A Spurs fan prepares for the Spurs' win of the 2014 NBA Finals. Photo by Scott Ball.
A Spurs fan prepares for the Spurs' win of the 2014 NBA Finals. Photo by Scott Ball.

The Spurs are one of three teams selected by the NBA to participate during the 2016-17 season in the league’s NBA Global Games initiative that takes a limited number of regular season games to international locales.

The Phoenix Suns will be the host team for two games, a Jan. 12 game against the Dallas Mavericks and a Jan. 14 game against the Spurs.

It’s not the first time the Spurs have been scheduled for a regular season game in the Mexican capital, but they have yet to play a game in Mexico City Arena. An NBA Global Games contest there between the Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2013-14 season had to be canceled when a malfunctioning generator filled the arena with smoke during pre-game warmups. The game, which was to have been played on Dec. 4, 2013, was called off because of concern for the health and safety of players and fans. Because it was a regular season game it was re-scheduled and played on April 8, 2014, in Minneapolis, as the Timberwolves officially were to have been the host team for the game in Mexico City.

R.C. Buford, Spurs general manager and president of sports franchises for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, cited the organization’s longstanding ties with Mexico.

“The entire Spurs organization is looking forward to returning to Mexico City,” Buford stated in the press release announcing the games. “San Antonio has longstanding important ties with Mexico – the people, the culture, the history – and we have witnessed first-hand the passion the Mexican fans have for the Spurs and NBA basketball. We’re honored to be part of this trip and look forward to seeing all of our great fans in Mexico City.”

Spurs General Manager RC Buford was named NBA Executive of Year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford was named NBA Executive of Year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The Spurs have been pioneers in the globalization of NBA rosters, signing their first European player, Serbian Zarko Paspalj, in 1989. They famously drafted Argentine star Manu Ginobili in the second round of the 1999 NBA draft and French point guard Tony Parker as the 28th overall pick of the 2001 draft. Since drafting Ginobili and Parker the Spurs have drafted another 16 international players from 12 different countries. They also have traded for or signed as free agents players from Australia, China, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Slovenia, Turkey, and Venezuela.

After winning the 2014 NBA championship with more international players (nine) than American-born players (six) on their roster, the Spurs took part in the 2014-15 NBA Global Games. They played pre-season games in Berlin, against German team Alba Berlin, and Istanbul, against Turkish power Fenerbahce Ulker.

The NBA has a long history of playing both pre-season and regular season games in Mexico City. The Mavericks and Houston Rockets played an exhibition game in Mexico City in 1992, the first NBA games played in Latin America. In 1997, the Mavericks and Rockets also played the first regular season game in Mexico City.

“We’ve been playing NBA games in Mexico for 25 years,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated in the league release, “and we’re thrilled that for the first time we are bringing two regular-season games to Mexico City, featuring three teams with an exciting mix of veteran talent and emerging stars.”

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made what seemed a less-than-subtle reference to the U.S. presidential race in hailing his team’s continuing history of playing games in Mexico.

“We are thrilled to be playing in Mexico City,” said Cuban, never one to shy from controversy. “It’s great for the Mavs, the NBA, and a great way to tear down walls and barriers between our countries.”

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Top image: A Spurs fan  prepares for the Spurs’ win of the 2014 NBA Finals. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe is a longtime, award-winning NBA and Spurs reporter who recently retired from the Express-News and is now contributing to the Rivard Report.