If/when the NBA expands to 32 teams in a few years — some around the league feel that is more when than if, however, Adam Silver says it is not being discussed right now — the expectation is that Seattle and Las Vegas will get expansion teams. Seattle is a lock, it will land a team to replace the Sonics. Las Vegas is considered a strong frontrunner for the other team and LeBron James would like to be part of the ownership group.
But what about Mexico City?
It’s a city that has come up before in rumors, and this week the G-League’s Capitanes de Ciudad de Mexico opened play there. Expansion to the city is not off the table, Silver’s right-hand man Mark Tatum told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape.
“Expansion is currently not on the docket, but at some point, if we were to turn to expansion, there’s no doubt that Mexico City would have to be one the cities that would be in consideration along with a host of other very big and relevant cities in North America,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum told Andscape. “One of the biggest challenges around international expansion has always been the travel issues, the facility issues. But there is a world-class facility in Mexico City in Arena CDMX, which is where we’ve been playing our games and our global games in Mexico. And that’s actually the home of the G League team, the Capitanes. And so that’s not an issue.
“And the travel is not an issue. It’s a pretty short flight for several of our teams, particularly our Texas teams, our Florida teams, our New Orleans team. Arizona actually is a pretty short flight. So, those are all the kinds of things that we would take into consideration, and for those reasons you’d have to consider it. But again, I’d say it’s not immediately on the docket right now.”
The issue may be as much one of perception more than reality — there is a sense among Americans that Mexico City is not safe. Something reinforced by corners of the news media, and as Spears notes, the U.S. Department of State says American tourists in Mexico City should “exercise increased caution due to crime.” However, the players do not feel unsafe, Spears reports.
“Mexico life has been great,” said Capitanes center Jahlil Okafor, a former NBA center from Chicago. “I’m here with my fiancée. We go to a lot of restaurants and I’m working on my craft trying to get better. I feel extremely safe. I haven’t had any worries. I’m in Polanco, which is one of the best neighborhoods. So, I definitely feel safe.”
On a personal note, as someone with travel experience to Mexico City (most recently within the last year), it is as safe as any other major city in North America. Most Americans don’t realize Mexico City is the biggest city in North America with 22 million people, and it is very spread out. It has fantastic cultural resources, a vibrant food and nightlife scene, and the best street food of any city I’ve ever visited.
Are there parts of Mexico City tourists want to avoid? Sure. Are there parts of New York tourists want to avoid? Chicago? Los Angeles? Atlanta? Every other NBA city? Mexico City has the advantages and concerns of every other major city around the globe.
Mexico City could host an NBA team.
Will it? It’s probably too far back in the line, with Seattle unquestionably at the front of the line and Las Vegas likely next (Vegas has proven it will support major league teams, such as the NHL’s Golden Knights and the NFL’s Raiders).
But when expansion does come up in a few years, Mexico City is not off the table.