MEXICO CITY — Following the Utah Jazz’s 111-84 victory against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, center Rudy Gobert was the final player to field questions from the media near his locker.
“How excited are you for this Mexico trip man?” one reporter asked.
“Muy bien,” the 7-foot-1 Frenchman responded, with a smile.
Translation: “very well” excited.
As Gobert and the Jazz prepare to face the Orlando Magic on Saturday, it’ll mark the first time the franchise has competed in a regular-season contest in Mexico City.
“There are a lot of fans there, and I’ve never been to Mexico City so I’m excited,” Gobert said. “The league is worldwide, and there’s a lot of people around the world, a lot of countries that don’t have the opportunity to watch NBA games, so I think it’s great to promote the game and also for the kids I think it’s fun.”
NBATV will broadcast the game live at 3 p.m. MT as part of the NBA Mexico City Games 2018 from Arena Ciudad de Mexico. Orlando (13-15) is coming off a 97-91 victory against the Chicago Bulls here on Thursday.
“We’ve had the schedule for a while, obviously, and it’s a nice honor, really, to represent the league down there,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “A lot of teams do it, obviously, but it’s an opportunity to play a game in front of a bunch of NBA fans from a different country and a very historic city.”
The franchise has played three previous preseason games here — twice in 1996 and once in 2003. The Jazz defeated the Dallas Mavericks 90-85 on Oct. 5, 2003 in front of more than 20,000 fans the last time they were in town and will look to continue that success with this latest opportunity to return.
“I’m excited, it’ll be fun,” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “Another thing to kind of cross of the list, but it’ll be fun and exciting.”
Mitchell has never been in Mexico, but said he visited Central America as a child. Gobert says he’s been to Mexico “tres veces” — three times — throughout his life and finished his last postgame interview after Miami displaying his Spanish vocabulary.
“Cabo, Playa del Carmen and Cancun,” Gobert listed his previous stops in Mexico.
Gobert envisions Mexico City as being a great experience as the NBA is committed to developing basketball in Mexico through elite development and grassroots programs. Since 1992, 22 NBA teams have played in Mexico and will have hosted the most NBA games of any country outside of the U.S. and Canada (28) after this next Jazz-Magic contest.
“We are focused on maximizing the participation of the people,” said NBA Mexico Vice President and Managing Director Raul Zarraga. “Keep in mind that basketball is the second-most team practiced sport in Mexico just after soccer and we have around 35-40 million people playing basketball.
“That’s something that really shows interest,” he continued. “So if you mix the fan base of basketball together with our NBA message, it is the perfect situation to get the engagement that we are looking for.”
For the past decade, Zarraga has helped grow basketball in Mexico through his role. On Oct. 24, he celebrated his 10-year anniversary with the league and loves building awareness around the sport.
Although Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio isn’t Mexican, he anticipates the Spanish player being a fan favorite among local fans because of his ability to speak the language. Jazz floor general Raul Neto also assisted with the fifth annual Americas Team Camp June 18-21 at the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City this summer.
“It’s always amazing how people get attached to Hispanic players or players that speak your own language,” Zarraga said. “Ricky is not Mexican, but all the things that he has said about the game and how engaged the players are with him coming to Mexico is something I love.”