More than 11 years after the Denver Nuggets made him the first player from Brazil drafted into the NBA, Nene will play in the first-ever league game in his native country.
The Wizards will play the Chicago Bulls in Rio de Janeiro on October 12 as part of the NBA’s Global Games initiative. It will also mark the first time the Wizards have played an exhibition game outside of North America since the team traveled to Barcelona and Berlin to play the New Orleans Hornets in 2008.
“Yeah, yeah, I hope they enjoy, but that’s an exhibition game, so we’re going over there to work,” Nene said Tuesday. “After that, they do whatever they want.”
Nene grew up in rural Sao Carlos, which is about an eight-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro. He has a foundation to build a recreational center for underprivileged children in his community and returns to Brazil every summer.
The veteran big man wouldn’t deny the reputation that Brazil — and Rio in particular — has for being a little wild.
“I know, and the whole world knows that,” Nene said. “You guys hear about the Carnival. All celebrities come down. But there’s a lot of things to do. Nice beach, nice mall. A lot of shows, a lot of events. For me, nothing’s changed … but for [my teammates], it’s going to be a lot of new things. I hope they slow down.”
Coach Randy Wittman didn’t spend a lot of time elaborating on the trip. “Eh, the weather’s nice, especially at that time of year, I hope,” he said.
Brazil is stepping out onto the world stage in upcoming years. It will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The Wizards acquired Nene from the Nuggets last March and recently added his countryman and friend, Leandro Barbosa, from the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline. Barbosa won’t suit up for the Wizards this season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament last month.
Nene said the Wizards should prepare to have a good time in October.
“When they get over there, they’ll see,” Nene said. “The Brazil population is a very warm and receiving people from different cultures. They’re very nice, the food is very good. It’s going to be great for both sides, for the NBA and for Brazil.”