Mexico has hosted NBA games for 30 years. The first NBA game in Mexico took place on October 27, 1992, when the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks in a preseason game. Since then, Mexico has hosted 18 preseason and 12 regular-season games and leads the way as the NBA’s international host.
History of NBA regular-season games in Mexico
1997: First regular season game
The Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks played the first regular season NBA game in Mexico on Dec. 7, 1997. The Rockets won, thanks to Charles Barkley's 19 points and 17 rebounds.
Despite the first game being played in 1997, the next game would not be played until 2013 when the San Antonio Spurs faced the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, a generator malfunction outside the arena caused smoke to pour into the building. Thus, the matchup was postponed, and the teams met in Minnesota later.
On Nov 12, 2014, the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves met in Mexico City. This marked the first regular season NBA game in Mexico since 1997. The Rockets beat the Timberwolves, 113-101. Dwight Howard had 22 points and 10 rebounds and James Harden had 23 points and 10 assists. (A simpler time).
A year later, the Boston Celtics traveled to Mexico for a game against the Sacramento Kings. This was the NBA's third regular-season game in Mexico City. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics against his former team, finishing with 21 points. Boston won, 114-97.
In 2017, the Phoenix Suns played two regular season games in Mexico, facing off against the Mavericks and the Spurs. Although the Suns lost their first game in Mexico City to the Mavericks, 113-108, an unforgettable matchup between Devin Booker and Kawhi Leonard was on the horizon. In the following game, 21-year-old Kawhi finished with 38 points, Devin Booker finished with 39 points, and the Suns beat the Spurs, 108-105.
Mexico City witnessed more NBA action when the Brooklyn Nets played the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 17, 2017. The Nets won, 100-95. Two days later, the Nets played again in Mexico City, this time against the Miami Heat. The Heat won, 101-89.
In 2018, the Orlando Magic traveled to Mexico City for the first time for two games. There, they defeated the Chicago Bulls, 97-91 and the Utah Jazz, 96-86.
In 2019, four NBA teams traveled to Mexico City. The Dallas Mavericks played the Detroit Pistons and won, 122-111. Luka Doncic finished with a 40-plus point triple-double. In the next game, the Suns faced the Spurs and lost in overtime, 119-121.
The next NBA game in Mexico City would not be until Dec. 17, 2022, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Heat returned to Mexico for the first time since 2017 and defeated the Spurs, 111-101. After the game, NBA Mexico Managing Director Raul Zarraga spoke to Boardroom. He said:
"Earlier this month, we hosted the 31st NBA game in Mexico, which is more than any other country outside of the United States and Canada. The game also coincided with the 30th anniversary of the first-ever NBA game held in Mexico in 1992, and it’s incredible to see how much both the game and the popularity of the NBA in Mexico have grown since then. Today, there are nearly 30 million NBA fans in Mexico, and basketball is the second-most played sport among Mexican sports fans. And even with everything we’re doing, we believe we’re just scratching the surface of the enormous potential for basketball and the NBA in Mexico."
The NBA Mexico City Games continue on Nov. 9, 2023, when the play the Orlando Magic. It could be argued that the NBA is setting the tone for an increased presence in Mexico with the development of the G League Mexico City Capitanes. All in all, the NBA's commitment to Mexico is here to stay, and we look forward to more visits in the years to come.