Skip to content

How the NBA came to own Christmas Day

Dec 24, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls Getty Images

How big is Christmas Day to the NBA?

Look at it this way: Last year’s Christmas Day game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder drew more viewers (9.6 million people) than all but one playoff game prior to the NBA Finals (that was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Indiana).

On the whole in 2012, 33 million people tuned in to watch the NBA on Christmas Day.

For a lot of casual sports fans Christmas Day is the day the NBA tips off — they have followed their fantasy football team closely all fall, and while the NBA started playing a couple of months ago they have only been watching out of the corner of their eye.

That changes on Christmas Day because the NBA has worked over the years to own that day of the sports calendar — once you get your new 70-inch flat screen installed you turn on some hoop because the NBA has put forward showcase games.

“The NBA on Christmas is a tradition dating back almost 70 years,” said Michael Bass, the NBA’s Senior Vice President, Marketing Communications. “Each year, our goal is to provide fans with the most compelling contests based on storylines, rivalries, player matchups, and the history and tradition of the teams and the players. Christmas Day is always one of the most watched days on the NBA calendar.”

Yes, 70 years.

The NBA had its first NBA Christmas games in 1947. Three games were played that day and it worked so well there were four the next year. Then six in 1949. Since then the number of games has fluctuated but the NBA has been consistent in making its presence felt on that day. While the NFL and college football have had some games, the NBA makes sure on showcase matchups.

It is the day that ABC starts its broadcast of NBA games, taking advantage of those matchups.

For the past six years the NBA has settled on five games — a full late that tips off at noon Eastern and features the biggest names in the sport. This year you get to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony (if healthy after tweaking his ankle Monday), Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and more. (The games are Bulls at the Nets, Thunder at Knicks, Heat at Lakers, Rockets at Spurs, and Clippers at Warriors.)

“The players love it,” said former NBA coach and current NBC analyst Stan Van Gundy. “The are big games with big audiences and they want to be in those games.

“I never liked the Christmas Day games and wish the NBA would stop playing them. I got fined for my opposition to the games. Christmas should be a day for family. For the players and coaches, even though I don’t like it, at least we benefit financially from the NBA TV contracts. But for the ushers, security people, ticket takers, concession workers etc. they are paid low wages, but have to work on Christmas because the NBA cares about little other than how much money they can make.”

Like Christmas itself, the NBA on Christmas Day can come off as all about the marketing and commercialism. For example you have the shoe brands breaking out special Christmas Day editions of players’ signature shoes.

In addition, this year for Christmas Adidas has designed and the players will wear a special edition sleeved NBA jerseys with an oversized logo — which are available for purchase online, not so coincidentally. LeBron has already said the Heat’s shooters don’t like them, but the reality remains the league thinks it can sell more jerseys with sleeves so you are going to see a lot of those.

Still, just like all things Christmas, if you look past the commercialism you see something good. Something pure.

In this case great basketball played by the best in the world.

Like the time more than 50 years ago Jerry West dropped 47 on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to lead the Lakers to a win. Or in 1984 when Bernard King had 60 points (but the Knicks still lost). Or LeBron’s first Christmas Day game when he had 34 points but was outdone by Tracy McGrady who had 41 points and 11 assists.

“As a player, you know the whole world is watching,” said former player an NBA coach Byron Scott, while working for NBA TV. “The Christmas and New Year’s Eve [games] have the spirit of happiness. You just opened a bunch of gifts, the kids are running around, maybe they’ve gotten a jersey or two from their favorite player and everyone is watching. So [all the players] try and put on their best performance.”

And those performances are how the NBA really came to own Christmas.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Lakers near deal to sign Brandon Bass, may trade Nick Young

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT

    Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston AP

    The Lakers will need to move Young to clear the cap space for their other moves.

  2. Report: Cleveland Cavaliers considering trade for Joe Johnson

    Jul 5, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets

    Dan Gilbert is not afraid to write checks.

  3. LeBron James stays on sidelines while Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson talks stall out

    Jul 5, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    lebronthompson Getty Images

    LeBron is going to win, Tristan Thompson is going to get his money.

  4. Report: Tobias Harris turned down max contract offer from Kings

    Jul 5, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Getty Images

    Another guy who took less money to avoid playing in Sacramento.

  5. Report: JaVale McGee ‘a serious consideration’ for Clippers

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers Getty Images

    L.A. is all kinds of desperate now that DeAndre Jordan has bolted for the Mavericks.

  6. LaMarcus Aldridge thanks Portland fans in letter

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    LaMarcus Aldridge LaMarcus Aldridge

    How will Blazers fans react when Aldridge returns?

  7. Jordan McRae shatters backboard at Sixers practice

    Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    Delaware 87ers v Oklahoma City Blue Getty Images

    McRae was the 58th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and is a member of Philadelphia’s Summer League squad.

  8. Report: Jeremey Lin considering signing with Dallas Mavericks

    Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

    He would have to take a paycut, but Dallas needs help at the point.

  9. Spurs reset franchise for post Tim Duncan life in one impressive week

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    150705_LaMarcusAldridge Getty Images

    The Spurs are going to just keep going on, being the San Antonio Spurs

  10. Report: Bismack Biyombo agrees to two-year deal with Raptors

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo AP

    Bargain for Toronto — as long as the Raptors aren’t expecting any offense.

Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. L. Aldridge (6509)
  2. D. Wade (4567)
  3. D. Jordan (3934)
  4. W. Matthews (3843)
  5. L. James (3486)
  1. G. Monroe (3388)
  2. R. Rondo (3366)
  3. K. Bryant (3327)
  4. T. Harris (3216)
  5. R. Lopez (3035)