The Dallas Mavericks traveled to Madrid after competing in Abu Dhabi against the Timberwolves days prior. Real Madrid were the opponents in the preseason exhibition that took place on October 10th to a crowd of over twelve thousand cheering fans. Luka Doncic who played for the club and would address the media in both English and Spanish, a language he would learn during his time in Spain in addition to his native tongue, Slovenian. NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Mark Tatum would exclaim his excitement for the league returning to Spain which marked the eighth time the league has held a game in Madrid and the twentieth game held in the country overall.
The growing interest in Latin America and other Spanish speaking countries had me begging the question, will we see all three countries in North America with NBA franchises? Mexico City is one of the largest cities in North America. With a population of over nine million in its city limits alone, a country over one hundred twenty million, and already boasting a G League affiliate, it’s a no-brainer that the NBA should consider putting a team south of the U.S. border. George Aivazoglou, head of fan engagement for NBA EME, would say that Spanish speaking fans who follow the league’s global channels are “north of ten million” and that the NBA “just crushed two million followers on our local Spanish channels” with numbers increasing daily. Mark Tatum would also add that, “it’s a big market. When you think about expansion for any franchise or any league, it’s how does that additional franchise help grow the pie. I think those are the kinds of things that eventually, if we were to focus on expansion, that we would consider.”
Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd even said of the game’s international expansion and its players that by, “2030, I think you’re going to have half the league be international. If that’s the truth, then U.S. players [will have] to start doing something [to get] better at playing the game.” The Mavericks have six international players (seven, if you include Kyrie Irving, who has Australian and American citizenship) with one of the newest on the roster being rookie Olivier-Maxence Prosper. The Montreal native knows four languages, one of which is Spanish.
The Haitian-Canadian would hone his skills at the NBA Academy in Mexico City, a “year-round elite basketball initiative that provides top high school-age prospects from outside the U.S. with a holistic approach to player development and a predictable pathway to maximize their potential”, according to the academy’s website. The NBA Academy also has academy sites in Australia, India, and Senegal. “O-Max ” as he is called, joins Josh Giddey, Dyson Daniels, and Bennedict Mathurin as the fourth NBA Academy alum to be drafted into the NBA.
I talked to the former Marquette Golden Eagle about his time at the NBA Academy and its impact on his future in basketball, his overall experience in Mexico, and what the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks look forward to on November 9th when they play at Mexico City Arena.
Talk about your experience at the NBA Academy and how it helped your game
O-Max: “I went to the NBA Academy Latin America in my senior year back in 2019-2020 and for me it was a great experience. It gave me an opportunity to expand my game and go to a program where you have player development and play in the best tournaments, the best camps, and provides us the opportunity to be seen and to keep moving forward into the game [of basketball]. What I really liked about my experience is that the NBA Academy is for players outside the US who don’t get seen as much, players who have [the] drive and determination to get to the next level. The Academy really gave me the opportunity and that’s where really my recruiting started growing and then I really started getting seen in the eyes of scouts. Before that, I was still good, but I adapted really well and the coaching staff [and] everybody in the academy just helped me feel at home and I really feel like I’m part of the NBA Academy family, even to this day.”
Outside of the academy, how was it being in Mexico overall? Any language barriers?
O-Max: “You’re immersed in the culture and in the Spanish speaking culture that you really learn it because you have to hear it every day. You have to speak it every day because that’s what people over there speak. I had to find a way to learn [the language] and within a month or two, I was picking up on stuff and it was easier for me to understand [Spanish] speaker[s].”
Why is it important for the NBA to go to Mexico and make the game accessible to their fans?
O-Max: “I think it’s super important. [There] is a huge basketball community out there that people don’t see or pay attention to. When I was down there, I remember we went to the Mexico games in 2019 when the Mavericks went against the Pistons. When we were walking in the arena and people were coming up to us and we’re just high school players. People think that they’re just into soccer or whatever, but there’s a growing basketball community and it’s important that we pay attention to that and we see that. There’s a new wave of players coming from [the academies] and it’s people who just want to see basketball [in Mexico] and I think it’s important for [the NBA] to expand outside of the U.S. and see that there are people [who] want to see basketball outside [of the U.S.].”
Where did you and the other academy attendees train and play?
O-Max: “The facilities when we were out there, it’s not the same as now because they moved maybe like an hour and a half from where we were, but [the] facilities were really good when I was there. I mean, they gave us an Olympic complex where a bunch of Olympians trained. We would use the basketball court and everything. It was closed off, but it was it was good because you stay focused in that [type of] environment.”
The Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic play in Mexico City next month. What do they have to look forward to?
O-Max: “In terms of their arena, it is a really massive arena, a very big arena. [Those teams] can expect it to be loud. The fans are going to be engaged like they are. [The fans] love basketball [in Mexico]. [The teams will] have a blast out there and it’s going to be a very good experience for them to see that there’s love for the game [in Mexico].”
The NBA is currently trying to finalize television deals, which is one of the league’s main focuses on the business side of things. After 2025, it will be interesting to see if talks of expansion arise again and Mexico City is on the list with Las Vegas and other cities as a potential site for an NBA franchise.
Follow Rashad Miller on all social media @theuncoolurban for more sports content as well as his Youtube channel under the same name.