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In Mexico City, Rockets find a girls team with game

In Mexico City, Rockets find a girls team with game

Posted by Juan Gavasa on November 12, 2014

The day's event was largely over, other than the photos to be taken and the last hugs and high-fives to be exchanged between Rockets and Timberwolves players and the Special Olympians who happily had participated in shooting, passing and dribbling drills on the Mexico City Arena court.

In any language, however, at least one basketball adage translates and always has. "Game recognizes game."

Dwight Howard knows basketball talent when he sees it, even if it comes up to his waist, is barefoot and wears the brightly colored, flowing dresses of the Tarahumaras. So with the day's drills complete, Howard quickly put together teams of the Tarahumaras girls so they could play some ball.

The scene quickly became the girls, ranging from ages 15 and 18, on one side and Howard on another. But for a few minutes, they just played basketball. He laughed, they giggled, and basketball players did what they love to do.

"We felt like he was a teammate of us," said Amalia Moreno. "He was not just an NBA star, but a basketball player like us, like a teammate."

Said Flor Gonzalez: "It was like a dream come true for us."

The girls are from Sierra Tarahumaras, the poor mountain villages that surround Chihuahua. They venture to Chihuahua to play on the courts there, drawing attention for their basketball passion and skill as well as for playing barefoot and in their traditional garb.

They have become so celebrated that the Chihuahua government flew them to Mexico City to be with the NBA, which is staging Wednesday's game between the Rockets and Timberwolves. The girls, who got to skip the 22-hour bus ride that had been planned, are so well known, Moreno said, that officials call fouls by name because there are no numbers on their dresses.

"I haven't seen girls playing in dresses before, so it was kind of new," Howard said. "Just to come out and have the energy they had, you can tell they're very passionate about the game. They did all the drills hard. The shooting drills, they were great. Those girls were pretty talented. Hopefully, those girls have an opportunity to play in the WNBA or collegiate basketball as they get older. Some of those girls have talent.

A member of the Tarahumaras team gracefully mixes basketball and colorful attire on Tuesday.

"It was fun being here with the clinic, working out with the kids. And the girls were full of energy. They couldn't wait to shoot and play one-on-one with me. It was good to see."

The event had players move through four stations manned by Francisco Garcia and Trevor Ariza, Giorgui Deng and Chase Budinger, Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel, and finally Tarik Black and Howard.

Joyous event

As much as such in-season appearances might be considered a distraction, the joy that fills the court makes such concerns irrelevant and forgotten.

"Just to do an event like that means a lot," Ariza said. "It's very fun. You get to meet different people. You get to see people have joy with basketball. That's always a great thing."

The NBA's Special Olympics events are similar from Taipei to Mexico. They help publicize the Global Games events and give Special Olympians and other invited participants a treat. But they also are unfailingly happy occasions for the players, particularly when they're given a first chance to speak a universal language.

The Rockets' Tarik Black, right, said of the Tarahumaras team: "Those girls, they were good."

"I've never been abroad like this to do something like this," Black said. "I went to the Bahamas to play but never came out to do something in the community. It was just different for me. None of them spoke English, but they understood the hand motions, the gestures we made to show them they did a good job. They had those smiles on their faces. I just loved it. I loved doing it."

Triqui business

Later in the day, the Rockets put on a clinic for the Triqui boys, players from Oaxaca who have become similarly celebrated, having traveled to international youth tournaments and famously practiced with the Spurs in San Antonio last spring after the team had seen them in action at last year's Global Games event in Mexico City.

The Tarahumaras girls had never been to Mexico City, but they left an impression.

"Those girls, they were good," Black said. "The NBA told us about them before we came out, that they play in those dresses and they just love playing basketball. You could tell."

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