NBA on Christmas Day

NBA on Christmas Day

The National Basketball Association's Christmas Day Games is a series of games played on Christmas Day. It has been an annual occurrence since the league's inception in 1946. Unlike with the NFL on Thanksgiving, there are no fixed opponents for games played during the holiday (although the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat are often de facto set teams, and have played on Christmas Day more often than any other team) and the games played usually featured some of the best teams and players.[1][2]



Celtics Coach Doc Rivers has participated on Christmas Day as both a player and as a coach.
Phil Jackson (on right) won his 1,000 game as a coach on Christmas Day in 2008.
Kobe Bryant has played more games on Christmas Day than any other calendar day of the year.

In 1947, a year after the NBA's inception, the first NBA games on December 25 were played when the New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden 89–75.[3] Since then, the NBA has played games every year on Christmas Day, except in the 1998–99 season, when a lockout canceled half the season.[3]

In the early days of the NBA on Christmas Day, regional proximity dictated most of the matchups.[4] Teams would usually play their geographical rivals to cut down on holiday travel and allow them to have more time with their families.[4] According to Dr. Jack Ramsay, coach of the Portland Trail Blazers from their only championship season of 1976–77 to 1986: "Christmas meant being at home with the family and having a game we always won. That was a perfect Christmas to me."[4]

In the early 1980s, after three straight years of memorable moments involving the New York Knicks, including Bernard King scoring 60 points in 1984, the most ever scored by a player on Christmas Day,[3] and with the advent of television, the NBA scheduled games over the holiday as a showcase featuring the best teams and players.[4]

Teams and players

The Knicks have played the most games on Christmas Day, with 46, and are 21–25 on the holiday.[5][3] Their most recent appearance on the holiday came in 2010 when they beat the Chicago Bulls 103–95 at Madison Square Garden.[5] During the 1990s, each Christmas (except for 1998) revived the rivalry between both teams, as it featured a game involving either (or both) team(s) being broadcast on NBC.[6] Both teams played against each other in both the Bulls championship season of 1992–93 and 1994,[6] and would have played each other in 1998, if there had not been a lockout.[7] The only year during the 1990s in which neither team played on Christmas Day was during the Bulls first championship season in their second three-peat, in 1995–96.[8] The Bulls also played on Christmas in 1993 and in their other championship seasons (1990–91, 1991–92, 1996–97, and 1997–98),[9] the Knicks in 1999.[6]

Some of the players and coaches that have played on this day besides King and Ramsay include LeBron James, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard. Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Derrick Rose.[3][9][5] Some of them have participated on Christmas Day as both a player and a coach. Doc Rivers participated as a player with the Knicks in 1992 and as a coach with the Boston Celtics from 2008 to 2010. Bryant has played more games on Christmas Day than he has on any other date on the calendar, playing his first in 1996–97 season,[3] and most recently in the 2010–11 season.[10] Jackson, who coached during the holiday every year since 1990 (except for 1995 and 2004) became the fastest coach to win 1,000 games on Christmas Day in 2008, when the Lakers beat the rival Celtics in a rematch of the finals that year.[11]

Many teams and players that have played on this day have worn special uniforms and sneakers.[5] The Knicks wore Christmas colors on their uniforms in both 2009 and 2010.[5] During the game between the Heat and the Lakers in 2010, players on both teams wore holiday sneakers, including lime-green Nike kicks on Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.[10] James and Chris Bosh wore holiday-red shoes with garish green laces.[10] Since the 2008–09 season, teams playing on Christmas Day wear special edition uniforms featuring the NBA logo inside a snowflake.

Memorable moments

The NBA playing on Christmas Day has featured some of the most memorable games ever played,[12][1] including Bernard King scoring 60 points for the New York Knicks in 1984, Patrick Ewing helping the Knicks come back to beat the Boston Celtics after trailing by 25 points in 1985, and again beating Michael Jordan and the Bulls on last second jumper in 1986, the first showdown featuring Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as opponents in 2004,[4][13][14][15] and Phil Jackson becoming the fastest coach to win 1,000 games in 2008.[11]

Scheduling and broadcasting

Kobe Bryant (left) and LeBron James (right) have played against each other on Christmas Day twice.

