NEW YORK –The NBA has never gone global quite like this.
The league will play somewhat of a unique doubleheader Thursday with games in London and Mexico City, the first time it will stage multiple international games in different countries on the same day in the regular season.
Indiana and Denver are the new teams getting to take what’s become an annual trip to Britain, while the Phoenix Suns will be hosting the first of a two-game trip south of the border.
The NBA has played 165 international games dating to 1978 and during the preseason has had multiple games on the same day from different countries. But this is the first time doing it when the games count.
“We thought having two regular-season global games on the same day for the first time was another great way to celebrate the popularity of our game with fans around the world,” Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said.
Tatum said the league likes to return to cities that are passionate about basketball and that their players and teams want to visit, and both of Thursday’s cities have become regular stops.
The game at the O2 Arena is the seventh in the regular season dating to 2011, when the NBA wanted to increase its popularity in Britain ahead of the 2012 Olympics. All have been sold out.
The previous games have all featured an Eastern team with a shorter trip across the Atlantic. This time it gives the Pacers, who have played exhibition games in China, Philippines, Taiwan, Germany and Spain, their first chance to play overseas in the regular season.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to go over and represent the Pacers organization and the NBA and play a regular-season game,” said Indiana coach Nate McMillan, a U.S. men’s basketball assistant when it won Olympic gold in London. “Both teams will be playing their guys. It’s not like a preseason game.”
Mexico also was a preseason-only stop when the NBA first visited there 25 years ago. Now it not only gets official games but this year two of them, as the Suns will host Dallas on Thursday and San Antonio on Saturday.
“A new experience, a different culture, different fans, especially all three teams that are going are on the border,” the Suns’ P.J. Tucker said. “So I’m pretty sure there’s a bunch of fans down there for each team. Just for us, as a team to go down to another country during the season is pretty cool.”
The London game will be played at 3 p.m. EST and the Mexico City contest at 10 p.m.