There are at least 25 Kobe Bryant murals across Los Angeles as well as a few for LeBron James. But if you drive by Pan Dulce #2 in Inglewood, there is also a one-of-a-kind mural born from excitement of the arrival of the first Los Angeles Laker of Mexican descent. The Juan Toscano-Anderson mural is on the outdoor wall of the Mexican bakery. It shows him sporting a Lakers jersey, there’s a Mexican flag wrapped around his shoulders, and in the background are Mexico City’s Tenochtitlán pyramids and downtown Los Angeles.
“I went to the reveal of the mural. That was really dope,” Toscano-Anderson told Andscape recently. “I’m very appreciative of that. It’s LA, man, City of Champions. That was really cool. I couldn’t believe it, to be honest.
“I didn’t have anything, nothing like that before. It was more than just the sports thing. It was about that community embracing me there.”
While Toscano-Anderson is the first player of Mexican descent to play for a Los Angeles NBA franchise, there have been several Mexican players in the NBA.
The first NBA player from Mexico was Horacio Llamas, who played 20 games for the Phoenix Suns during the 1996-97 season. The most notable was Eduardo Najera, a Chihuahua native who played in 619 games for the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and New Jersey Nets. Gustavo Ayon’s NBA career lasted 135 games. The last Mexico native to play in the NBA was Jorge Gutierrez, who played in 47 games and last appeared with the Hornets during the 2015-16 season.
The more notable NBA players of Mexican descent were born in the U.S. and had a parent or grandparent from Mexico. Three-time All-Star Mark Aguirre was the first player of Mexican descent to win an NBA championship, and his father and grandfather were from Mexico. Phoenix Suns star guard Devin Booker’s mother is Mexican American. The second NBA player of Mexican descent to win a title was Toscano-Anderson with the 2022 Golden State Warriors.
“I never imagined winning the NBA championship, like, the group’s so small,” Toscano-Anderson said. “To get to the NBA is hard, it’s a small fraternity, but to win a championship, it’s even much harder. Just to be sitting at that table, be able to pull a chair up to that table, is going to be cool.”
The Lakers have been in Los Angeles since 1960 after moving from Minneapolis. With that in mind, the Toscano-Anderson signing was huge for the Mexican community in Los Angeles. Nearly 5 million Mexicans lived in Los Angeles County in 2020, according to the U.S. Census estimate. Los Angeles County also has the largest Hispanic and Latino population of any county in the United States, according to The L.A. Almanac. Most of Los Angeles County is ethnically Mexican at about 75% and also includes the nation’s largest Central American population in the United States.
“We’re proud of Juan just as a human, a leader, person and a champion,” Lakers general manager Robert Pelinka said. “His Mexican American heritage is something that we are proud of. We have a large fan base with the Lakers.”
The L.A. Almanac also says that Los Angeles County is the largest Spanish-speaking county in the United States. In hopes of connecting with their Spanish-speaking community, the Lakers began having Spanish-speaking broadcasts in 1993.
Jose “Pepe” Mantilla is the original Spanish voice of the Lakers and has served as the Spanish radio color analyst since 1993. Samuel Jacobo also joined the Lakers this season to serve as the Spanish play-by-play voice of the team on the flagship radio station Tu Liga Radio 1330.
Before Toscano-Anderson, there were Lakers stars in recent years who spoke Spanish, including Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, a Spaniard. Gasol, Nash and Bryant spoke Spanish in interviews that were aired locally on Telemundo, Univision, and Spanish-speaking radio stations.
“It’s been amazing for us to have players that are fluent in Spanish,” Pelinka said. “LA is a multicultural city. Our fan base is really diverse. I can remember some players on our team would be talking to someone in English and then talk to someone else in Spanish. That is a really neat thing to see, especially in our city.”
Bryant challenged Magic Johnson as the greatest Laker after playing his entire 20-year career with the franchise. What also endeared Bryant to the Hispanic community in Los Angeles and Orange County was his mastery of Spanish. Bryant spoke English and Italian when he arrived at the Lakers in 1996, but not Spanish. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, is Mexican American and he eventually learned Spanish while watching such Mexican soap operas as La Madrastra, and Sábado Gigante, a variety show.