Scheduling of games on the holiday is quite compelling, as it is the day the first ever NBA games air on network television during a particular season.[4]

After a season's NBA Finals comes to an end, officials from both the NBA and the broadcast network that broadcast the NBA meet to plan the schedule of games over the holiday during the upcoming season.[4] In most cases, two of the teams that play during the holiday are the teams that reached the finals the previous season.[4] The NBA usually tries to have the best players play against each other.[4] Some examples of this include 2009 and 2010, when the defending champions of those seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers played at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and the Miami Heat in 2010, so that they could have showdowns between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James both times.[4][3][10]


The first telecast of an NBA game on Christmas Day dates back to the league's early years. In 1947, the Providence Steamrollers played in New York against the Knicks on WCBS channel 2 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Stan Lomax and Bob Edge called that particular game. Approximately 15 minutes later, at 8:15 p.m. Central Time, Joe Wilson broadcast the game between Baltimore Bullets and Chicago Stags for WBKB channel 4 in Chicago.

The first nationally televised Christmas Day NBA broadcast occurred in 1967, when ABC broadcast a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Rockets from San Diego. Jerry Gross and Jack Twyman called that particular broadcast for ABC. ABC would continue to televise Christmas Day games on through 1972. The remainder of these broadcasts, emulated from Phoenix. Chris Schenkel did play-by-play for ABC during this period with the exception of 1970, when Keith Jackson had the honors. Jack Twyman remained in the color commentating position up until 1971, when Bill Russell took over.

From 1975-1989 (with the exception of 1982), CBS broadcast a game on Christmas Day. However, it was not until 1983 that the games became a household tradition, when CBS broadcast the game between the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks and ESPN broadcast the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers (Sam Smith and Dick Vitale were on the call for ESPN).[12][4] In the 1990s, NBC broadcast a doubleheader each year on Christmas Day and this has continued after ABC took over in 2002. However, in 2004 and 2006, ABC broadcast only one game. For three years (2004–2006) ABC insisted on having a Christmas Day game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers so that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal could play against each other. Since ABC took over the NBA, ESPN has also broadcast games on Christmas Day. Since 2009, Christmas Day broadcasts on ESPN/ABC have featured a music video featuring Mariah Carey singing "All I Want for Christmas Is You."[16][17] In 2010, Carey was featured singing "Oh Santa!"[17]

In 2008, TNT broadcast on Christmas Day for the first time as Marv Albert, Mike Fratello and Craig Sager broadcast the game between Washington and Cleveland in Cleveland and Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller broadcast the game between Dallas and Portland in Portland.

As noted above, Christmas is the day that network television tips off its NBA season and they do so with a doubleheader of the best teams.[12]


Playing on Christmas Day has been considered an honor, as it's not only a chance to play on national television, but also a reward for having a great team and great players.[18][19][2][4][12] Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said in 2009 before a showdown against the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena that he that he "tends to look at it as a reward,"[18] and in 2010, called it an "honor" to be part of the marquee games.[19] Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers called it "a tremendous privilege to be able to entertain the world. You understand the privilege of playing on TV in those games, but there are some times where I wish I could just be normal, be a normal family man."[4] The Lakers have played every year on Christmas Day since 1999, but would have played every year since 1998 if there had not been a lockout.[7]

During broadcasts of NBA games, commentators have said that because games played on Christmas Day feature some of the best teams and players, they also serve as a preview of a potential series in the playoffs, and perhaps, the finals.[4]


In 2004, the news media criticized the NBA for scheduling a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, as it was the first time since their brawl that the two teams were facing each other.[20] This makes no sense because the entire regular season is scheduled before it begins, so the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Pistons-Pacers games had already been scheduled when the 1st (the game ending with the brawl) took place. However, the fans and players at the game at Conseco Fieldhouse were well-behaved and there were no incidents.[20] The day's other game, between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers marked the first time since the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat that the two teams were facing each other and the first time that Shaq and Kobe Bryant would be facing each other as opponents.[13] These complaints didn't exist during the 1990s when the NBA scheduled games involving the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls.[6]

Recently, players and coaches have complained about playing on Christmas Day, saying that it's time away from families.[6][2][18] In 2009, Orlando Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said that the NBA shouldn't be playing on Christmas Day, saying "I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game" and said that the day is best spent with family.[18][2] The Magic was fined for his comments.[2][19] However in 2010, he said that the NBA should play more games on Christmas Day.[19]

