The first time I ever went to Mexico, my dad brought us to visit our grandparents, who were alive and living in San Benito, a Texas border town. In the early 90s, we crossed over to buy inexpensive medicine and trinkets from vendors. We had grown up poor, mostly living in trailer parks and spare rooms at aunt’s and uncle’s houses. But when we crossed the border into Mexico, I saw poverty on a scale I didn’t know existed. Mothers hoisted milk cartons attached to tree branches for change as naked children huddled around her.
That memory stayed with me until the next time I visited. This time I was headed to Mexico City to attend and review the Material Art Fair, a contemporary art event highlighting emerging artists of all mediums. I was on assignment for Artforum magazine and had no idea what to expect. I was prepared for the level of poverty I experienced in the border towns as a child.
What I experienced was more akin to a European city than anything I had experienced in Mexican-American-centric cities in Texas like San Antonio or Brownsville. Mexico City is an incredibly cosmopolitan city, filled with gorgeous architecture, world-class museums, and five-star restaurants.
There are many must-see locations, including Chapultepec Castle, where Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was filmed, Frida Kahlo Museum, Palacio de Bellas Artes, and The Angel of independence. The city has become one of the meccas of contemporary art. Institutions like Museo Jumex, Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Soumaya Museum, Casa Estudio Luis Barragan, and Machete Gallery are world-class institutions with exhilarating exhibitions. This brought me to the city to visit Material and the city’s prestigious Zona Maco art fair.
Many artists from the United States have migrated to Mexico City for a more affordable way of living, raising questions of colonial gentrification and connecting the city to global pipelines of art communities. The Material Art Fair happens every year in February. It brings in artists, curators, and gallerists from England, Germany, Portugal, and Puerto Rico, while featuring the best up-and-coming galleries and performance spaces in Mexico City. The event takes place in Frontón México, an Art Deco structure that dates back to 1929, hosting literary and sports events.
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As the NBA contemplates where to expand next, Mexico City should be the top choice for where the league establishes a foothold next. Former commissioner David Stern had the grandiose vision to expand the NBA into a global league. Mexico City provides an international city close enough to the other 30 teams in distance to satisfy these goals. It also presents the opportunity for the league to expand professional sports outside America’s borders for the third time since the Toronto Raptors (founded in 1995) and Vancouver Grizzlies (1995-2001). The benefits go beyond revenue. It’s also about presenting basketball as an olive branch towards a country with a contentious relationship with America in its political dialogue. Mexico City has over 22 million people, good enough for the largest city in North America, the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the world, and the largest Spanish-speaking city. The opportunity exists to spread the teachings of the game in another language while integrating Mexico’s culture and values into the league.
This season, The NBA began to build a relationship with the city by instituting the Capitanes de Ciudad de Mexico as part of the G League. They have also scheduled NBA games in Mexico City, allowing the league to gauge the turnout for two of the league’s most popular teams with Hispanic fans in the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. The game will take place on Dec. 17 and will be the 31st game hosted by Mexico, which leads every other country but Canada to host international-held games. The game will also mark the 30th anniversary of the league’s first game in Mexico, which featured a preseason game between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks at Mexico’s Palacio de los Deportes in October 1992. Today, the Capitanes de Ciudad de México play at Arena CDMX, which holds 22,300 fans.
Of all the cities seen as viable to bid for a team — including Las Vegas and Seattle, both of which deserve one — Mexico City can offer the largest audience. As the only American professional team in the country, a Mexico City-based NBA team has the potential to galvanize all of Mexico and even Central and South America. The Capitanes de Ciudad de México are televised nationwide on Star+, whose reach extends to Latin America, and ESPN Mexico, which reaches 22.1 million Mexican homes. It’s not hard to imagine the same televised access for any NBA team that made Mexico City home. That is an unprecedented reach for a single NBA team, not to mention untapped advertising opportunities with Latin American brands.
As it has shown with art fairs, World Cup matches, and fashion shows, Mexico City is on par with Paris, Rome, London, and New York City in style and scale. At this time, expansion is not imminent, but one can imagine with the rapid growth of the league, expansion is sure to come. When it happens, the untapped potential across the border has to be considered when determining which city becomes the next NBA destination city. In the case of Mexico City, the NBA needs it as much as it needs the NBA. Therefore, it’s up to the league to look past misconceptions, fear-bating rhetoric, and ignorant assumptions to see the beauty of Mexico City as a destination for hoops, food, and culture.