National Basketball Association Christmas games

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Games held by the National Basketball Association (NBA) on Christmas Day, December 25, have been an annual tradition since the league's second season in 1947.[1] Currently, five games are played on Christmas. Unlike the National Football League (NFL)'s traditional Thanksgiving Day games, the NBA's Christmas Day games have no fixed opponents; rather, they feature some of the best teams and players.[2] Very often a rematch of the previous season's NBA Finals is showcased on Christmas Day.


76ers Coach Doc Rivers (left) and Phil Jackson (right) have participated on Christmas Day as both player and coach. Jackson is tied for the most coaching victories on Christmas Day and won his 1,000th game as a coach on Christmas Day in 2008.
Kobe Bryant (left) has played the most games on Christmas Day of any player. He has played against LeBron James (middle) twice and played alongside Shaquille O'Neal (right) five straight years, but against him three times.

The first NBA game played on December 25 came in 1947, a year after the NBA's inception, when the New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden 89–75.[1] Since then, the NBA has played games every year on Christmas Day except in 1998 (when a lockout canceled half the 1998–99 season). In contrast, Major League Baseball is in its off-season during Christmas, the National Football League only schedules Christmas games when Christmas falls on the weekend (and even then only schedules games on Christmas occasionally) and the National Hockey League's collective bargaining agreement forbids playing games on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (celebrated as such in Canada as a statutory holiday, though otherwise the non-holiday day after Christmas in the United States; in seasons in which the latter falls on a Saturday, the break occurs one day earlier, from December 23-25). In college football, the only bowl game traditionally scheduled for Christmas has been the defunct Aloha Bowl (and for one year, its replacement, the Hawaii Bowl; that game itself moved its date specifically due to ESPN/ABC's acquisition of NBA telecasts, including Christmas Day games). Thus, the NBA is the only league to regularly schedule games on December 25.[1]

In the early days, regional proximity dictated most of the matchups.[3] Teams would usually play their geographical rivals to cut down on holiday travel and to allow them to have more time with their families.[3] According to Dr. Jack Ramsay, who coached the Portland Trail Blazers from 1976–77 (their only championship season) to 1986, "Christmas meant being at home with the family and having a game we always won. That was a perfect Christmas to me."[3] He set the record for most coaching victories on Christmas Day with 11, an achievement that Phil Jackson later matched in 2008.[4]

In the early 1980s, the New York Knicks put on a show three years in a row. In one game (1984), hall-of-fame forward Bernard King scoring 60 points—the most ever scored by a player on Christmas Day,[1] With the advent of television and the excitement caused by these games, the NBA decided to scheduled games over the holiday that showcased the best teams and players.[3]

Teams and players[edit]

The Knicks have played more Christmas Day games than any other team, with 53 total. They are 22–31 on the holiday.[5] Their most recent Yuletide appearance came in 2018 when they were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks, 109-95, at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have a checkered history on the 25th. Their 22 wins are the second most by a team on Christmas Day, [4] while their 31 losses are the most.

Some players have participated on Christmas Day as both player and coach. Doc Rivers played with the Knicks in 1992 and coached the Boston Celtics from 2008 to 2013. Phil Jackson, who also participated as a player and coach, has been a part of at least 20 holiday games,[6] coaching on Christmas every year from 1990, with the exception of 1995 and 2004, until his retirement at the end of the 2010–11 season. He won his 1,000th game on Christmas Day in 2008.[4][7] Kobe Bryant played 16 games on Christmas Day, the most of any player. In fact, he played more often on Christmas than on any other date on the calendar, playing his first in 1996 and his last in 2015.[1][8]

Many teams and players that have played on this day have worn special uniforms and sneakers.[9] From 2009 to 2011, the Knicks wore their third jersey, the green/orange alternate which they first used exclusively for St. Patrick's Day. During the game between the Heat and the Lakers in 2010, players on both teams wore holiday sneakers. Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom wore lime-green Nike sneakers[9] while James and Chris Bosh wore holiday-red shoes with green laces.[9] From 2008 to 2011, teams playing on Christmas Day wore a patch featuring the NBA logo inside a snowflake. Between 2012 and 2016, the NBA and Adidas produced special uniforms for the Christmas games. All of these uniforms feature a particular theme, such as monochromatic designs ('Big Color') and chrome-treated logos ('Big Logo'). In 2015 and 2016, Stance provided Christmas-themed socks for the games.

After Nike became the uniform provider in 2017, no Christmas-themed uniforms were produced. Instead, NBA teams playing on that day wore either "City" or "Statement" alternate uniforms. During the 2018–19 season, a few teams wore a fifth alternate known as "Earned" uniforms; these were given as a reward for making the 2018 NBA playoffs.

Memorable moments[edit]

The NBA Christmas Day contests have featured some of the most memorable games ever played.[2][10] Bernard King scored 60 points for the New York Knicks in 1984. Patrick Ewing helped the Knicks come back to beat the Boston Celtics after trailing by 25 points in 1985. He then beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls on a last-second jumper in 1986. Scottie Pippen performed a last-second block in 1994.