In 2010, LeBron James and Lakers coach Phil Jackson complained.[2][10] Jackson said that "I don’t think anybody should play on Christmas Day. It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean to them anything any more."[2][6][10] Jackson gave his comments from having coached during the holiday quite often in the 1990s while with the Bulls and in the 2000s with the Lakers. James said of playing on the day: "If you ask any player in the league, we'd rather be home with our families...It’s definitely one of those days that you wish you could wake up in the morning with the kids and open up presents."[2] Although Raymond Felton said that "you'd rather be with your family. We're still going to celebrate,"[6] he, like many players, said that he was fortunate to have played with his family in attendance.[6] Because of all of this criticism of Christmas family time, in 2010 all family members of players are recommended by the league to attend for free.[6]

Television ratings

Games played on this day have garnered some of the highest ratings for a regular season NBA game on television. For example, in 2010, the game between the Miami Heat and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers drew a 6.4 rating on ABC, the highest for an NBA game on ABC since the game between the two teams on Christmas Day in 2004, which drew a 7.3 rating.[21][22]


Inline citations
  1. ^ a b "Christmas: Three Wise Matchups". December 23, 2007. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Reynolds, Tim (December 22, 2010). "Christmas games can be tough on those involved". Associated Press. Retrieved November 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Schuhmann, John (December 17, 2009). "Knicks, Kobe and more part of Christmas Day lore". Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Eisenberg, Jeff (December 24, 2009). "Christmas Tradition". The Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise: p. B1. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Mahoney, Brian (December 25, 2010). "Christmas surprise: Knicks win one with defense". Associated Press. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Beck, Howard (December 25, 2010). "Feeling Fuzzy About Holiday Slot". New York Times: p. B11. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Rosenbloom, Steve (November 29, 1998). "Selling Point". Chicago Tribune: p. 1. "The NBA told NBC it has canceled the Bulls and the rest of the traditional Christmas doubleheader—Bulls-Knicks and Lakers-Suns." 
  8. ^ DuPree, David (December 26, 1995). "Magic ground Rockets 92-90". USA Today: p. 1C. 
  9. ^ a b Greenstein, Teddy (December 25, 2010). "Bulls don't need a holiday break; Thibodeau, players proud to be chosen for marquee slot". Chicago Tribune: p. 1. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Beacham, Greg (December 25, 2010). "LeBron has triple-double, Heat rout Lakers". Associated Press. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Nadel, John (December 26, 2008). "Lakers Claim Finals Rematch; Celtics' 19-Game Win Streak Snapped". Washington Post: p. E1. "Thursday's victory was the 1,000th for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, enabling him to become the sixth NBA coach to reach that milestone. The 63-year-old Jackson has a career record of 1,000-423 in 17-plus seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. He became the fastest to win 1,000 games, surpassing Pat Riley, who did it in 1,434 games." 
  12. ^ a b c d Garcia, Art (December 21, 2009). "Christmas Day clashes bring back fond memories". Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (December 25, 2004). "ABC Treating O'Neal-Bryant Showdown As Showcase". New York Times: p. D1. 
  14. ^ Adande, J.A. (December 25, 2004). "Hosannas or Humbug?; O'Neal hopes for Christmas cheer, but Laker fans may not be in mood". Los Angeles Times: p. D1. 
  15. ^ Sandoval, Greg (December 26, 2004). "Shaq Serves Holiday Stuffing; In Rivals' Showdown, Bryant Has 42, But O'Neal Wins". Washington Post: p. E1. 
  16. ^ Hoppes, Lynn (2009-12-17). "Behind the scenes with Mariah Carey". ESPN. The Walt Disney Company. 
  17. ^ a b Mariah Carey NBA Christmas Special 2010 on YouTube
  18. ^ a b c d "Humbug: Magic's Van Gundy opposed to NBA on Christmas". Associated Press. December 25, 2009. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  19. ^ a b c d Gonzalez, Antonio (December 25, 2010). "Magic’s Stan Van Gundy no Scrooge this Christmas". Associated Press. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b "Indiana's O'Neal shows rust in return". Associated Press. December 25, 2004. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Heat-Lakers draws best rating since 2004". Associated Press. Yahoo! Sports. December 27, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Five games deliver record ratings on Christmas Day". December 27, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  • Eisenberg, Jeff (December 24, 2009). "Christmas Tradition". The Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise: p. B1. 

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