ADVERTISEMENT

Players of the Minnesota Timberwolves leave as smoke engulfs the basketball court during a regular season NBA match between the Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. The game at Arena Ciudad de Mexico has been canceled after a generator exploded by unknown causes.

Dario Lopez-Mills, Associated Press - Ap

Players of the Minnesota Timberwolves leave as smoke engulfs the basketball court during a regular season NBA match between the Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. NBA spokeswoman Sharon Lima says the smoke was coming from a generator fire outside the arena. There was no word yet if the start of the game will be delayed. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

Christian Palma • Associated Press,

Wolves forward Kevin Love, left, and team President Flip Saunders left Mexico City arena because of smoky conditions caused by a generator malfunction.

Eduardo Verdugo • Associated Press,

Smoke wipes out Wolves game in Mexico City

  • Article by: Jerry Zgoda
  • Star Tribune
  • December 5, 2013 - 9:10 AM

 

– The Timberwolves’ “home” game that coach Rick Adelman never wanted played in Mexico City wasn’t on Wednesday night.

Smoke produced by a generator malfunction filled the new Mexico City Arena fewer than 90 minutes before the game against the San Antonio Spurs was scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. Minneapolis and Mexico time.

The NBA announced later the game was postponed and will be rescheduled at Target Center at a date to be determined.

Both teams — as well as everyone else who was in the arena before fans had been admitted — were evacuated after alarms went off and smoke filled the arena bowl area while players were warming up. They continued to warm up despite the smoke.

Wolves players, coaches and front-office personnel gathered outside the arena near team buses while NBA and arena officials decided what to do for a game that had approached a sellout at the 22,500-seat venue, opened in 2012.

Options to clear the arena of the smoke and play the game nearly two hours delayed after the original 8:30 p.m. start time, or reschedule it for Thursday night were considered and refused.

While players shot, lights went out in parts of the arena and smoke began coming out of vents in the upper deck. The court quickly became cloudy.

“I thought they were practicing fireworks,” Spurs TV analyst Sean Elliot said. “A lot of teams do that before introductions. But then the smoke just kept creeping and it wasn’t white smoke. It was like a brown dark smoke and it started taking over the whole court. It was surprising.”

Standing outside the Timberwolves’ bus in shorts and his practice shirt, guard Ricky Rubio had no idea what happened.

“They just told us to leave,” Rubio said in Spanish.

Doctors from both teams advised against players returning to the arena to play even if the smoke dissipated, team and league sources said.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stood on a ramp leading out of the arena in a scene of confusion and told bystanders nobody should be breathing chemicals circulating through the arena from the smoke, let alone ask players to go back in to play a game that night. He also said the game should be rescheduled and played back in Minneapolis.

Both teams are scheduled to play home games Saturday.

More than an hour later, the NBA decided exactly that and announced the game had been postponed.

Mexico City Police said in a statement that a fire in a fourth-floor generator room of the modern, glass-clad arena produced the smoke.

The NBA struck a deal in negotiations with the Wolves that began a year ago to move one of their 41 home games to Mexico City as part of the league’s globalized marketing efforts and expanded series of preseason and regular season called their “Global Games.” Brooklyn and Atlanta are set to play a game in London in January as well.

A league source said the NBA agreed to pay the Wolves $750,000 plus expenses to forgo one game of Target Center gate receipts and move one of their home games to Mexico City in an elaborate production that involved bringing the team’s game-operations staff, television crew, dance team, mascot Crunch, halftime aerial act as well as many staff members to Mexico for three days or more.

The game was scheduled to be the 21st NBA game played in Mexico, and the first since Houston and Dallas played a regular-season game there in 1997.

Wednesday’s game was scheduled to feature two teams who combined have 17 international players on their roster. That would have been the most ever for an NBA game. The Spurs have 10, the Wolves seven.

“There are good players all over the world and it’s great to showcase 17 of them tonight,” Popovich said before alarms sounded and smoke reached the Spurs’ locker room room. “It shows there are players everywhere.”

Adelman recently expressed his displeasure about having to face a 15-3 Spurs team that reached last season’s NBA Finals without the benefit of a Target Center home-court advantage and with the hassle of having to travel 1,800 miles after a hectic November in which they played a franchise-record 18 games by the month’s end.

“When you have 41 home games, it’s not a good idea to give away a home game against the Western Conference champions,” he said. “I’d rather play ’em here.”

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

© 2014 Star Tribune