- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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We’ve said so before, and we’ll continue to say it: 2013 will be recorded as the most upside-down year in the long history of Mexican sport.
That’s the only logical conclusion when Mexico has a far better year in basketball than it does in soccer.
What qualifies as a full-fledged hoops renaissance south of the border was not commemorated by the year-end parade it richly deserved and was poised to receive. That’s because the NBA, thanks to a generator failure at the Mexico City Arena, had no choice but to abandon the regular-season game it was all set up to stage there Wednesday night pitting the Minnesota Timberwolves against the San Antonio Spurs.
Spurs versus Wolves had no formal connection to Mexico’s Cinderella run that netted a wholly unforeseen gold medal at the FIBA Americas tournament. Having a real NBA game on Mexican soil just a couple months later, however, would have been a beautiful bow to tie up a calendar year that -- as chronicled in this October piece -- delivered the biggest success on hardwood seen for decades in a nation where futbol borders on religion.
The generator malfunction some 90 minutes before the opening tip filled the new building with scary smoke and left league officials with no alternative but to hustle everyone out of there and announce that the game will have to be rescheduled for a later date. In Minneapolis.
Which means that Mexico’s small-but-growing legion of basketball fans, after its spectacular September, loses out big time.
You can't discount the fact that the travel and media demands of an international trip -- with or without incident -- put a strain on NBA teams in lots of ways. It’s undeniably true even when we’re talking about a destination as close as the nearest neighboring country not named Canada. Yet even after Wednesday’s arena mishap, consider this a vote in favor of more regular-season games abroad, not less.
The NBA happily imports nearly 100 players per season from every corner of the globe. It's only fair that the league tries to export a taste of its game, played at the most meaningful level possible, to as many of those countries as possible even if we all understand that commercial motivations play a far bigger role in the NBA’s desire to schedule these trips than any romantic notions of giving back.
Depressing as this is to admit -- since I’m someone who fantasizes about this more than any other NBA lover around -- your loyal (and realistic) correspondent is here to remind you that there are simply too many logistical/financial/player-reluctance obstacles to ever allow for the league’s long-held dream of expanding to Europe.
I’m also not getting my hopes up that my other dream of seeing an All-Star Weekend awarded to a major European city such as London, Berlin or Paris -- which would be such a smart and wonderful and seemingly realistic consolation excursion -- is going to happen anytime soon, either.
Yet there’s no reason -- no matter what happens on either of those fronts in the Adam Silver era -- that the league can’t spare 3-5 of the 1,230 regular-season dates played annually on North American soil for international dispatch on top of the various preseason trips requiring passports every October.
It’s only fair.
(P.S.: I couldn't be more serious about the European All-Star thing. Let’s start a Twitter campaign, mes amis. Extend All-Star Weekend by a day or two on either side, take the event to a more exotic locale than anything on our map and pump the whole enterprise full of all-new vitality. Jaded players selected to participate in All-Star Weekend events would be re-energized by the novelty of the whole experience, and everyone else in the league would get a longer in-season break. Who would be opposed, beyond some inevitably paranoid coaches out there worried about their guys losing some of their conditioning sharpness? Seriously! Who’s with me?)
7dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo