MEXICO CITY -- The Washington Bullets' preseason schedule already was made when the NBA came calling. The proposal: Discard the other plans for the final weekend of the preseason, and instead play in a foreign country with a chance at international exposure.
"When it became apparent that the league was interested in having us come down here, [club owner Abe Pollin] said he wanted to commit," Bullets general manager John Nash said yesterday. "He thought it would be a nice experience for all of us."
So the Bullets end their six-game, 10-day trip in Mexico City, the world's most populous city. The event is the fourth NBA Challenge, with the Bullets, San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons taking part. The Bullets will begin the
Challenge with a game against the Spurs tonight before concluding the event against the Pistons tomorrow night.
The Bullets were a tired group when they landed here at 4:30 a.m. local time yesterday, after taking a charter from Fargo, N.D., where they lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night. In addition to weariness, they brought the usual worries of uninformed travelers here: Should I eat the food? Should I drink the water?
"Being down here is a little different," said Bullets forward Don MacLean, after walking through a mall at the team's luxury hotel. "So, yeah, I was worried about drinking the water and about eating the food. But so far, everything's been great."
Yet much of the team wouldn't have preferred to take such a long trip at this time.
"Guys are dragging a bit, and most of the guys are just ready to go home," MacLean said. "I think we'd be more excited if it weren't the end of such a long road trip and the fact that the start of the season is only a week away. If not for that, we'd probably enjoy it more, seeing and learning about a different country."
The Bullets (2-4) have dropped their past two preseason games. Already hurt by injuries to guard Mark Price (sore heel) and forward Chris Webber (separated shoulder), the Bullets got more banged up in Fargo, with guards Doug Overton (sprained left ankle) and Calbert Cheaney (slightly pulled hamstring) falling victim.
Free-agent forward Thomas Elliott came down with a virus on the trip and flew home from Fargo. And recently acquired forward Bob McCann, who had to wait until the Milwaukee Bucks approved the Kevin Duckworth trade before he had a chance to play, did not make the trip because he did not have a work visa.
The NBA is treating the games here less as an event than as a series of preseason contests, so it hasn't scheduled festivities that would overextend players. And there's a chance the players won't see much here other than the hotel, nearby streets and the arena.
"No, we don't have a lot of chances to go out," Nash said. "But again, we have some guys here who are hopeful of making the team and some guys who are trying to get rested."
That didn't keep the players from interacting with the residents. Gheorghe Muresan and Juwan Howard were scheduled to participate last night in the NBA Jam Session, a scaled-down version of the interactive activities that draw overflow crowds during All-Star Weekend.
Though the city's metropolitan area has approximately 22 million people and a growing interest in basketball, the game is far from a sellout. With the deflated value of the currency here, the approximately $40 tickets are out of reach for many of those in Mexico City.
Yet there is some excitement here, in what one day could be an NBA expansion city.
"We're thrilled to bring three of the NBA's exciting teams to Mexico City," said Rob Levine, vice president and managing director of NBA Latin America.