Good Sport: Christmas vs. Thanksgiving

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by Jeff Laughlin

Admittedly, I’m an NBA fanatic. I’ve said as much in this column — I love professional basketball. Now that I’ve said that, the rest of this column will go unread by anyone other than my editors and me.

With that bit of business out of the way, I can make another, perhaps equally unpopular, holiday confession.

I’ve never been much for Christmas. I’m a Thanksgiving man — always have been. It’s a super-long weekend with better food and, usually, less pressure to travel for hours/days on end.

Thanksgiving’s cheapness should not go unappreciated. Christmas shopping and travel lay bare the year’s funding, while Thanksgiving’s family pitch-in effort usually hits the wallet a little lighter.

Plus, sports!

Thanksgiving boasts America’s most popular sport — the NFL and Thanksgiving’s partnership has held America hostage for decades.

That stagnancy has allowed Christmas to steal Thanksgiving’s thunder.

For years, the holidays have been associated with football alone, New Year’s Day for college and Thanksgiving with the NFL.

The NBA has, not so quietly, moved hard on the Christmas Day schedule, putting five games in a row on TV to dominate the sports landscape on one of the laziest days of the year. To boot, they do so with a major advantage.

Football teams playing on short rest look awful — the receivers don’t finish routes, the lines struggle to do their jobs and the turnovers seem more abundant. Even the ardent NFL fan cannot describe watching three Thursday games in a row as anything more than tradition or a labor of love.

Couple that with the abhorrent play of the Cowboys and Lions, the traditional Thanksgiving home teams, for the past decade or so, and you have some seriously boring games.

The NBA’s Christmas schedule showcases a fluid set of teams including a matchup from the NBA Finals the previous year. Instead of Dallas and Detroit, we get New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and the best teams in the league playing against them.

The first couple of years of the Christmas schedule pitted the greatest rivalry in the league’s history, Boston and LA, so often that Celtics coach Doc Rivers personally called out the NBA commissioner to travel with Boston on Christmas Day.

Since both of those teams have fallen from grace in the past couple of years, the NBA began to highlight the best teams in the league instead. They could have fallen for the NFL Dallas-Detroit trap, but adapted to make sure that the holiday schedule would not seem stale.

Teams that have taken on perennial contender’s status have replaced the giants of the old NBA. The Knicks now play early in the day, while Golden State, Dallas and Portland enjoy major TV time to highlight the best players and coaches the league has to offer.

Take this year’s crop of NFL games: Philadelphia crushed a Dallas team fighting through injury, the Bears did what the Bears do in a loss at Detroit and Seattle nearly blanked San Francisco in an uninspired performance. On full rest, perhaps those games would have been appetizing. As they were presented, we got blowouts.

That Sunday missed three marquee matchups, so that America could remember a few regrettable performances. This Christmas, we’ll get LeBron James laying in Miami after leaving in the offseason. We’ll get a Western Conference Finals rematch with a recently healthy and desperate-for-wins Thunder team playing the NBA Champion Spurs who are recovering from their own injuries. We get the new California supremacy battle with Golden State, fresh off of the end of an epic winning streak against the Clippers in Los Angeles. We get the Lakers on the road — a Christmas miracle. Plus, if you love how bad the Knicks have played like I do, you get the Knicks wallowing in misery against one of the East’s best — the Wizards — at Madison Square Garden.

If you detest professional basketball, I understand defending the NFL and my favorite holiday. Football will remain the most popular sport in America for reasons some other columnist can cover.

You have to hand it to the NBA and Christmas, though. Whether or not you want it, the NBA provides a better schedule — more games and better ones, too. While they may not win the ratings battle, Christmas actually has something on Thanksgiving.