“I remember when Kobe was learning Spanish and asking him, ‘Dude how are you learning it?,’ ” said ESPN Radio senior reporter Beto Duran, who is Mexican American. “He said he was watching telenovelas with his mother-in-law, and he dropped the name, La Madrastra. And if you’re watching that one, you can’t lie about watching that. You are in the mix if you’re watching that.
“And I remember sending a tweet about Kobe said he is learning Spanish by watching La Madrastra, and it was probably one of the most popular tweets I’ve ever had.”
Said former Lakers Spanish television announcer Adrian Garcia Marquez: “I remember I sat down with Kobe for an interview, and I asked him in Spanish, ‘Do you want to do it in Spanish?’ He goes, ‘Nah, you know what? Just ask me the questions in Spanish. I’ll understand you. I’m going to answer in English but give me a year and next year we’re going to do it all full in Spanish.’ A year later we’re doing media day and what does Kobe do? Speak Spanish.”
Bryant once said after a game in Spanish that “my Latino fans are very important to me because they were the first ones who embraced me the most when I first got here.” After Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in 2020, countless Mexican Americans went to a mammoth vigil near Staples Center to pay their respects.
“There are probably more Mexicans watching the Lakers than any other demographic. That’s very important, not only for myself in the Lakers, but in LA for [the] Mexican community, the Latino community.”
— Juan Toscano-Anderson
“We saw him grow up, and he was ours,” Duran said. “He was Los Angeles. Even though he lived in South Orange County, he was still ours, because he was from LA.”
Said Garcia Marquez: “If there was a guy that understood the love, the passion, the loyalty of the Hispanic community, especially towards the Lakers, was Kobe.”
After Bryant retired in 2016, the Lakers did not have a Spanish-speaking player until the arrival of Toscano-Anderson. Those close to the Lakers said there was a dip in Spanish media attending games afterward. That, however, could change with the arrival of Toscano-Anderson, who understands the importance of being able to connect to the Spanish-speaking Lakers fans.
“There are probably more Mexicans watching the Lakers than any other demographic. That’s very important, not only for myself in the Lakers, but in LA for [the] Mexican community, the Latino community,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I don’t want to call myself an ambassador, but somebody who’s representing and who can speak the language. I’m representing full throttle. I can speak the language, I represent my culture, everything.”
Garcia Marquez said that Los Angeles is a “Lakers and Dodgers town.” The Dodgers’ season ended Saturday, however, after the team was eliminated in the NLDS by the San Diego Padres. So, with Toscano-Anderson being the lone Spanish-speaking player on the Lakers and the Dodgers’ season over, Garcia Marquez believes he will become a fan favorite quickly.
“Toscano, you better get all his clichés and Spanish ready to go,” Garcia Marquez said. “Even when he might not play, he’ll still get interviewed by the Spanish-speaking media. Any kind of connection that you have to the Lakers, they soak it up, man. It’s the Lakers and Dodgers town, and anything you can do where you can give a sound bite in Spanish is going to help you so much. And I know he speaks, I know he does his best with it, but it’s always a story. And anytime you can speak a little bit, it’s going to help you so much.”
Toscano-Anderson was born on April 10, 1993, to an African American father and a Mexican mother in Oakland, California. His maternal grandfather immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, in the 1940s. Toscano-Anderson visited Mexico for the first time when he was 6 years old, celebrated Mexican holidays and heritage and grew up in a Mexican household with his mother, Patricia Toscano. It was important to him to learn Spanish. He also once visited Chevy, Mexico, with his grandfather.
“I want to be an ambassador of the country, an ambassador for my mother’s culture,” Toscano-Anderson said of Mexico.
In the midst of his Mexican pride, Toscano-Anderson worries that his “Blackness sometimes gets lost and forgotten.”
Although he grew up in a Mexican household, Toscano-Anderson said, he is viewed more like a Black man in society and is strongly connected to his African American roots. Toscano-Anderson once led a peaceful march in his hometown of Oakland that was attended by Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to protest police brutality after the murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020. Toscano-Anderson wants to be a “positive role model” for Mexican American and African American kids.
“It’s been magnified that I’m Mexican, but I also want people to know that I’m just as proud of being Black,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I’m Black every day. The way I dress, the way I talk. My sauce. I’m a Black man when I step out on America. I’m excited in that facet but I also want to be acknowledged that I’m biracial too. Black is beautiful, I’m proud of being Black as well. Being Black makes me who I am.
