ESPN (November 4, 2021) Nearly two years ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver took the podium at Mexico City’s premier indoor arena to announce the league’s first established foray outside of the U.S. and Canada in the form of the minor league Capitanes, which were to join the G League in 2020.
The G League’s 29th franchise would be a “historic milestone for the NBA,” the commissioner said at the announcement.
“[It] demonstrates our commitment to basketball fans in Mexico and across Latin America,” Silver said at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico in December 2019. Within 48 hours of Silver’s remarks, the NBA further cemented its presence in Mexico at the arena by holding its ninth and 10th regular-season games in the country since 2014.
By planting their flag in Mexico with Capitanes — Spanish for “Captains” — the NBA was hoping that a successful expansion would open doors and activate the next phase of its global plans. Yet what appeared to be a rise toward an inevitable crescendo of permanent professional sports ventures for Mexico City came to a screeching halt with the onset of the COVID-19 virus.
Because of the worldwide pandemic and the circumstances that came with it only a few months later, Silver’s commitment to Mexico remains an unfulfilled promise of sorts. On Friday, the unaffiliated Capitanes will finally make their G League debut, but not at all as they had expected. Beginning with the opener against Memphis, the team will play its 12-game Showcase Cup campaign entirely on the road. In fact, the team will not venture into Mexico City during its inaugural season, the latest challenge in trying to incorporate the franchise into the fold.
Only 18 of the G League’s 29 teams participated in a reduced 2020-21 schedule between February and March of this year at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Bay Lake, Florida — the same facility that housed the NBA’s bubble in 2020. The Capitanes were among those opting out, choosing instead to debut in 2021-22.
“We’ve made this difficult decision, which we’re sure will yield a safer debut,” co-owner Moises Cosio revealed then in a statement.
The announcement was made with eyes on a Mexico City G League debut at their usual home base, the Juan de la Barrera gymnasium. But Mexico’s status as one of the countries hit hardest by COVID called for another audible. In September, Capitanes settled on Fort Worth, Texas, as a base of operations, agreeing to play all of their Showcase Cup games in the United States. Practice and housing facilities for players and staff will be based there, but the Capitanes will travel for every game this season.
The NBA has not been alone in courting Mexico City, a sprawling megalopolis of about 22 million people. In just a few months in late 2019 and early 2020, the city hosted the UFC, the PGA Tour, Formula One, and the NFL via a Monday Night Football clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. At the city’s Plaza del Toros bullring, tennis legend Roger Federer drew a then-record 42,517 fans for an exhibition match against Alexander Zverev.
When Silver made his announcement, Lagios was in his first year as the Los Angeles Lakers‘ basketball development coordinator, capping a rapid career rise since joining the organization in 2016. He had initially joined from the team’s G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, going from video coordinator to director of basketball operations in just one season there. Despite graduating to the parent team in 2019, Lagios had his sights set on being a GM, even if it meant returning to the G League.