Christmas and Sports Are an Odd Mix
December 23, 2019

Thanksgiving and football seem to go together. You know these families, and maybe you are in one, where before gorging yourself on a feast with loved ones, you go out and throw the pigskin around for a little while. You also know the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions will be playing home games. It's an NFL tradition. But how many people do you know that have to get up and open the presents, and get all of that over with before basketball comes on? It happens.

This year, ESPN and ABC combine to bring us five consecutive NBA games, started at 9am Pacific Tine when the Boston Celtics visit the Toronto Raptors. Yes, it's Basketball in Canada, which should probably be played instead on Boxing Day, but these two teams are actually both pretty good, and Toronto won the NBA title last year. It's really only a west coast problem if you want to get the Santa stuff over with by tipoff.

Ar 11:30am, action switches to ABC with the Milwaukee Bucks at the Philadelphia 76er, followed at 2pm by the Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors. At 5pm, it's the battle of Los Angeles when the Clippers are at the Lakers, which for some reason is on both ABC and ESPN. At 7:30pm on ESPN, since most people back east will have had their fill of Christmas, Christmas dinner, and basketball and will be out cold, the quintupleheader concludes with the New Orleans Pelicans at the Denver Nuggets. Even people in Denver are yawning about that one, and it's also a 9;30pm tip New Orleans time, but that city never sleeps anyway.

So why all of these games? Do people actually spend all day watching basketball? The answer is enough people spend enough time watching one or two of these games, that apparently putting on a 13-hour marathon is worth it. Just an aside, you know how many football games are on Christmas Day? Yeah, bubkus. There's a reason for that, but we'll get to it.

You may find this hard to believe, but NBA basketball on Christmas Day has been around as long as the NBA has. The first one was December 25, 1947. The New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden 89–75. ESPN didn't televise it, and ABC didn't either, but the games continued. The proliferation of cable networks not only allowed those telecasts to expand, but actually made them fashionable. It's still considered somewhat of an honor for a team to be chosen to play in a Christmas Day game, even though ten teams get to participate. According to an article in USA Today back in 2012, Christmas Day 1984 is credited with really elevating the day to a national pinnacle. Bernard King scored 60 points for the New York Knicks against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden. It was the only game on that day, both teams had losing records, and the Nets won 120-114, but people watched.

Football, for some reason, ceded Christmas to the NBA several years ago. Even when Christmas is on a Sunday, the NFL takes the day off,. There hasn't been a college bowl game on Christmas since 2003. It doesn't ven seem to be for religious reasons, either. A couple of years ago, I wrote here that the only day of the year where sports steps aside for a holiday, is Christmas Eve, and even there, college football found a loophole. The Hawai'i Bowl is played December 24 at 5pm (8pm ET) on ESPN, but that's only 3pm in Honolulu. Christmas Eve stays in tact. This year, BYU is playing in the Hawai'i Bowl. They are a religious school that doesn't allow their athletes to play in any sport on a Sunday, but Christmas Eve Day is okay, and the flight back to Utah likely on Christmas Day doesn't seem to be a problem, either.

Thanksgiving? NFL Football. New Year's Day? College Football (with now an outdoor ice hockey game thrown in). Easter Sunday? All 30 Major League Baseball teams are in action. Christmas? A hoop marathon (by the way, so is Martin Luther King Day over on TNT, unless you are watching Autralian Open tennis). So Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho! And Go Lakers (or Clippers, or Bucks, or Warriors, or Raptors, or whoever you are rooting for)! Because we know you're watching.

Superb Saturday: Christmas Day may be reserved for basketball, but on Saturday alone, there was just about everything else. Three NFL games (including the Rams at the Niners), a bunch of bowl games on the first day of 41 such post-season contests, college basketball including UCLA vs. North Carolina in Las Vegas and a good late-night Nevada vs Saint Mary's game in San Francisco. All three NFL games were good. The college football? Not so much.

Not exactly shaking things up: The Los Angeles Dodgers promised to “shake things up” after failing to reach the World Series for the third consecutive year. Not only did they miss out on free agents Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, but their own lefty, and National League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu is gone—signing with the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. If they kept Ryu, and added one more quality, but not expensive arm (and a new bullpen), they would have been fine.

Bueller?: During ESPN2's Frisco Bowl telecast on Saturday (come on, you watched), the referee didn't sound exactly thrilled to be there, announcing penalties in a monotone, non-enthusiastic voice. After about three quarters of this, play-by-play man Anish Shroff finally said, “Is that the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off making those calls?” Not exactly the “First Down!” calls with the southern drawl that you hear in the SEC. Kent State beat Utah State 51-41. More exciting than the ref made it seem.

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