Wolves-Spurs in Mexico is part of NBA's globalization agenda

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 3:19 PM

The NBA’s global agenda led to the Wolves shifting a home game to Mexico, where fans will see 17 international stars.

 

– Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified.

But he knows better: He was there at the beginning.

Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance.

Nearly 30 years later, the NBA is surfing a wave of globalization that sells jerseys and television rights worldwide and has lifted the league’s talent and skill. A record 92 international players from 39 countries and territories made rosters when this season started; 17 of them will play Wednesday night at the year-old Mexico City Arena when the Spurs and Wolves meet so far away from home in what the league calls NBA Global Games Mexico City 2013.

The Spurs have 10 such players (a record itself) and the Wolves have seven after adding Cameroon’s Luc Mbah a Moute in last week’s trade of Derrick Williams.

“You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”

Adelman is reluctant to give up Target Center’s home-court advantage for one night and compound a hectic November schedule by flying so far south for a game that could have playoffs implications come April.

The NBA believes there is good reason for it, expanding yearly the number of preseason games — and now regular-season games — its teams play outside U.S. borders. When Atlanta and Brooklyn play in London next month, NBA teams will have played 148 games in countries outside the United States and Canada since 1978. Eight teams played overseas this preseason, including the first games held in Brazil and the Philippines.

A natural fan base

The league began discussing a Mexico City regular-season game with Wolves officials a year ago, partly because the team has Spanish-speaking Ricky Rubio from Spain and J.J Barea from Puerto Rico among its seven international players.

The Wolves — Adelman notwithstanding, of course — were willing because the NBA is paying it at least the equivalent of a Target Center game’s gate receipts and because owner Glen Taylor calls it “the responsibility of being an owner and doing your part” for a league that’s a $5 billion-plus business.

The NBA was just expanding its audience worldwide when Taylor bought the Wolves in 1994. The fall of communism across Eastern Europe five years earlier introduced a first wave of players — Petrovic, Sarunas Marciulionis, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac among them — to the league and vice versa. The inclusion of pro athletes — and the rock-star show that become the U.S. “Dream Team” — at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics hinted at the financial possibilities hawking merchandise and celebrity around the league. That same year, 21 international players worked in the league.

When Houston drafted Chinese center Yao Ming first overall a decade later, a whole new world — and about a billion-plus new fans/consumers — opened.

The NBA operates offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including two Chinese offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Taylor has served on the NBA China board since its inception and calls the number of people watching league games on their smartphones and targeted through social media “amazing.”

He also calls worldwide revenues a “relatively small amount” of the NBA’s massive pie — “not a significant part, yet” — but also terms it the league’s fastest-growing revenues.

So the league reaches out to the Latin America market by bringing Rubio, Barea and Spurs guard Manu Ginobili to Mexico City for a regular-season game, just as it sent Houston and former sensation Jeremy Lin back to his Taiwanese ancestry during October’s preseason.

Taylor said it’s simply smart to capitalize on a growing international game that Adelman believes produces through discipline and fundamentals more skilled, matured team players at younger ages now than an American AAU feeder system that emphasizes individuals and a superstar mentality.

  • related content

  • Chart: NBA goes global

    Tuesday December 3, 2013

    Going globalThe number of international players on NBA rosters has increased steadily, to an all-time record of 92 this year....

  • Chart: Odds and ends from the Wolves' Mexico City trip

    Tuesday December 3, 2013

    International flairFacts and figures for Wednesday’s game between the Wolves and San Antonio at Mexico City:• The game will feature...

  • Chart: NBA's foreign flavor

    Monday December 2, 2013

    Foreign flavorA NBA record 17 international players are on the rosters for Wednesday’s game between the Wolves and Spurs in...

  • Manu Ginobili, Ricky Rubio

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 14 4th Qtr 12:10
Seattle 24
Miami 83 FINAL
Boston 75
LA Lakers 80 FINAL
New York 92
Arizona 3 FINAL
Montreal 2
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Nashville 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Miami-Florida 54 FINAL
Florida State 55
Oakland 96 FINAL
Youngstown St 80
Cincinnati 46 FINAL
East Carolina 50
Michigan 66 FINAL
Michigan State 76
Marist 75 FINAL
Canisius 67
Fordham 77 FINAL
Dayton 101
Manhattan 87 FINAL
Monmouth 76
Quinnipiac 100 FINAL
Niagara 105
Utah 67 FINAL
USC 39
Connecticut 68 FINAL
Houston 70
California 90 FINAL
Washington 88
North Dakota St 64 FINAL
Western Ill 62
Penn State 65 FINAL
(22) Rutgers 76
(14) Texas 59 FINAL
TCU 64
Coll of Charleston 49 FINAL
Towson 71
Cornell 53 FINAL
Yale 60
Xavier 68 FINAL
Providence 57
Drexel 61 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 44
Stony Brook 60 FINAL
New Hampshire 52
Maine 52 FINAL
Albany 44
Miami-Florida 66 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
(21) Georgia 72 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 80
Arizona 69 FINAL
Colorado 81
Wake Forest 63 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 92
Loyola-Chicago 56 FINAL
Illinois State 72
(24) Oklahoma 69 FINAL
West Virginia 78
St Johns 73 FINAL
Seton Hall 78
Delaware 73 FINAL
Hofstra 62
Binghamton 49 FINAL
UMass Lowell 66
Vermont 49 FINAL
Hartford 60
William & Mary 72 FINAL
Northeastern 66
Boston College 60 FINAL
(16) North Carolina 72
Virginia 77 FINAL
Clemson 72
(2) Connecticut 83 FINAL
Temple 49
Arkansas 53 FINAL
Alabama 42
Virginia Tech 71 FINAL
Georgia Tech 79
Kansas 58 FINAL
(3) Baylor 66
Canisius 51 FINAL
Rider 52
Monmouth 52 FINAL
Fairfield 54
Quinnipiac 81 FINAL
Saint Peters 50
Butler 55 FINAL
Creighton 62
Wichita State 61 FINAL
Drake 64
Evansville 52 FINAL
Indiana State 67
(18) Miss State 67 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
Villanova 47 FINAL
DePaul 49
Georgetown 73 FINAL
Marquette 80
North Texas 55 FINAL
Rice 58
Auburn 45 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 78
(11) Arizona State 58 FINAL
Utah 48
Missouri State 56 FINAL
Northern Iowa 64
Michigan 60 FINAL
(15) Nebraska 75
Minnesota 49 FINAL
Northwestern 70
Wisconsin 73 FINAL
Illinois 62
Bradley 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 76
Florida 67 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(20) Iowa 88 FINAL
(5) Maryland 93
(1) South Carolina 77 FINAL
Ole Miss 59
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How should Timberwolves fans greet Kevin Love on Saturday?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close