That picture of Eduardo Najera is looking a little old right now. Not only is he back in the fold with the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA’s first-ever Mexican born player has traded in the jersey for the suit. There hasn’t been much reason to think about the 36-year-old Najera lately, especially as he finished his 12-year career in dismal Charlotte the last two seasons. Now he gets to step into a very interesting role as head coach and part-owner of the D-League’s Texas Legends and an unspecified role with Dallas GM Donnie Nelson. It sounds pretty cool and with a lot of latitude for one of the league’s “good guys.” He’s not thinking small-ball, though: He wants to ultimately bring a franchise to Mexico.
Compared to a barren past, it’s a heady time in the NBA for guys with Mexican ties. Kaleb Canales became the league’s first-ever Mexican-American head coach in March when he succeeded Nate McMillan in Portland. He is thought so highly of there that new coach Terry Stotts kept him on his staff despite the two going against each other for the top job. Now Najera is the first-ever Mexican-born coach. If you watched the NBA Summer League you saw several former players coaching squads in Las Vegas and Orlando, such as Tyronn Lue with Boston and Sam Cassell in Washington. It’s cool to see Najera on a track to the NBA like that, too. Then again, Najera might be onto something much bigger.
What was most interesting about his comments today at his introductory meet-the-media conference was his vision — reluctantly divulged — for the NBA in Mexico. Via ESPNDallas.com:
“I truly believe that in the ’90s, Mexico was already prepared to have a pro team, and now that I’ve gotten to know important people, politicians, it just kind of clicked,” Najera said. “I don’t want to talk about this a whole lot, but the country kind of has that bad reputation right now, but I believe that with the new change (in Mexico’s presidency) coming up, it’s going to open up that door again to eventually have an NBA franchise, of course, in Mexico.
“I’m talking about five, 10, 20 years, but it will be something that I would like to support. That’s the reason this makes perfect sense being part-owner of the Legends, being the head coach, working closely with Donnie with the Mavericks. It’s sort of a great plan, and basically I can get the experience, and so when I go down to my friends, I can say, hey, this is the way you do things, and hopefully they can buy the idea and hopefully they can make it happen.”
Most striking is that it’s not a tepid answer that relies more on dreams than reality from the sound of it. The answer was calculated to be vague, but doesn’t it sound like he has business partners ready to invest in the idea? The NBA is always working to carve itself footholds in new markets like any business but Mexico, despite being next door, has never come up in public conversation before about a new team. London or China? Sure. Najera is right to be reluctant about bringing up his vision now because any mention of an NBA franchise in that country starts another talk, about player safety in a country rattled by violence (not that the U.S. is immune; help Dime change that). Mexico’s image isn’t conducive right now to an NBA splash. Given time and his apprenticeships with the Mavericks, he believes he can help change that.
Let’s allow Najera to get going on those first jobs first. Soon, though, it could be very interesting to see this plan develop.
Could you see a team in Mexico?
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