What happens when a seventh seed and a 13th seed meet on a basketball court in a country that doesn’t have an NBA franchise? Who knows, but we’re going to find out.
The league has announced that the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic will meet for a regular season game on Nov. 9 in Mexico City. It’ll be Trae Young vs. Paolo Banchero. But, is this a good enough matchup for an international game, especially a regular season one?
This will be the fourth game in Mexico for the Magic since 2012, and the first time the Hawks have made the trip. Mexico has hosted 32 NBA games since 1992, as they only trail Canada as the only country not named the United States to host more.
“We’re excited to welcome the Hawks and Magic to Mexico City next season and give our passionate fans the opportunity to see some of the brightest young stars in the game,” said NBA Mexico Vice President and Managing Director Raul Zarra in a statement.” There is so much momentum around basketball in Mexico, and this game and the surrounding events will serve as the ultimate celebration of the NBA for fans across the country and throughout Latin America.”
The league has a long history of hosting games in other countries, building off the success of the Dream Team in 1992 that helped globalize the NBA — and it worked. Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the lone American on this past season’s All-NBA First Team. The end of the 2021-2022 season meant that for the fourth consecutive season, at least one-third of the league’s 15 best players (All-NBA) were foreign-born players. In 2021, the league featured at least 109 International players from at least 39 countries, and those numbers have increased. America hasn’t produced an MVP since James Harden did it with the Houston Rockets in 2017-2018.
Since international stars are dominating the NBA, it’s time the league gives international cities better NBA games to attend. In October, the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves will play a pair of preseason games in the 2023 edition of the Abu Dhabi Games — which is a matchup of two good teams, but there’s nothing sexy about it. The Paris Games of 2024 will take place in January and feature the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that contest won’t be exhilarating, either.
According to a December report from The Sporting News, 78 NBA preseason games had been played outside of the United States, with the first one taking place between the Phoenix Suns and the then-New Jersey Nets on Sept. 11, 1984, in Milan, Italy. Since then, China (25) and Mexico (19) have led the way when it comes to hosting NBA exhibition contests, as England, France, Germany, India, Italy and a host of other countries have also been in the mix.
With the Toronto Raptors being the lone “international” team in the NBA — after the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis — there has been talk of expansion, but not on foreign soil.
“We will look at [Vegas],” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver earlier this month. “There’s no doubt there’s enormous interest in Seattle. That’s not a secret. There are other markets that have indicated interest. For the people who hear or read about this interview, we are not engaged in that process now. We’re not taking meetings right now with any potential groups. What we’re saying to everyone, privately is the same thing I’m saying publicly that there’ll be a very open process at the time already to consider expansion. But that’s not yet. That’s not yet now.”
Since preseason games and a few regular season matchups are the only chances other countries will get to see NBA players hit the court — outside of Team USA Basketball — the league needs to find more interesting games to serve international fans in the same way that international players are serving up American players on the court.