Popular Bulls visit Mexico amid reports of turmoil

Popular Bulls visit Mexico amid reports of turmoil
Chicago Bulls Jabari Parker, from left, Cristiano Felicio, Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison, warm up at the start of a basketball practice at the Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican fans have waited a lifetime for the opportunity to watch their favorite team, the Chicago Bulls, in their homeland. But hardly anyone envisioned that they'd get to see the current version of the team that will face the Orlando Magic on Thursday night amid reports of turmoil in the locker room under new coach Jim Boylen.

Playing South of the Border for the first time in their history, the Bulls (6-22) are the main attraction in a country where the franchise in considered the second-most popular among local fans. Many of them fell in love with the team when Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six championships in the 90s.

But these Bulls arrived in Mexico after losing nine of their last 10 games, and with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst in the NBA. The terrible start led to the firing of coach Fred Hoiberg, who was replaced by his assistant, Boylen, who is off to a rough start.

After a win over Oklahoma City on Friday and a 56-point loss to Boston on Saturday, Boylen called for a Sunday practice, something that is not allowed by the NBA after back-to-back games. And, according to several reports, players were on the verge of a revolt.

"What I have to do is install this thing and play in the right way to go where I want to go, and outside noise, it's always going to be there, is part of this job and this business. I just take this as a challenge," said Boylen, who worked for the San Antonio Spurs for a couple of seasons under coach Greg Popovich before arriving in Chicago in 2015.

Forward Jabari Parker attends a Chicago Bulls basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Forward Jabari Parker attends a Chicago Bulls basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"In San Antonio, they have standards of behavior and standards of play, and we are establishing those in here, but we can't do that without practicing, and we cannot do that without being pushed. We are in a different place, nothing wrong with that, but we are going to work hard," Boylen said.

Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen directs his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen directs his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

In the middle of the storm, the Bulls packed their bags to travel to Mexico, where perhaps the change of scenery and the love of the local fans can give them a push toward improvement.

Guard Zach LaVine catches a pass during a Chicago Bulls basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Guard Zach LaVine catches a pass during a Chicago Bulls basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"I think everything got blown out of proportion, but we are in a good state, the team is good and we are all together," Bulls guard Zach LaVine said. "Always going on the road ... in a different country where we can all be together is good because we can bond. I think it's going to be a good time here."

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine speaks to journalists before the start of a basketball practice at the Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine speaks to journalists before the start of a basketball practice at the Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic expects a tough game from the Bulls.

Chicago Bulls' forward Lauri Markkanen speaks to journalists before basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls' forward Lauri Markkanen speaks to journalists before basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic on Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"It's going to be a challenge to play against a team that is in a tough spot, and they surely will try to bounce back and respond against us, but we are going to be prepared," Vucevic said. "We also have three straight losses, and we want to win as well."

Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

According to the NBA office in Mexico, the Bulls have about 3 million fans South of the Border, a number surpassed only the Los Angeles Lakers with 3.2 million.

Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen gives directions to his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen gives directions to his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"To me, it is endearing. I have been a Bulls fan since I watched them on TV in the nineties, with Jordan and Pippen and all of that generation," said 35-year-old Jonathan Flores, who managed to sneak into the arena to watch Wednesday's practice. "This is not the generation that I yearn growing up, but it's still my team and I'm happy to have them here. It's important for the country."

Chicago Bulls players sit on the side of the court before the start of a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls players sit on the side of the court before the start of a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

The NBA is aware of the passion for the sport in Mexico, and maybe that's why they are regular visitors. Thursday's contest will mark the 27th game in the country, and Saturday's game between Orlando and Utah makes it 28.

Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

Only the United States and Canada have hosted more, and seven of the last 26 games in Mexico have been regular-season contests.

Chicago Bulls' center Robin Lopez does a warm-up exercise at the start of a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls' center Robin Lopez does a warm-up exercise at the start of a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

The NFL has played three regular-season games in Mexico, and Major League Baseball has organized three regular-season series in the country.

Chicago Bulls' center Robin Lopez talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls' center Robin Lopez talks to journalists before a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"You can call it love, passion or solidarity, any of those adjectives describe what the basketball culture in this country is, and that is what the NBA has found here," said Raul Zarraga, the director of the NBA office in Mexico.

Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic speaks to journalists following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic speaks to journalists following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

NBA players who have visited Mexico in the last few years have been amazed by the state of the art Arena Ciudad de Mexico, a glass-clad facility that cost $300 million and opened in 2012. Players also rave about the experience of being able to walk through the streets of Polanco, an upper-class neighborhood where teams stay while in the country. Before and after games, NBA players are often spotted walking down the streets with family and friends without being disturbed.

Orlando Magic's Wes Iwundu gestures during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Wes Iwundu gestures during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

Vucevic played in a regular-season game in Mexico in 2012, his second season in the league. But back then, he didn't get a chance to go outside much. That's something he's going to change this time around because the Magic are staying until Saturday.

Orlando Magic's Melvin Frazier Jr., center, recovers following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Melvin Frazier Jr., center, recovers following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

"I reached out recently to Gustavo Ayon (a former Mexican NBA player who was with Orlando in 2012), I asked him for advice on restaurants because I love to travel, to go out and experience the culture of different places," Vucevic said. "You can say I'm a foodie. I love food and will love to taste some Mexican dishes."

Orlando Magic's Wes Iwundu, right, hugs a teenage player from the NBA Academy Latin America following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Wes Iwundu, right, hugs a teenage player from the NBA Academy Latin America following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

Last year, Miami Heat's coach Erik Spoelstra said that he was going to try to use the Mexico experience to bring his team together.

Orlando Magic's Mo Bamba receives a pass during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Mo Bamba receives a pass during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

Maybe Boylen can do the same.

Jabari Parker of the Chicago Bulls speaks to journalists following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Jabari Parker of the Chicago Bulls speaks to journalists following a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

___

Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic receives a pass during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital .(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic receives a pass during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital .(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)

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Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford, center, stands with his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford, center, stands with his players during a basketball practice at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Magic will face the Chicago Bulls Thursday and the Utah Jazz Saturday in two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn dribbles the ball during basketball practice at the Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn dribbles the ball during basketball practice at the Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The Bulls will face Orlando Magic Thursday in the first of two 2018 regular-season NBA games to be played in the high-altitude Mexican capital. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Source: Rebecca Blackwell)