“That’s why I have a lane of my own. There’s a lot of biracial people out there and being a Mexican man that is half-Black, that gives me the sauce right there. It’s exciting and I know the magnitude it’s going to have, but I don’t want my Blackness to get lost in that.”
After playing at Marquette, Toscano-Anderson was able to acquire a Mexican passport and made his professional debut with Soles de Mexicali in Mexico’s National Professional Basketball League (LNBP) in 2016. The 2018 LNBP MVP also played for Bucaneros de La Guaira in Venezuela and Fuerza Regia in Mexico. Toscano-Anderson has also played with Mexico’s national team.
Toscano-Anderson went from the G League Santa Cruz Warriors to the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in 2020. After the Warriors won the NBA title last season, he proudly draped himself in a Mexico flag. Weeks later, Lopez Obrador, the president of Mexico, welcomed Toscano-Anderson to the presidential palace.
“He gave me a long history lesson of the country’s history,” Toscano-Anderson said. “We were talking about some things that I could possibly come down and do in the country with his blessing and his support. He just wants me to remain humble. He told me he appreciates what I’m doing for the country and what I mean for the country.”
Toscano-Anderson played a reserve role with the Warriors and could’ve re-signed. Instead, he opted for the possibility of potentially more playing time with the Lakers. Pelinka thinks all Lakers fans will enjoy seeing the way that Toscano-Anderson “competes every night,” and his toughness, tenacity and fire is something that the Lakers needed more of. Toscano-Anderson averaged 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.3 minutes in five Lakers preseason games.
New Lakers coach Darvin Ham says that Toscano-Anderson adds a spark off the bench that reminds him of himself during his NBA playing days primarily as a reserve.
“Juan is doing some amazing, competitive basketball-playing …,” Ham said. “You need those kinds of guys that can get you 50-50 balls, take charges, and put bodies on bodies knowing that they may not be the one who gets the rebound or stat or whatever.
“They still sacrifice for their teammates. You can’t have enough of those guys in your locker room. And Juan Toscano-Anderson is at the top of the list of everything he does. His attitude, [the] energy [he] brings to work every day. His teammates are very fond of him.”
Toscano-Anderson’s agent, Erika Ruiz of Klutch Sports — who is Mexican-American and the only Hispanic female agent in the NBA — said her client has done some interviews and NBA public service announcements in Spanish. She also hopes to soon land the first of many endorsements in Mexico for her client.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” Toscano-Anderson said. “Basketball is a growing sport in Mexico, there’s not a lot of financial interest in it. I’m kind of trailblazing. I know there are guys that can do it for me, but it’s a different world now in regard to marketing and advertising. I’m opening doors to bridge the gap between the U.S. and Mexico.”
Toscano-Anderson’s first game as a Laker, coincidentally, will be on the road against his old Warriors. Before the game, he will be awarded his 2022 NBA championship ring. He expects many of his family members from Oakland to be there to take in the moment before turning their allegiance from the Warriors to the Lakers.
Toscano-Anderson is expecting a bittersweet championship celebration with his old team before playing against them.
“I don’t really know how to really process that yet because half of me wants to really enjoy that moment with my guys, but I’m not on that team anymore,” Toscano-Anderson said. “But I’m still going to enjoy it for myself. I’m just trying to figure out how I process those emotions and those feelings. But nonetheless, I’m going to enjoy that moment because those are my friends outside of basketball. I’m going back home. My family will be there.”
Toscano-Anderson won’t be using his entire last name on the back of his Lakers jersey this season as he did with the Warriors. Rather, he will just go by “Toscano” because his entire last name didn’t fit well on the back of the Lakers jersey, a source said. Toscano-Anderson said he is in awe at the sight of “Toscano” Lakers jerseys around Los Angeles before he even plays a game.
After waiting 63 years for the first player of Mexican descent to don a Lakers jersey, it’s easy to see why Toscano-Anderson is already getting love from LA.
“Here in LA, you can buy LeBron, AD [Anthony Davis], Russ [Westbrook], and you can also get a Kobe, Shaq [O’Neal], Magic [Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] jersey. There are so many people that have huge influence on the game of basketball in LA. If you chose to buy my jersey, I’m appreciative of that.”
Said Duran: “You’re going to see some Toscano jerseys in the crowd for sure.”
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