“It goes back actually many years when I was working for David Stern even before I was the deputy commissioner, that he talked about the opportunity potentially here in Mexico City,” Adam Silver said earlier this month. “Of course, it’s the largest city in North America, a vibrant and growing economy, a destination increasingly for people from the United States to come for the culture, the museums, the fine food, beautiful hotels.
“There are issues we’d need to work through, of course, and we’re not in expansion mode at the moment, but over time organizations grow, and I think the opportunity to extend our footprint not just into Mexico City and all the positive attributes I said, but also again just as a gateway into all of Central and Latin America is a huge opportunity with a growing game. It’s something we’ll continue to focus on.”
The Celtics played in Mexico City in 2015, and Silver said the idea of NBA teams playing more regular-season games outside the US or Canada has been an easier sell.
“The goal is for all teams to sort of share in the experience of traveling, and it’s very different than I would say the old days where it took some arm twisting,” he said. “Today with the league with close to a third of our players born outside of the United States, the teams welcome the international travel. It’s a bonding experience for them. Our players very much love [Mexico City], too, and the experience they have.”
Silver has reiterated that expansion will move to the forefront when the league negotiates a new television deal. Entities such as Amazon, NBC, CBS, and Apple are expected to bid for NBA games.
The league’s agenda right now is selling the in-season tournament and boosting interest in the All-Star Game.
“I don’t want to put a specific timeline on it. I’ll only say that putting aside Mexico City, we don’t expand all that often,” Silver said. “It’s been many years since our last expansion. I’d say we’ve been fairly conservative in how we grow the league.
“We largely distribute our games through media, and for even most Americans, 90-plus percent of our fans will never step foot in an arena, they’ll only watch the game through some form of media, whether more traditionally through a television or increasingly on a mobile device.
“I think having said all that, it still is important to plant a flag in every market we can. We initially do it by playing preseason games, then we do it with regular-season games.”
The NBA hasn’t added a team since the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. Mexico City is in the league’s plans, but it could be several years before it’s a serious consideration.
“There’s no market we’ve been to more than Mexico City with the exception of course Canada outside the United States. So, we really believe in this market,” Silver said. “Conditions change all the time, and it’s something — one of the reasons it’s helpful for me and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum to be here in person is to have meetings, to see with our own eyes the passion, to meet here with the media and get a sense of that, and then we go back and talk to our colleagues, we talk to the team owners about the prospects of doing it, of continuing to expand because of course you need the players to want to be our partners here in relocating to Mexico City.
“I can’t set a specific timeline on it, but a main part of my job, if not the most important part of my job, is to grow this league, so it’s something I think about a lot.”