USA Today columnists Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgett debated last week whether or not there were too many NBA games scheduled for Christmas Day.
Amick claimed that having 10 teams—a third of the league—playing on the holiday was nothing more than a “blatant money grab.”
This year’s schedule finds five games—the fifth straight year the association has played five games on Christmas. At noon EST, the Boston Celtics visit the Brooklyn Nets, followed by the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers at 3 p.m., the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat at 5:30 p.m., the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. and the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m.
But the NBA has been a part of Christmas since its very earliest days, before it was even known as the NBA. The first time the association scheduled games on Dec. 25 was in the second season of the Basketball Association of America in 1947-48. That year, three games were played. The first-ever Christmas Day game was at Madison Square Garden when the Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers 89-75. Other games that day saw the Washington Capitols beat the St. Louis Bombers 73-56 while the Baltimore Bullets—the eventual champions in 1948—topped the Chicago Stags 87-70.
In 1951, the NBA staged a Christmas doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. In the first game, the Syracuse Nationals beat the Milwaukee Hawks 70-65. The host Knicks topped the Fort Wayne Pistons 72-65 in the nightcap.
The league revived the idea in 1956 with a pair of holiday twinbills. The Minneapolis Lakers beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 100-89 and the Rochester Royals topped the Nationals 98-93 in Rochester, N.Y., while at Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Warriors bested the Celtics 89-82 before the Knicks lost to the St. Louis Hawks in overtime 107-105.
The NBA held Christmas doubleheaders at Madison Square Garden again in 1958, 1961, 1962 and 1964.
Five games aren’t even the most the association has staged on the holiday. In 1949, 1971 and 1977, there were seven Christmas Day games each season.
In the early 1980s, the league began the idea of reserving that date for marquee matchups. In 2001, when the Philadelphia 76ers visited the Lakers, it marked the first time that the teams who had met in the previous NBA Finals played on Christmas Day. The San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons did the same in 2005 and last season, the Dallas Mavericks hosted the Miami Heat in a Finals rematch.
The only year since 1947 when the NBA didn’t stage games on Christmas was in 1998. Two games were scheduled on the holiday in 1998, but were wiped out by a lockout.
After the lockout in 2011, the NBA played five games on Christmas to open the shortened 66-game season.
So while some may consider it a shameless pursuit of cash, the NBA has a long, storied history of playing games on Christmas, a tradition that continues for the 65th year on Tuesday.
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