“1, 2, 3 Cancun!” 25 Years Ago, Nick Van Exel Expressed His Frustration With The Lakers Imminent Elimination

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images


“I probably should have trademarked that thing”


The “1, 2, 3 Cancun” chant can be traced back to a quote by former NBA player Nick Van Exel during the 1998 NBA playoffs. Van Exel, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time, made a remark during a post-game interview that would later become the catalyst for the chant’s creation.

During a series against the Utah Jazz, which the Lakers eventually lost, exactly 25 years ago, Van Exel expressed his frustration with the team’s performance and their imminent elimination from the playoffs. In a moment of exasperation, he said, “1, 2, 3 Cancun” to indicate his eagerness to begin his offseason vacation in Cancun, Mexico. Per Sports Illustrated


“One, two, three … Cancun!”

“It just popped in my head,” Van Exel says now, chuckling over this odd little origin story. “It wasn’t like it was scripted.”


Evolution of the Chant:

While Van Exel’s remark gained attention at the time, it didn’t immediately lead to the widespread adoption of the “1, 2, 3 Cancun” chant. The phrase remained relatively dormant until it resurfaced during the 2019 NBA playoffs and gained prominence in the context of fans taunting teams on the verge of elimination, during the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers.

It’s important to note that the chant’s recent popularity is not directly linked to Van Exel’s quote but rather draws inspiration from it. Fans adopted the phrase as a humorous way to mock opposing teams facing elimination, incorporating the vacation reference and the countdown format. Over time, it evolved into a playful tradition associated with teams potentially heading home for an early vacation.


Viral Spread and Cultural Impact:

Once the “1, 2, 3 Cancun” chant gained traction during the 2019 playoffs, it quickly spread across social media platforms, capturing the attention of basketball enthusiasts worldwide. Memes, videos, and fan interactions helped propel the chant into popular culture, solidifying its status as a memorable and engaging aspect of NBA playoff discourse.

It has become a part of the NBA’s cultural fabric, showcasing the creativity and passion of fans as they engage in friendly banter and celebrate their teams’ successes.

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