MEXICO CITY – During their first preseason game, the Magic realized they had serious fans in places they didn't expect them.
Mexican fans streamed in to the Ciudad de Mexico Arena Sunday more than an hour before tipoff to see pregame warmups, with many wearing Magic jerseys. One was wearing J.J. Redick's Duke jersey, another Glen Davis' Celtics jersey.
The stars they had been watching for years on TV were finally in their city.
"I'm a super fan. This is so cool that they're here," said 20-year-old Jose Manuel Gomez after getting Redick's autograph.
Most important, the player they raised had come home to play in front of a true home crowd.
Orlando Magic player Gustavo Ayón's uncle, Fernando Ayón, and countless other relatives traveled eight hours from Nayarit state to the Mexican-born forward play Sunday.
"What can I say? I can barely speak. We're so excited. [When they announce his name] the roof's gonna come down," Fernando Ayón said.
When that moment finally arrived and Gustavo Ayón was introduced as the Magic's starting forward, the roof almost did come down. His stern pregame focus faded away, and he flashed an enormous smile.
It didn't take long for Ayón to give the crowd something to cheer about. He scored the first two points of the game, connecting on a layup in transition from Jameer Nelson's bounce pass.
While the Magic enjoyed strong fan support, the Hornets used a fourth-quarter rally to score an 85-80 win Sunday.
Despite the final score, Ayón did not disappoint the home crowd.
The Magic started strong in coach Jacque Vaughn's first game. They took his "defense first" attitude seriously, holding the Hornets nearly six minutes without a field goal.
"That's the way we want to play basketball," forward Glen Davis said. "We wanna establish the tone playing defense."
Early in the game, the Magic spread the ball around well, with six different players scoring in the first quarter. Vaughn said the system works well and that's the way he wants the Magic to play.
"I told the guys I have, 'I don't know who's gonna get the ball, I don't know who's gonna shoot it,'" Vaughn said. "And that's the best part of it: neither does the defense."
But during the second half, Orlando started to make key mistakes. They committed 13 of their 20 turnovers in the third quarter. Vaughn said it was an important lesson for the team.
"Everyone needs to participate," he said. "When your number is called, you need to do your job."
Going into the fourth quarter down 12, the Hornets rallied and tied it with 1:50 left. To this point, the crowd had been happily cheering both teams. But when Hornets guard Lance Thomas stepped to the free-throw line, the crowd roared. Mexico City fans were rallying around Ayón and the Magic.
It wasn't enough. The Hornets used a late surge to take control of the game.