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Schatz: Athletes without borders: Expansion teams in the NBA

| Friday, April 16, 2021

The NBA was not always the powerhouse that it is today. Starting with only eleven teams throughout the nation, the basketball organization wasn’t necessarily national. Now, 75 years later with 30 teams, NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement saying that expansion was “inevitable” in the organization’s future. With the possibility of the addition of two new teams, fans began to speculate which cities would receive them. The two obvious choices are Las Vegas and Seattle, both of which are home to large stadiums and a large fan base. Not too long ago the Seattle Supersonics left for Oklahoma City and ever since, there has been a vacancy. Las Vegas hosts the Summer League every year and has a long history with the NBA. While other cities such as St. Louis and Tampa are hoping for a team of their own, industry rumors would imply that the NBA is leaning heavily on these two western cities. 

At the moment Silver has only discussed two expansion teams, but there are rumors of a third at play. While it is far from being confirmed, these rumors tease the idea of not only expanding teams, but expanding nations. By introducing a team to Mexico City, the NBA would be the first American athletic organization to tap into our southern neighbor. With a recently established G-League team, as well as a history of league games played in Mexico City, the capital city is not a stranger to the NBA. We already have multiple sports teams from Canada that play in American leagues, why can’t we introduce Mexican teams as well? 

If this rumor proves true it will certainly come with controversy. Due to our complicated relationship with Mexico, there will certainly be some push back from American fans. But this would not be the first time the NBA, or any American athletic organization for that matter, has pushed international borders. In 1946, the Toronto Huskies were one of the original eleven teams that played in the soon-to-be NBA. Now, the Toronto Raptors are a beloved and competitive team, winning the NBA title as recently as 2019. Many will have racist remarks about why the NBA should not expand southward, but I believe these pushback will be quickly drowned out by overall excitement from fans. 

A more practical argument against the expansion into Mexico is the distance, the concern that no players would want to move to a foreign, Spanish-speaking country and the competition with soccer. While the first point has been brought up by many, it has almost no merit. Mexico City is not considerably farther away than any other team. Since they would be playing in the Southwest division, the farthest a conference team would travel would be three and a half hours, which is far from unheard of. 

To address the second argument, I point to Detroit Pistons player Mason Plumlee, who wrote a piece titled The Case for Mexico City. Here, Plumlee discusses the many positive aspects of having a team in Mexico City, including the passionate fans and large media market. In addition, Mexico City has many American food chains and stores, and the players will not go through a large culture shock. Mexico City is a vibrant modern city with plenty for the players to enjoy. 

Finally, with soccer being by far the most popular sport in the country, some are worried that the devout soccer fans will not convert to basketball. However, Mexican fans are passionate and proud of their country. I am positive that if they have a professional basketball team to call their own, the energy that is present in Mexican soccer games will be replicated for basketball. There was this initial fear with Canada as well. How could basketball compete when hockey was so intertwined with Canadian culture? Years later, Canadians are now avid NBA viewers and Mexican fans will be no different, given time.

Mexico City, at first glance, may not seem like a perfect fit, but almost no city does. Although there will certainly be controversy with the southern expansion, pushing the border will prove beneficial for the NBA in the long run. With the establishment of a professional league in Africa, as well as the recent breakthrough into NFTs, the NBA has made it clear that they are a modern corporation, willing to push both literal and figurative borders. There’s no shortage of heroes in the NBA. From the Bird and Magic era through Michael Jordan and now with Lebron James, there have always been visionary leaders who pushed boundaries. The heroes do not just come from this organization but are shaped by it. There is no shortage of leaders in the NBA, but to keep that status one must always be pushing forward. In this case, forward may just be south. 

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