From Motor City to Mexico City: Pistons embrace international showdown

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Mexico City — The Pistons’ next "home" game won’t have all of the customary surroundings of Little Caesars Arena.

It will have some of the familiar faces, including many members of the entertainment team, scoring crew and other staff.

It will just be about 2,300 miles away, at Mexico City Arena.

Blake Griffin

When the Pistons face the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, they’ll be on the international stage for one of two games in Mexico City as part of the NBA’s Global Games. It’s the first time that four NBA teams will be involved in the event, with the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns playing on Saturday.

The Pistons have played in Mexico City once before, in 1995, and although most of the NBA games there have been preseason exhibitions, the Pistons-Mavericks game will be the 10th regular-season game — and 29th overall since 1992 — in an effort to expand the NBA’s reach to the growing fan base in Mexico.

“The NBA routinely checks with teams to see if they have interest in playing overseas. We believe these are great opportunities to be ambassadors for the league and promote goodwill and use sports as a vehicle to bring people together,” Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem said. “Whenever the chance is there, we’re going to grab it. They asked us about Mexico City over a year ago and we said yes.”

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The condition was that the Pistons had to give up one of their 41 home games, which has financial implications. Beyond not getting the boost from ticket sales, concessions, parking and other revenue, the Pistons also have the expense of sending dozens of staff members and game-day crew.

With the neutral-site game, the Pistons will recoup some of the revenue through the NBA, making it an easier decision for the team, given the exposure and opportunity to expand their brand.

“(The NBA) came to us and said it was going to be our home game, which was fine with us. We lose a home game, but the opportunity outweighed (having) the home game,” Tellem said. “It’s basically a break-even proposition. It’s close to a typical game at Little Caesars Arena.”

For the fourth straight season, the NBA will host two games in Mexico City and the games will be televised throughout the country on ESPN Deportes, Televisa and NBA League Pass and will be available in more than 200 countries and territories.

In addition to the game, the Pistons will participate in community-outreach activities in Mexico City, including a pregame basketball clinic on Wednesday through NBA Cares in a partnership with Special Olympics.

Tellem sees a bigger benefit than just a game.

“It’s a great association with us and our neighboring country and to me, a feel-good opportunity for the Pistons, using sports to bring two countries together — especially in the times we’re living in — it’s more important than ever,” Tellem said. “It’s a very important market where they love basketball. There’s been talk down the road of potentially having an NBA team there.”

Pistons coach Dwane Casey has been part of several of the Global Games during his career. When he was an assistant coach with the Seattle SupersSonics from 1994-2005, they played in preseason games in Mexico City in 1994 and in Germany and Spain in 1996. The SuperSonics also had two games in the regular season in 2003 in Japan.

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In his experience, the games abroad are good for the league but pose a different concern for the players and coaches.

“From a coaching standpoint, you never want to break your routine,” Casey said. “It’s great for the league to spread the brand around the world. Mexico City is very passionate and I’ve been there a couple of times when I was in Seattle.

“It’s a basketball mecca as far as that country is concerned.”

Just like home.

Global ambassadors

Thursday’s matchup against the Dallas Mavericks marks the Pistons’ fourth game as part of the NBA’s Global Games initiative.

Here’s how they fared in their previous three meetings:

Oct. 29, 1995: defeated Washington Bullets, 110-99, in Mexico City

Oct. 10, 2006: beat Miami Heat, 84-64, in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Jan. 17, 2013: lost to New York Knicks, 102-87, in London, England

Pistons vs. Mavericks

Tipoff: 9 Thursday, Arena Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City

TV/radio: FSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (10-14) are playing some of their best basketball of the season, winning four of their last five games, behind Derrick Rose, who hit the game-winner Monday at New Orleans. The Mavericks (16-7) are one of the surprise teams in the league, behind MVP candidate Luka Doncic (30 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.2 assists).

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard