The NBA showdown between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves in Mexico City was postponed Wednesday night after a generator malfunction filled the arena with smoke, a debacle that leaves numerous intriguing questions in its wake.
NBA commissioner David Stern has been a big proponent of international expansion over the years. He even said in January that there would “for sure” be teams in Europe 20 years from now.
Critics of that stance may have been provided with additional firepower following the fiasco at Mexico City Arena. In any case, the generator malfunction incident lends itself to some interesting questions.
Did Popovich try to force league's hand?
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is no stranger to pushing the league’s buttons. The Spurs organization was fined $250,000 as a result of Pop’s decision to send his star players home prior to a nationally televised matchup with the Miami Heat last season.
This time around, it’s possible that Popovich forced the league’s hand in postponing Wednesday’s matchup.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News posted via Twitter that the Spurs buses were loaded up and ready to leave prior to getting word that the game had been cancelled. It’s entirely possible that Coach Pop and the Spurs simply knew the verdict prior to McDonald, but Popovich may also have forced Stern’s hand by listening to team doctors.
Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune tweeted during the debacle that he overheard Spurs medical staff saying there was no way they’d play in the smoky conditions.
Just overheard Spurs team doctors say no way to playing in arena tonight, seems like teams will push back hard on playing tonight— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) December 5, 2013
It's not all too likely, but there’s a chance Popovich and Co. had made their decision prior to the final word from the league.
What does this mean for international expansion?
For fans of international expansion, and specifically NBA fans living in Mexico, Wednesday night’s outcome was not ideal.
It’s certainly bizarre that the arena would suffer a generator malfunction on this night, considering that we’ve known since June this game would take place. Was this due to a lack of preparedness, a simple freak accident or something else entirely?
The next international game will occur on Jan. 16 when the Atlanta Hawks take on the Brooklyn Nets in London. Fans of expansion are hoping that there aren’t any hiccups when that date rolls around.
Were teams at risk at any point?
NBA analyst and four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal said on NBATV’s broadcast after news of the postponement that he hoped no “foul play” was involved.
I don’t want to start any conspiracy theories, but it’s easy to sympathize with The Big Aristotle’s suspicions. Of course, Jeff McDonald did tweet the following:
Also, can't verify this, but I'm told that smoke likely contained traces of cynide and arsenic. So, yeah, I'm probably gonna die in the D.F.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 5, 2013
Scout's honor, I'm still coughing from standing on the loading dock. Can only imagine if we'd have been forced to play on.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 5, 2013
Hopefully the biggest risk facing the two teams and media members was smoke inhalation, but that unverified report from McDonald is truly frightening.
Ultimately the (correct) decision was made to postpone the game, as players and media members were asked to evacuate the building as a precautionary measure.
How does moving game affect the odds of who wins?
This is completely subjective, but having the Timberwolves play a “home” game against the Spurs in Mexico City doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
How many T-Wolves fans live in Mexico City? Moreover, how many Timberwolves fans would show up to this game at all?
The answer on both counts: not many.
The makeup game will be played in Minneapolis, so at least the Timberwolves will have an actual home game against a tough Spurs squad.
How will this affect the perception of the league by local fans?
If I was a fan of the Spurs or Timberwolves, I’d be insulted. Not only were T-Wolves fans denied the chance to see the Spurs in person, but the international affair in Mexico City didn’t even happen.
NBA fans in Mexico, meanwhile, should only be feeling disappointment.
This was their chance to host two entertaining Western Conference teams and display their passion for the sport. Instead, a faulty generator ruined the night of those planning to attend the game.
Will this have future ramifications for games played in Mexico City? Will something like this ever be attempted again?
We’ll have to wait and see.
How does this reflect on Stern's resume?
Honestly speaking, David Stern has done so many positive things during his tenure as commissioner that this will be seen as a minor hiccup on his overall resume. (And this is coming from a Phoenix Suns fan who lived through the Tim Donoghy scandal; I’ll look for any reason to question Stern’s authority.)
The debacle would have been far worse if Stern had forced the two teams to play regardless, whether that happened in shoddy conditions or several hours after the scheduled tip.
This certainly didn’t help Stern’s stance for international expansion (or his overall image), but don’t expect him to shy away from the incident or his decision to play the game in Mexico.