Pistons equipment staff feeling the pressure of Mexico City's higher elevation

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Mexico City — Pistons equipment manager John Coumoundouros has been around long enough to know that there would be some subtle nuances to playing in Mexico City.

Coumoundouros is used to some oddities in different NBA cities, but playing in the increased elevation in Mexico City provided a funny moment. When he checked the air pressure in the practice basketballs, Coumoundouros found that they were significantly above the normal level.

Pistons center Christian Wood spins a ball on his finger following a practice session Wednesday in Mexico City.

“Fun México City travel fact. The ball pressure changes from city to city,” Coumoundouros posted on Instagram. “Because we’re at over 7,000 feet above sea level all of our basketballs were over inflated up to 11.5lbs and had to be brought back to 8lbs.”

Mexico City’s elevation of about 7,349 feet is more than 2,000 feet higher than Denver, Colorado. NBA players are accustomed to the “Mile High” elevation there, but Mexico City wreaks havoc on the players — and on training staff and equipment staff. Coumoundouros was prepared for the adjustment.

“It’s something I picked up over the years. When we go to Utah or Colorado, it’s the same thing,” he said. “When you travel, balls go on the plane and come off and (the pressure) changes. We haven’t used the practice balls for a long time because they’re the backup ones when we need them.

“They were probably below pressure at six (pounds per square inch) and when we came here, they jumped to 11 or 11.5.”

Coumoundouros estimated that the practice balls hadn’t been used since they had training camp at Michigan State University in October.

The bigger issue for the players is breathing easily when playing at elevation. The easiest way to adjust is to spend a few days in the environment to help their bodies acclimate. To that end, the Pistons arrived in Mexico City on Tuesday to provide two days to adjust; the Mavericks arrived on Wednesday.

After a short practice on Wednesday and basketball clinic with Special Olympics and NBA Cares, along with a shootaround on Thursday morning, the Pistons had an idea of how impactful the elevation is.

“We might have felt it a little once we got here,” Pistons guard Luke Kennard said, “but we’re adjusting to it, and practicing (Thursday) morning might help with that as well.”

Casey said the concerns about the impact of altitude on players might factor into playing time and rotations, with specific monitoring of playing time and condition throughout the game.

“Altitude is an issue, so we have to be smart with that; probably shorter rotations to get guys out and back in,” he said. “It’s double Utah’s and (we’ll be) getting guys in and back out.”

NBA's future in Mexico City

The Pistons-Mavericks game marks the 29th NBA game played in Mexico City and Saturday’s matchup between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs will be the 30th.

It’s fueled the notion that the Pistons eventually could consider having a team in Mexico City at some point in the future.

Casey, who has coached a couple of games in Mexico City when he was an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics, supports the idea.

“I would say yes. It’s no different than Toronto, which is right across the border. Mexico City is not too far from the border,” Casey said Thursday morning. “I don’t see why not; they have great facilities. That’s above my pay grade to make that decision, but it’s a great city and great facility to have an NBA team.”

The NBA anticipated a huge media contingent on hand for the two games at Mexico City Arena and there was immense interest, with almost 500 credentials issued for various TV, radio, newspaper and online outlets.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard