Grateful for his early support, Juan Toscano-Anderson organizes camps at CDMX

For most of NBA history, Mexico City wasn’t exactly a hotbed of basketball fans, with other more established sports like soccer and American football overtaking local interest. But over the past few decades, the league has grown its footprint in the country as the number of home fans has grown rapidly – ​​now estimated at more than 20 million in the country.

Much of this growth has been intentional, with the NBA locating one of its global academies in San Luis Potosi to help spark interest in the sport between instances of regular season and exhibition games played in the country. as they have been since the 1990s. But some of that growth has also been organic, driven by players whose roots run deep in the southern neighbor of the United States, like the Los Angeles Lakers forward Juan Toscano-Anderson.

Toscano-Anderson grew up in Oakland, California, but kept alive at home his culture inherited from a grandfather who emigrated from Mexico to the United States, speaking Spanish and celebrating Mexican holidays as well as those of the United States.

Conversely, as a native of Connecticut who found himself in Mexico City by chance, it had been rare to see basketball capture the national consciousness outside of visiting NBA teams until the Capitanes become the first team in the G League (or any NBA level of play) in Mexico.

Even then, timing amid the pandemic forced the team to play their first G League season in Dallas/Fort Worth Texas to avoid the headaches of international travel at this level with a cloud of uncertainty still hanging over them. on things.

But now, with the Capitanes set to play in Mexico City for the first time and interest in the sport at a fever pitch after Toscano-Anderson won a title with the Golden State Warriors, the native of Oakland chose to host a camp in Naucalpan, Mexico State. a few minutes walk from the Mexico City metropolitan border.

Near the Periferico highway circling the bustling city, an NBA oasis has appeared almost as if teleported from the United States, with various vendors peddling everything from jerseys to insoles outside the arena where Toscano-Anderson’s camp had to stand.

Inside, the medium-sized venue was surprisingly packed for a Tuesday afternoon, with hundreds of people in attendance for camp or in the stands cheering on the Lakers wing.

A delighted audience listened to Toscano-Anderson’s advice on how attending such events has helped change his life, and the advice he offered to help them on their way should they too choose a way to pursue the sport.

Later, when we met for our interview, he was as warm and welcoming as he had been from afar, eager to talk about the sport he loves and his expansion into his beloved Mexico.

Now the vanguard of Mexican professional basketball players with a title to his name, to say that Toscano-Anderson was passionate about the sport would be doing him a disservice.

And though I suspected I knew at least part of the answer, I had to ask him what motivated him to make the trip to Mexico City to host a youth camp just weeks away from one of the most big milestones an NBA player can achieve.

“But now that I’ve had a tenure here for five years playing in the league, I’ve been playing with the (Mexican) national team since 2015, I’ve indulged my culture and embrace it and understand the history,” the Lakers wing recounted.

“I understand why they were encouraging me so strongly, and the support has been very consistent. Since then, even before I got to the NBA, like when I went to the G League, it was huge. And in the NBA, you can easily get overlooked. There are so many amazing players, especially for a guy like me who plays minimal in the league. I don’t have a lot of resumes as much as some other guys. It’s easy for people to pick them off. forget, but I’m the only guy who openly represents his Mexican heritage.

“I don’t want to say I’m the only Mexican in the league – I know Devin Booker is mixed,” Toscano-Anderson said. “There are other guys, but I represent him and represent him openly.”

“So I just thought that was my way of giving back here,” the Oakland native added, returning to the question we started the interview with. “The support I’ve gotten here over the years is inexplicable.”

“The support I get here is 10 times more than the support I get in the US and it’s full support – I mean full support – with full respect for my fans in the US.”

As the face of NBA excellence in a country of more than 120 million people, one-fifth of whom are already fans of the sport, Mexico’s next generation of NBA champions could very well have been on the court, choosing to follow Toscano-Anderson’s path to glory. .

It’s easy to fall in love with the game, and despite what we often hear about Mexico, quite easy to fall in love with the country.

So, for Juan Toscano-Anderson, building a bridge between his twin loves was not just a passion project, but something that connected his past and present in a way that will help build the future.

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