Kings general manager Vlade Divac stood back and took in the scene.
Dozens of media members hovered around players in the lead up to Thursday’s game in Mexico City. Professional wrestlers exchanged their masks for NBA jerseys with Kings players. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins even showed off his possible in-ring skills by scooping up a wrestler.
It’s the kind of international exposure the NBA lacked when Divac was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989 from the country then called Yugoslavia.
“It was the 80s, and there were very few games you could watch live,” Divac said. “When (international players) started coming to the NBA, all the TV rights became exposed to the world and now the NBA is definitely a global game. And it’s great to have an opportunity to come here.”
The Kings will play the Boston Celtics as part of NBA Global Games at Mexico City Arena, but it’s more than just a regular-season game for the NBA. It’s an opportunity to continue to bring the NBA to an international audience.
When (international players) started coming to the NBA, all the TV rights became exposed to the world, and now the NBA is definitely a global game. And it’s great to have an opportunity to come here.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac, on playing in Mexico City
The Kings took part in an NBA Cares outreach program Wednesday morning and more activities were planned for Wednesday night.
“The importance, I think, is there is an awareness of the game of basketball,” Kings coach George Karl said. “It’s loved in many other parts of the world other than our country. I just think we’re trying to get a pulse for the game of basketball – can it expand?”
It certainly has expanded from Divac’s perspective. When he returns to Serbia and during his other travels, he sees the NBA’s exposure.
“Now every kid that loves basketball is watching the NBA in different ways,” Divac said. “It definitely gave them more opportunities to think about that maybe one day they could be part of the NBA. I remember in the late 80s, I’d watch the All-Star Game, a couple of Finals games, that’s it. Now they have the ability to watch every single game of their favorite team.”
Thursday’s game will be the NBA’s 22nd in Mexico. Since 1991, the NBA has held 33 games in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“It’s not going to slow down, it’s becoming a global game,” Karl said. “That’s exciting to me, knowing when I first got into the game it wasn’t this global and knowing it’s becoming extremely popular everywhere.”
There are issues that come with playing an international game, because it’s not just about basketball.
We have different obligations, that’s the biggest difference. A lot of signings, a lot of places you have to be. ... It’s been good, pretty much what we expected. The people aren’t used to seeing NBA players, so I think it’s good for us to get out here and spread the word, spread the game of basketball in places where it wouldn’t be.
Kings forward Rudy Gay
“We have different obligations, that’s the biggest difference,” Kings forward Rudy Gay said. “A lot of signings, a lot of places you have to be. ... It’s been good, pretty much what we expected. The people aren’t used to seeing NBA players, so I think it’s good for us to get out here and spread the word, spread the game of basketball in places where it wouldn’t be.”
Cousins called the trip a welcome break from the norm.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “You don’t really get to experience this. It’s usually the same cities every year. Just to switch it up like this is a new experience.”
But as coach, Karl first thought of the logistics and how it might affect his team.
“The first thing that popped into my head was ... is it going to be a tough trip?” Karl said. “We have a day of celebration to share with the Mexican fans and Mexican sponsors, and I’m excited to play and represent the NBA and Sacramento.”