Mexico City: As the world’s top professional basketball league geared up for Sunday’s pre-season launch in Mexico City, National Basketball Association officials are hinting at permanent expansion south of the border.

Sunday’s face-off between the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets marked the 20th exhibition game to be played in Mexico, the most of any country outside the United States or Canada, and the first such game at the brand new Mexico City Arena.

The NBA already has concrete plans to expand its Mexican footprint.

“Next year and the year after that there will be regular season games here, which is really huge,” said Cedric Ceballos, a former NBA player turned league ambassador. “Those two years are the big test to see what happens.”

Latin America is one of the league’s top growth markets, accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of international revenues, Philippe Moggio, the NBA’s vice president for Latin America, told Reuters.

Given the proximity to the United States, Ceballos said a future franchise in Mexico City would be a natural fit.

“Now that there’s a building that can house an NBA team, where we can play regular season games, it’s a natural place to be thinking about it,” said Moggio.

Ceballos, who played with played most notably for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, said a Mexico City franchise could be established within five years.

Ayon and other players put on a charity basketball clinic on Saturday, running young, disabled fans through dribbling and shooting drills.

“It’s my favorite sport,” said a beaming Luis Ramos, 22, shortly after he sunk a basket. “I can’t believe I got to meet the players ... and they’re so big.”