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Friday, June 14, 2024

Listen Carefully to Adam Silver on NBA Mexico City Expansion

  • The Capitanes de Ciudad de México have been an early success story in the G League.
  • Mexico City has a lot of appealing demographics, especially its large population.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, Adam Silver visited Mexico City for the NBA’s first game south of the border since 2019, between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. 

During his visit, he mentioned the idea of the city one day having a team of its own. 

“I don’t have a specific timeline right now in terms of expansion, but there’s no doubt we will be looking seriously at Mexico City over time,” Silver said then

It appears that hasn’t changed. 

At the time the NBA first needed to agree to a new CBA with its players’ union and a new media-rights deal. The CBA was amended in 2023, and the media-rights deal is almost done. Hence the buzz about expansion. 

Silver said at his pre-Finals press conference that the league will have a committee of owners to look at possible markets. But when appearing on the Celtics’ pregame show before Game 2 on NBC Sports Boston, the commissioner took it a step further. 

“It’s not preordained that we’ll expand,” Silver said. “I’ve said it before; you’ve got to look at the dilution, potentially, of talent, but there’s so much great basketball being played around the world. I don’t think there’s any doubt that over time, this league can sustain two more teams.

“There’s been some discussion about going back to Seattle, potentially,” Silver said. “Las Vegas, no doubt, is very interested in a team. Mexico City one day.”

Silver has mentioned Seattle and Las Vegas as possible expansion teams for years, with LeBron James long being rumored as a likely owner of the Vegas team, should it happen. Seattle has clamored for a team since it lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008. 

But Mexico City has emerged in recent years as a possible destination. The league added the Capitanes de Ciudad de México ahead of the 2021–22 G League season. The Capitanes have steadily improved their win total over three seasons in the NBA’s minor league and have a lot of selling points for the league to head south. 

Mexico City is the fifth-most-populated city in the world and the largest in North America, with roughly 22 million people living in its metropolitan area. No U.S. professional sports league has a team there. MLB and the NFL have played regular-season games there in addition to the NBA, but none have expressed interest in expansion there the way the NBA has.

The country has hosted more NBA games than any other country outside of the United States and Canada, and the league has just one international team in the Toronto Raptors, despite the game becoming more global in the past decade. The Capitanes’ home venue, Arena CDMX, is capable of housing an NBA team, which gives it an advantage in infrastructure. 

Silver has previously said having a G League team there allows the league to understand the dynamics of having a team there, which include the culture and possible language barriers. The Capitanes drew well early, and topped the league in individual ticket sales in 2023 and were fifth in attendance, team president Rodrigo Serratos told the Associated Press last year. 

“All the American players said that they did not expect to find a country like this. The feedback that we are getting from them is that they are very happy and want to keep playing here,” Serratos said in 2023. “The city offers a lot of things; we are a rich country in experiences for foreigners.”

That doesn’t mean concerns don’t persist in bringing a team there compared to Seattle and Vegas. The former of which has a rich basketball history, while the latter has become the sports industry’s top destination for expansion or relocation. One concern is the altitude of 7,349 feet—-well higher than Denver’s 5,280—which can lead to health issues. 

The Capitanes players live in Polanco, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, quelling some concerns Americans unfamiliar with the country might have about safety.

“Getting around the country, airport to the hotel, hotel to the arena, and back can be a little difficult. Security was the biggest thing,” Malik Rose told Andscape in 2022. (Rose is the G League’s head of operations and a former NBA player who played games in Mexico while with the Spurs.) “Then transportation,” Rose said. “It’s a big country with a lot of people in it. Getting around can be difficult at different times. Making sure we have the right transportation setup, and the right security setup were probably two of the bigger things we needed to focus on.”

Mexico City’s true prospects of getting a team in the near future won’t be clear for months until Silver sets the expansion wheels in motion. While the interest is mutual, perhaps the biggest domino that could fall in the city’s favor is something that isn’t publicly known: an interested ownership group. 

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