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NBA celebrates Hispanic heritage with Noche Latina

Metta World-Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers is among the players who participates in Noche Latina.

When workers have some spare cash and their families are taken care of after completing a money transfer, sports fans will splurge now and then on some NBA tickets, where they can witness live and in person the world's best basketball players taking center state. And with many of the NBA's fans originating from Latin America, over the past several years, the players within the league have acknowledged them with a special recognition program.

Since the 2006-07 season, the National Basketball Association has paid tribute to its fans with Hispanic and Latino roots with its "Noche Latina" program, which is Spanish for Latin Night. In the cities where the Hispanic community represents a considerable share of the overall population, the players wear special jerseys. For example, when the Miami Heat are playing at home, jerseys read "El Heat." And in San Antonio, the Spurs wear jerseys that say "Los Spurs."

Other cities that participate in Noche Latina are Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago and New York.

Saskia Sorrosa, vice president of Hispanic marketing for the NBA, said that this outreach program has benefited both the players and the league's most diehard fans.

"The Noche Latina program is the perfect example of the ongoing commitment by the NBA to celebrate diversity as part of the fabric of our game," said Sorrosa. "This month-long celebration will bring the excitement of the NBA to Hispanic fans in ways that are culturally relevant."

Since the program was first launched seven years ago, players wore the jerseys during the month of March. They continue to do so today, as many of the games that have been played in the third month of the year have brought considerable attention from fans as well as the media. The first Noche Latina game was played on March 2 between the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets at the United Center.

It isn't just different uniforms that makes Noche Latina games special. Fans – whether they're of Hispanic descent or not – are encouraged to participate in the celebration as well, as the home team will play Latin-inspired music during time-outs and at halftime. Prizes and competitions take place during breaks in the action also.

The NBA announced 15 Noche Latina games for the month of March. While many have already passed by, there are still several that have yet to be played, including one on March 14 when Los Spurs play the Mavericks, March 22, which pits El Magic against the Oklahoma City Thunder. March 27 will close out the schedule, as Los Bulls face the league's best team – El Heat. The NBA champion Heat are currently on a 20-game winning streak, with a 49-14 win-loss record.

Hispanic players well represented in NBA
Over the years, the NBA's players have become increasingly diversified, as many players originate from overseas. There are currently 18 foreign-born Hispanic players in the league, including Luis Scola of the Phoenix Suns, Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, Gustavo Ayon of the Milwaukee Bucks and Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA as a brand hasn't only made inroads among Hispanic countries. It's also earned a following in other countries that aren't known for basketball, such as China and India.

Matthew Brabants, vice president of business operations for global media distribution, told The Boston Globe that the NBA understands the importance of sports for many countries and isn't trying to replace national pastimes.

"We're not trying to take on cricket," said Brabants, referring to India. "But if we could be a strong number two in a country like India with more than a billion people, well, that's a pretty great feat."

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