MEXICO CITY – Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had a personal translator as he toured the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City outside the team hotel on Thursday.
Spoelstra walked through parks, stopped at shops and restaurants and relied on assistant Octavio De La Grana to help him take in the local flavor.
“I was trying to use some of my broken Spanish as well,” Spoelstra said prior to the Heat’s practice today at the American School in Mexico City.
The Heat (11-13) face the Brooklyn Nets (10-14) Saturday at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico. The Nets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 100-95, Wednesday in the first of the two games being played here.
Spoelstra, his assistants and many of the players became tourists Thursday. … some of the tallest tourists in this city of 8.9 million and more than 20 million when including the metropolitan area. The team arrived early that morning after a loss in San Antonio and other than a meeting it was off for the day. Some caught up on their sleep, others enjoyed sightseeing.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Wayne Ellington said. “It definitely grew on me when I was out there.”
For Spoelstra and his players, visiting a country like Mexico is something most said they likely never would have had a chance to do if not for basketball.
“We have a great profession that we all get to express ourselves competitively, but then you are able to see the world and are able to help the NBA and help grow this game that we are all part of,” Spoelstra said.
“Just in my time in the NBA I’ve been basically everywhere in the world all most, most of the continents, most countries, but I hadn’t been down here yet. It’s such a vibrant city.”
In Udonis Haslem’s 15 years with the Heat, the team has played in San Juan, Paris, London, Beijing, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and now Mexico.
“There’s no way I’m going to China, there’s no way I’m going to Brazil, there’s probably no way I’m coming to Mexico,” Haslem said. “Through my experiences with the NBA, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to meet a lot of people and travel to a lot of places that I’ve never been.”
Ellington never expected to become a globetrotter when he joined the NBA.
“I never knew it would be like this,” he said. “But I’m thankful the game of basketball has taken me all over the world and many different places and to be able to experience many different things.”
The top activity, it seems, was shopping as most players visited the shops in the Polanco area and bought gifts and souvenirs. Haslem said he brings back a keepsake from every place he goes.
And he’s not through.
“The shopping is good, the food is good, the weather is good,” Haslem said. “Nice people, waving, taking pictures. Some of the same things you go through back home.
“Very cost efficient with the shopping so I think I’m going to go back out and get a few more things.”
Dion Waiters, who walked and shopped with Ellington, put what very little Spanish he knows from a class he took in high school to use. He was trying to blend in by greeting the employees in their native tongue when he walked into a store.
But then he got tripped up.
“When I said it (the woman behind the counter) said something back but I didn’t know how to respond back,” he said. “I just said ‘Thanks.’ I didn’t know what to say back.”
Rookie Bam Adebayo did something he can do in many other cities, walked to the mall, but even there he saw something he had never before seen.
Adebayo didn’t mention the shops, the outdoor cafes, the parks of which there are many in the area or the museums when asked about the highlight of his trip so far.
No. He was impressed with something Mexico City never will see, at least in its natural state.
“I just went to the mall,” he said. “I kind of like it though. Their mall had snowflakes, snow actually falls in the mall. It’s actually kind of impressive.”