LOS ANGELES — A Christmas tradition older than any of the players who will be involved over the course of five games and 12-14 hours in locations all across the country will provide a holiday staple many of us have feasted upon for decades.
You know the drill. Wake up early, tear off the wrapping paper on the gifts, grab a little something to eat and then get ready for the non-stop barrage of NBA action.
Merry Christmas, hoops fans around the world (the games will be broadcast in 215 countries and territories and in 47 languages), your special day is here. Rivalries in all forms — budding, ages-old, renewed, rekindled and jump-started — are on the menu today.
The five-game showcase tips off with the Boston Celtics visiting the Brooklyn Nets at Noon ET (ESPN), followed by the New York Knicks squaring off against the Los Angeles Lakers here at 3 p.m. ET (ABC), The Finals rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the Miami Heat at 5:30 ET (ABC), followed by the Houston Rockets tangling with the Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) and, finally, back here at Staples Center where the Denver Nuggets will visit the streaking Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN).
“Christmas Day was special because everybody is watching at home. That’s what I loved about Christmas Day because it shined the spotlight on the Lakers, on our team, and we knew that all of the other leagues were at home and millions of people were watching,” Lakers great and ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said on a conference call previewing the action.
Magic clearly doesn’t share the view of many, including legendary former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, that this showcase day should be a day off for players and families to observe the holiday.
“It really didn’t create a problem for me,” Johnson said. “I was single most of those times, anyway. But it wouldn’t have created a problem even if I was married. I think that it’s just a special, special day in terms of Christmas Day and to be playing, representing your team and representing the NBA. And I think that when you look at the ten teams that we have playing on Christmas Day, they all will enjoy this moment and they are going to play hard. They are going to play well and they are going to give NBA fans something to cheer about on a special day like Christmas.”
It’s hard to go wrong with so many of the league’s biggest and brightest stars in uniform, even with some of the Lakers’ veterans sounding like somewhat reluctant combatants in their showdown with the Knicks.
“My kids don’t like it. My youngest doesn’t like it at all,” Metta World Peace told The Los Angeles Times. “I’m to a point now I forget it’s Christmas, to tell you the truth. I buy the presents and I’m never home, so I totally forget about Christmas.”
Lakers star Kobe Bryant has played in more of these games (15) than anyone else we’ll see today. He’s grown accustomed to the ritual of suiting up on the holiday.
“It’s just something that I’ve come to expect,” he told The Times. “My entire family is used to us playing on Christmas Day. I mean, we’ve been doing it for years, since my kids were born. It’s kind of part of what we do.”
The Knicks franchise kicked off the tradition in 1947 with a win over the Providence Steamrollers. This current bunch, fresh off of a comeback win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, are eager for their next opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage.
Having Steve Nash back in uniform for the Lakers, just his second game back after a 24-game hiatus while dealing with a fractured bone in his leg, just sweetens the deal for Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Southern California native Tyson Chandler, who admitted on GameTime Sunday night that he’s looking forward to finally being a part of the Christmas tradition.
For players and coaches from the 20 teams with Christmas “off” to enjoy with family, friends and loved ones, they know the bulk of their day will consist of keeping an eye on all of the showcase games anyway.
“Come on man, you know the world is watching on Christmas,” an Eastern Conference All-Star said via text. “Everybody watches the Christmas Day games: fans, players, everybody. It’s a tradition.”
Merry Christmas indeed!