NBA history of games in Spain: A brief history

The NBA returns to Spain for the first time since 2016 when the Dallas Mavericks take on Luka Dončić's former team, Real Madrid, in a preseason contest at WiZink Center in Madrid on Oct. 10. But the NBA has sent teams to play exhibition games across Spain since the late 1980s. Here is a brief history.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Real Madrid: 2016 NBA Global Games
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Real Madrid: 2016 NBA Global Games / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

The NBA will visit Spain for the first time in seven years when Luka Dončić returns to Madrid, where he began his professional career at the age of 13 with Real Madrid in 2012. He'll lead the Dallas Mavericks into WiZink Arena in Madrid on Oct. 10 to rake on the club he led to the EuroLeague title in 2018.

But the NBA has a long history in Spain, dating back 35 years to when the Boston Celtics won the second McDonald's Open in 1988 and NBA teams have played 20 games in the country that has sent 20 players to the NBA. Most notable among those is Hall of Famer Pau Gasol, who played 18 seasons in the NBA from 2001-19 with five teams, winning two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.

Two Spaniards are currently on NBA rosters, including Santi Aldama of the Grizzlies and veteran Ricky Rubio of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Below is a brief history of NBA games in Spain.

The McDonald's Open era

Spain hosted the McDonald's Open twice during its run from 1987-99. The Celtics were the first NBA team to play in Spain, winning the McDonald's Open in Madrid in 1988 with victories over the Yugoslavian national team and Real Madrid.

In 1990 at Barcelona, the New York Knicks took the Open title with a four-point victory over Italy's Scavolini Pesaro and a 117-101 win over European Champions Cup winner POP 84 from Yugoslavia in the championship game.

Nine McDonald's Open tournaments were held between 1987-99, with the NBA representative winning each event.

New locations and some NBA losses in preseason play

The Golden State Warriors were the first team to play in Spain outside of the McDonald's Open, beating Joventut in a preseason game at Badalona in October 1994. Nine years later, the Memphis Grizzlies, featuring Gasol, played at FC Barcelona, taking a 91-90 victory.

A watershed moment for Spanish professional basketball came in October 2006, when FC Barcelona beat the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 104-99, marking the first win for a Spanish ACB club over an NBA franchise. The next year, Memphis played two games in Spain, losing at Unicaja in Málaga before beating Estudiantes in Madrid.

The Toronto Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, Lakers, Mavericks, 76ers and Celtics played in Spain from 2007-15. Real Madrid beat the Raptors in 2007 while FC Barcelona earned victories over the Lakers in 2010 and the Mavericks in 2012.

Real Madrid won a shootout in 2016

In October 2016, the Oklahoma City Thunder took a two-game tour in Spain, facing off with a 16-year-old Dončić and Real Madrid in their first game. Real fought back late to tie the game and won a 142-137 shootout in overtime. Dončić played 18 minutes, finishing with three points, five rebounds and four assists.

American Jaycee Carroll led Real with 24 points while national team stalwart Sergio Llull finished with 22 points and nine assists in the win. Victor Oladipo, playing for the first time in a Thunder uniform, scored 34 points while Enes Freedom, then known as Enes Kanter, scored 29 points with 10 rebounds.

Real Madrid's roster featured several former and future NBA players, including Trey Thompkins, Gustavo Ayón, Rudy Fernández, Andrés Nocioni, Anthony Randolph and Jeffery Taylor.

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