The NBA just showed everyone why it is the most dynamic league in sports with the announcement of its landmark partnership with the Capitanes, the first professional G League team outside of the U.S. and Canada. Between the NBA, NFL and MLB, all three associations have had an eye towards international expansion and have played games in Mexico, England, Japan, China and Australia in recent years. However, the NBA has become the first to officially open a franchise outside of the U.S.-Canadian markets. The Capitanes were established in 2016 and currently play in Mexico’s own professional basketball league, la Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, however will debut in the G League in the 2020-2021 season for an initial term of 5 years.
The possibilities with this move are endless and really allows the NBA to become creative in rethinking the G League and minor league basketball as a whole. For one, the Capitanes will be playing at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City which represents the largest media market in North America. The NBA can test this market for its viability for professional basketball, leaving the door open to a potential NBA league team in the future and could even become a two-team city like New York or Los Angeles down the road.
As evidence, for the fourth season in a row, Mexico City has been the host to two regular season games and saw the Mavericks and Pistons play this week in an event that underscored the global nature of NBA. Before the game, Luka Doncic, a Slovenian 20-year old who played for Real Madrid, addressed a crowd in fluent Spanish while representing a team from Texas. You can watch the clip here and instantly recognize the opportunity that exists for the NBA in Mexico.
A large part of the NBA’s appeal is its diversity, both domestically and internationally. It has been praised as the “industry leader among men’s sports for racial and gender hiring practices” by TIDES, the authority on diversity and ethics in sports, while also boasting players from countries around the world such as superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece and Joel Embiid from Cameroon as well as retirees like Yao Ming of China and Spain’s Pau Gasol. Interestingly enough, though Hispanic viewers represent 11% of the NBA viewership, outside of Dominican-born Al Horford and Argentina’s Manu Ginobli, Latin America is not known for sending much talent to the NBA. However, the league’s expansion to Mexico could inspire a generation of NBA hopefuls and the next Latin American-born star might be the spark that lights up basketball culture across the region.
This is exactly why a G League in Mexico now opens up so many possibilities for the NBA in the future. As it stands now, two of the NBA’s 30 teams, the Nuggets and Trailblazers, do not have a G League affiliate and instead send their developmental prospects to play on other G League teams. This is far from ideal given the lack of control they have over this development process, however the lack of uniformity could also allow the NBA to pivot completely from how G League teams are conceptualized.
Let’s get crazy for a second and imagine that the NBA adopts a structure similar to that of professional soccer in Spain and made tiers of teams that would be promoted and demoted based on season results. Thus, the NBA would represent tier 1, the G League would represent tier 2, and let’s say Mexico’s la Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP) would represent tier 3. The NBA could then introduce a tournament toward the end of the regular season for the bottom four teams and demote the loser of the bracket to tier 2, meanwhile champion of the G League would move up and take the spot of that losing team. The same would happen the last place team of the G League and the champion of the LNBP.
As wild as it is, it would completely take the incentive away from tanking, while adding another “playoffs” of sorts that avid NBA fans would tune in for. Moreover, the ability to reimagine G League teams lowers the barrier to entry for other G league teams that formerly would have needed to be an affiliate of an NBA team. It also allows the opportunity for a team like the Capitanes to have a chance to become an NBA team by winning the G League title and affords more market freedom to both the players and teams. Again, the possibilities are endless but at the very least, ensure that the future of professional basketball is in good hands with Adam Silver’s focus on the international stage.
Quick note: Sending thoughts and prayers out to former NBA commissioner David Stern who underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage he suffered this week. Stern served as commissioner for 30 years and was instrumental in expanding the NBA from 10 franchises to 30 and broadening the NBA to a more global audience.