The ink from their passport stamps barely dry after a preseason trip to Europe, the globetrotting Boston Celtics arrived in Mexico City Wednesday to complete their 2015 Global Games adventure with Thursday's regular-season game against the Sacramento Kings.
That week-long preseason trek to Spain and Italy for exhibitions against international foes was a bit more casual, with a heavier focus on team-building and bonding. This trip to Mexico City is, essentially, a business trip for a Celtics team that will spend a mere 36 hours there as the middle stop on a lengthy five-game road trip.
That's not to say the Celtics are not intrigued by another experience out of the country. Players came back raving about their European vacation, particularly interacting with fans overseas and seeing how far the Boston fandom extends. The Celtics are curious about how they will be received south of the border and are embracing another international voyage.
"We’re looking forward to it. We’re gonna have a lot of fun," said Celtics fourth-year center Jared Sullinger. "And we understand it’s a game, it’s not all about fun. But we're looking forward to it."
The Celtics elected to spend Tuesday's off day in Miami before flying to Mexico City on Wednesday morning. An afternoon practice was scheduled to be bookended by community events around the city. The team will have a shootaround on Thursday morning before a late-night tip (10 p.m. ET) and then fly to San Antonio immediately following the game to prep for a Saturday-night matchup against the Spurs.
For a Celtics team particularly conscious of the taxing nature of travel, especially international treks, the grind is eased by days off flanking the Mexico City game. What's more, Boston stays in the Central time zone for the two games that follow, against the Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans.
Boston players are genuinely curious about Mexico City, but their more immediate focus is on trying to figure out how to play more consistent basketball after a roller-coaster start to a season that has seen Boston post 10 wins by an average margin of victory of 16.9 points and eight losses with an average margin of defeat of 11 points per game.
Thursday's game won't lack for intrigue in part because of the opponent. This is only the second time Boston will face Rajon Rondo, the All-Star player Boston traded last December. Rondo torched the Celtics for 29 points when he returned with the Dallas Mavericks in January and, though things went south quickly with Dallas from there, Rondo has looked this season a lot more like the player Boston fans used to adore.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston's new starting point guard -- while Marcus Smart recovers from a knee injury -- will play against the team that drafted him for only the third time since being traded to Phoenix in July 2014. Thomas downplayed the matchup, noting his primary goal on this trip was to, "Just get the win."
Pressed on the Kings, he added, "Sacramento, I don’t even think about that no more. That was a great time being there, great organization. I loved the fans. I loved the people there. But I’ve definitely moved on, looking to bigger and better things. Hopefully we just get the win. I’ll be happy with that."
Mexico City won't be a new experience for all Celtics players. Kelly Olynyk was there in September competing for the Canadian national team at the FIBA Americas tournament, though he would sooner forget a loss to Venezuela that prevented Canada from earning an automatic qualifying bid for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
He will likely enjoy more fanfare this time with plenty of Celtics green expected around Mexico City. As Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck noted, "Fans all over the world know about Celtic pride, and we couldn’t be more proud that we’re adding to our legacy by bringing our game and our team to Mexico."
The NBA is just as excited to have the Celtics headlining in Mexico for the first time.
"The experience they are going to get, they are going to see a very passionate fan base,' said Philippe Moggio, the NBA's senior vice president of Latin America. "The base of fans in Boston is tremendously passionate and so committed to the team. [In Mexico], Boston has a tremendous tradition and people reference Boston as one of their favorite NBA teams, so the fact that we’re able to bring Boston here is a tremendous gift for the Mexican fans.
"I think [the Kings and Celtics] are going to see a very passionate fan base, they are going to see these fans want to live every second of that game, because they get to live it once per year -- it’s not like they have the opportunity to go back to the arena multiple times in that year to follow their favorite teams. I think that’s probably what they’ll probably take back with them."
The NBA is hosting two regular-season Global Games this year -- the Orlando Magic play the Toronto Raptors in London in January -- and these games always beg the question of whether expansion is possible outside the U.S. and Canada.
"Fans all over the world know about Celtic pride, and we couldn't be more proud that we're adding to our legacy by bringing our game and our team to Mexico." Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck
"We look at Mexico, holistically, as a very important market," said Moggio. "We have no immediate plans to expand into Mexico, but we certainly like to gauge the appetite for the NBA here through these games and then, around that, build programming across different platforms and grassroots elements to continue to develop the game here locally. We’re always evaluating what’s the next step for us, but at the moment we have no expansion plans into Mexico."
This will be the league's 22nd game in Mexico -- the most outside of U.S. and Canada -- and there have been 33 games in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1991 (the Magic played in Rio de Janeiro in October that season). The NBA notes that there were 17 players from Latin America or the Caribbean on opening-night rosters this season.
A Spurs-Timberwolves regular-season game in Mexico City was cancelled in December 2013 because of smoky conditions after a generator malfunction inside the arena, but a Timberwolves-Rockets clash there last season went off without a hitch (and left Dwight Howard gushing, "I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.")
"For us, having Mexico be one of our top-priority markets internationally and to be able to bring regular-season matchups here is tremendously important," said Moggio. "Mexico is the country where we’ve played the most games, outside of Canada and the U.S., and I think that illustrates a commitment to this market.
"Because of that, we have a very avid, passionate and mature fan base that knows the difference between preseason friendly games versus a regular-season game that counts and matters to our teams, and that they can see that level of competition on the court. So it’s important for us to send that message to our fan base here. And it's important for us to be able to bring two teams that have never played here in this market before, have them live that Mexican experience."