The San Antonio Spurs lost badly Tuesday in Mexico City to a team of 4-feet-tall opponents. It wasn’t even close: 10-4.
To be fair, the Spurs had to play barefoot. And they weren’t playing against any ordinary team.
The kids who ran circles around the likes of shoeless NBA stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are Triqui boys from Rio Venado, a remote mountain village in one of southern Mexico’s poorest regions.
We wrote about the Triquis in October, after driving through knee-deep mud and swollen rivers to reach Rio Venado, which has about 400 residents and five basketball courts, including one that functions as the town square.
The kids and their coach, Sergio Zuñiga, have been on an extraordinary winning streak lately. Earlier this year they boarded an airplane for the first time to play in a youth tournament in Orlando, and even visited Disney World, a place that could not possibly be farther from the misty corn fields and mud-brick houses of their hometown.
Yet it was the Triquis’ victory at an international youth competition in Argentina in October that made the kids a national sensation in Mexico. As usual, they played barefoot, beating teams of wealthier, taller, expensive-shoe clad competitors. Many of the kids prefer to play shoeless, having learned to run and jump in a village where the family food budget takes precedence over basketball sneakers.
At Wednesday’s NBA game in Mexico City — part of the league’s international promotional strategy — the Triquis will be in the stands to watch the Spurs play the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wearing shoes, of course.
Read: In a remote Mexican village, hoop dreams carry kids far. See images from the village below.
Players from the teams had to evacuate in their warmup gear and take refuge on their buses, as police and emergency workers ushered fans out the doors. NBA officials, who had scheduled the game in Mexico City as part of their global marketing strategy, opted to bring the teams home rather than reschedule the contest or wait for he smoke to clear. They said the game would be played at a later date, but in Minnesota.
It was surely a huge letdown to the Triqui kids who had traveled all the way from their tiny village in the mountains of Oaxaca to see the game. But at least they got to play the Spurs in a special barefoot scrimmage the day before, and won-- the only game San Antonio ended up playing in Mexico.