With conversations revolving around expansion in the NBA, Mexico City, Las Vegas, and Seattle are emerging as potential frontrunners for hosting new teams in the world's top basketball league.
From commissioner Adam Silver to executives, current players and former stars, Mexico City has been seen as having a home-court advantage.
NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal made a bold statement this week in Mexico City, launching his sneakers brand Shaq Shoes and expressing his belief that the bustling metropolis of 22 million people is ready to welcome an NBA team.
"Mexico can do it," O'Neal told Reforma newspaper. "Mexican fans are so passionate and I think Mexico could be considered."
According to a 2021 survey by Deportes y Negocios, 37% of Mexicans said they were fans of the NBA, making it the second-most popular sports league in the country after soccer. The survey also found that NBA fans in Mexico are more likely to be younger, wealthier, and more educated than the general population.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been one of the most supportive voices pushing for expansion into Mexico, ever since he took office.
In 2017, Silver said Mexico is "the most obvious and attractive market for an expansion team, a phrase he continuously repeats on any occasion such as the 2023 Mexico Game.
In 2019, the NBA added the Mexico City Capitanes to the G League, and Silver has said that he believes there is a "strong possibility" of an NBA team in Mexico City in the future.
Silver has cited Mexico's large and passionate fan base, as well as its growing economy, as reasons why expansion into Mexico makes sense. The NBA has held 32 games in Mexico dating back to 1992, which is more than in any other country outside of the United States and Canada.
On the sidelines of the match between the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic earlier in November, Silver said: "It goes back actually many years when I was working for David Stern even before I was the deputy commissioner, that he talked about the opportunity potentially here in Mexico City."
Speaking at a press conference after the game, Silver talked about the opportunity and challenges Mexico City has for the league.
"There are issues we'd need to work through, of course, and we're not in expansion mode at the moment, but over time organizations grow, and I think the opportunity to extend our footprint not just into Mexico City and all the positive attributes I said, but also again just as a gateway into all of Central and Latin America is a huge opportunity with a growing game. It's something we'll continue to focus on."
Silver concluded: "Mexico City is doing everything necessary" to be considered for an NBA expansion team."
Other figures who have endorsed Mexico as an NBA official destination are Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young and former Houston Rockets' star Hakeem Olajuwon, among many others.
These are some of the factors that NBA executives and sports pundits say make Mexico City a desirable location for an NBA team:
- Mexico is the city that has hosted more NBA games than any other city outside the U.S. and Canada with 32
- There are more than 30 million avid fans, according to the league and recent surveys
- Mexico City has a world-class arena: Arena CDMX, with a 22,000-capacity, owned by billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego (owner of TV Azteca network)
- Mexico City is in the same time zone as many NBA teams
- It's easier to get here for many NBA current teams than host cities within the continental U.S.
- The city already has a G-League team that attracts bigger audiences than U.S. teams in the same level.
- Mexico City is home to a large U.S. expatriate community and there are almost 1 million U.S. citizens living year-round in the country
While there is no guarantee that an NBA franchise will come to Mexico in the near future, the league's interest in the country is clear. The growing popularity of basketball in Mexico, combined with the league's investment in the country, suggests that an expansion team could be successful in the Mexican market.
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