x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

NBA eyes permanent move into Mexico

Basketball chiefs admit they are considering staging regular season games and further expansion into the country as they look to capitalise on the sport's Latin American popularity.

Orlando Magic's Gustavo Ayon speaks to the press ahead of the NBA's pre-season launch in Mexico City
Orlando Magic's Gustavo Ayon speaks to the press ahead of the NBA's pre-season launch in Mexico City

National Basketball Association officials have admitted they are looking at setting up a permanent presence in Mexico ahead of tonight's pre-season launch in the country.

This evening's face-off between the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets will mark the 20th exhibition game to be played in the Latin American country - the most outside of the USA or Canada.

It will also be the first such game at the brand new Mexico City Arena, which has given the NBA hope of a proper expansion into the country.

"Next year and the year after that there will be regular season games here, which is really huge," said Cedric Ceballos, a former NBA player turned league ambassador. "Those two years are the big test to see what happens."

Latin America is one of the league's top growth markets, with the NBA's vice president for the region, Philippe Moggio, claiming it accounted for 15 to 20 percent of international revenues.

Given the proximity to the United States, Ceballos said a future franchise in Mexico City would be a natural fit.

"Now that there's a building that can house an NBA team, where we can play regular season games, it's a natural place to be thinking about it," said Moggio.

Former LA Lakers star Ceballos said he felt a Mexico City franchise could be established within five years.

Meanwhile, the league is focusing attention on local talents like Gustavo Ayon, recently acquired by the Orlando Magic from New Orleans, and only the third Mexican-born player in NBA history.

Orlando's rookie coach Jacque Vaughn announced to reporters that Ayon will start Sunday's exhibition game.

Ayon and other players put on a charity basketball clinic on Saturday, running young, disabled fans through dribbling and shooting drills.

"It's my favorite sport," said a beaming Luis Ramos, 22, shortly after he sunk a basket. "I can't believe I got to meet the players ... and they're so big."

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