in the past. The Capitanes are a big part of that.”
I decided to tag along and chat with a few members of the Capitanes during my week there to see what the evolution of this “deporte rafaga” (or “fast sport”) looks like on the ground.
My immediate takeaway? CDMX is definitely the best place to be on the NBA’s junior circuit.
“You don’t get this lifestyle anywhere else in the G League,” says Gary Clark, a forward on the team. “I absolutely love it. I want my mom and them to come to see. The U.S. isn’t the best thing they’ve been preaching to us.”
Compare Mexico City to other G League locales like Fort Wayne or College Park, or even full-fledged NBA cities like Sacramento or Oklahoma City. In contrast, Mexico presents a unique chance for the NBA to live up to its reputation as the most globalized sporting organization in the country. While other sports have hosted occasional events in the country, the NBA is broadening its wingspan in a way that the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS or NASCAR haven’t: by having a home in Latin America.
The playbook seems to be working so far—and hoopers are enjoying the spicy perks. For Clark, a self-described “food junkie,” being an outsider in a foreign country offers the thrill of exploring new flavors with a fresh palate—all while staying ready for an NBA call up.
“Beluga has the best lobster tacos I’ve eaten in my life,” he says. “And the other day I got a sushi taco. It had a seaweed hardened taco shell with sour cream, sweet cream, and it was loaded with shrimp. I like to eat stuff like that.”
Besides lavish plates, he emphasizes the zealous fanbase and vibrant Mexican lifestyle, where other hoop heads, vintage collectors, and fashionistas provide more than enough drip. From a practical standpoint, Clark also doesn’t mind the moderate year-round weather. When we spoke, he was rocking shorts in the middle of winter.