How Mexican Commentators Made Us Love the NBA

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The 1992 Barcelona Olympics were a disaster for the Mexican team, who only obtained a silver medal in race-walking. The lack of Olympic glory made Mexican fans cheer for the legendary Dream Team led by Michael Jordan. The overwhelming display of talent had Mexican fans celebrating the American team’s gold as if it was their own.

The enchantment of that team—which also featured Scotty Pippen, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson—infiltrated Mexican culture. Everyone wanted to jump like MJ and shoot hooks like Magic. The shorter fans wanted to be John Stockton and have Mailman Malone on their team.

La ÉNE BE A was transmitted through state television Imevisión, which required narrators to refer to the basketball teams by their Spanish translations. So Shaquille O’Neal played with La Magia de Orlando, Jordan played with the Toros de Chicago, Charles Barkley with the Soles de Phoenix, and Karl Malone with El Jazz.

Nicknamed el deporte ráfaga by Mexican commentators, alluding to the sport’s similarity to a shootout where shots are rapidly fired both ways, José Espinoza and Enrique Garay contributed greatly in spreading the emotion of the sport in the country. The ’90s generation shook with the great narrations of Espinoza and Garay. “¡Ah, qué buena!” was commonly used to describe a great play. When a player got too fancy and lost the ball: “Hay que ir con la receta de la abuela” (Grandma’s recipe is always better). “Me da la impresión que no lo van a sacar,” for a good player that was most likely not going to get subbed during the game.

In Mexico, the love of basketball grew out of the irreverence and enthusiasm of these commentators. It was almost like if the commentators’ narrations were a part of the game. Now the games are transmitted through ESPN en Español but the emotional narrations are now a thing of the past. Espinoza passed away in 2009 and Garay continues to work for TV Azteca, which is the name Imevisión took when it became a private company. In Mexico, basketball is no longer the same thing it was once, not even with LeBron James. And perhaps I’m getting nostalgic, but the fact that Jordan was undoubtedly better than LeBron also counts.