The first showdown featuring Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as opponents occurred on Christmas, 2004. 2009 and 2010 featured faceoffs between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.[3][11][12][13] Phil Jackson becoming the fastest coach to win 1,000 games (it happened on December 25, 2008).[7] In 2012, Kobe Bryant became the all-time Christmas Day scorer with 383 points, surpassing Oscar Robertson who scored 377 points.[14]

As a result of a lockout in 2011, Christmas Day was also the season opener.[15] ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy talked about that day, saying, "It's a different opening day than has ever happened in the past and Christmas Day games have always been a big day for the NBA. This unique situation combined with the unveiling of a championship banner for the Mavericks in a finals rematch, and then to see the Lakers and the debut of Mike Brown as head coach, those things are all going to be very compelling."[15]

Rivalries have also been showcased during games played on this day. During the 1990s, every Christmas but one featured a game involving either the New York Knicks or the Chicago Bulls, with the two teams playing against each other twice (in the Bulls championship season of 1992–93 and in 1994).[16][17] They would have met a third time in 1998, if there had not been a lockout.[18] The only year during the 1990s in which neither team played on Christmas Day was during the Bulls first championship season in their second three-peat, in 1995–96.[19] During the 2000s, the NBA showcased the Shaq–Kobe feud. Since 1999, each Christmas has featured games involving either the Celtics or the Lakers, with both teams playing on the holiday in 2002 and every year since 2008. In a great pairing, the two teams faced off against each in other during the first of the Lakers' most recent back-to-back championship seasons of 2008–09. This was the first meeting between the two teams since the finals of the year before.

The home team is 142–75 in Christmas games. The winning percentage of .654 for the home team on Christmas Day is better than the overall winning percentage for home teams during the regular season or the playoffs since 1992.[1]

Scheduling and broadcasting[edit]

After a season's NBA Finals comes to an end, officials from both the NBA and the network that broadcast the NBA meet to plan the schedule of games for the holiday during the upcoming season.[3] In most cases, two of the teams that play during the holiday are the teams that reached the finals the previous season, and often a rematch of the NBA Finals is scheduled.[3] The NBA usually tries to have the best players play against each other.[3] Some examples of this include 2009 and 2010, when the defending champions of those seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers played at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and the Miami Heat in 2010, so that they could have showdowns between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James both times.[3][9]


A woman wearing a long black gown. She has long golden hair and is holding a sparkling microphone. She is standing on a large red stage, surrounded by dancers in white attire. Additional background scenery include the audience and three background singers wearing white ensembles and standing on a large platform.
Since 2009, Christmas Day broadcasts of the NBA feature Mariah Carey in a music video singing "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and "Oh Santa!" ("Oh Santa!" since 2010)

The first telecast of an NBA game on Christmas Day dates back to the league's early years. In 1947, the Providence Steamrollers played in New York against the Knicks on WCBS channel 2 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Stan Lomax and Bob Edge called that game. Fifteen minutes later, at 8:15 p.m. Central Time, Joe Wilson broadcast the game between Baltimore Bullets and Chicago Stags for WBKB channel 4 in Chicago.

The first nationally televised Christmas Day NBA broadcast occurred in 1967, when ABC broadcast a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Rockets from San Diego. Jerry Gross and Jack Twyman called that broadcast for ABC. ABC would continue to televise Christmas Day games through 1972. Chris Schenkel did play-by-play for ABC during this period with the exception of 1970, when Keith Jackson had the honors. Jack Twyman remained in the color commentating position up until 1971, when Bill Russell took over. From 1975-1989 (with the exception of 1982), CBS broadcast a game on Christmas Day.

However, it was not until 1983 that the games became a household tradition, when CBS broadcast the game between the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks and ESPN broadcast the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers (Sam Smith and Dick Vitale were on the call for ESPN).[10] In the 1990s, NBC broadcast a doubleheader each year on Christmas Day (except in 1998, when there were no games played on Christmas Day due to the 1998–99 NBA lockout) and this has continued after ABC took over in 2002, except that in 2004 and 2006, ABC broadcast only one game. For three years (2004–2006) ABC insisted on having a Christmas Day game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers so that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal could play against each other. Since ABC took over the NBA, ESPN has also broadcast games on Christmas Day (except in 2006). Since 2009, Christmas Day broadcasts on ESPN/ABC have featured a music video with Mariah Carey singing "All I Want for Christmas Is You."[20][21] In 2010, Carey added "Oh Santa!"[21]

In 2008, TNT broadcast on Christmas Day for the first time as Marv Albert, Mike Fratello and Craig Sager called the game between Washington and Cleveland in Cleveland and Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller called the game between Dallas and Portland in Portland. This marked the first time that all three networks that cover the NBA (ABC, ESPN, and TNT) produced games on Christmas Day. As Christmas Day fell on a Thursday that year, TNT was given two primetime games as part of their regular TNT NBA Thursday slate (the same scenario also took place in 2014).

Due to the 2011 NBA lockout, the season opener took place on Christmas Day that year. As a result, the NBA gave TNT the first game of the Christmas slate with a contest between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Calling the game were Marv Albert (himself a former Knicks broadcaster) and Steve Kerr.[15] Because of this, Albert, who was also working for CBS’s NFL coverage, was forced to miss his scheduled Week 16 game the day before. Also on that day, ABC broadcast the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 Championship banner ceremony during their pre-game show. This marked the first time in NBA history that a pre-game championship banner ceremony has been aired on a terrestrial television network; either Turner Sports or a regional sports network aired the ceremonies in previous years.

In a unique situation in 2017, ABC aired an NBA tripleheader for the first time ever, which was headlined by a 2017 NBA Finals rematch between LeBron James and the Cavaliers and Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors, which would be the prelude to the 2018 Finals rematch, which resulted in a Warriors sweep. Because ESPN aired a football game on Christmas night, they only aired one game, which was at 12 ET. TNT aired the 10:30 PM game, the network’s first Christmas Day game since 2014. However, instead of employing either Marv Albert or Kevin Harlan and their roster of game analysts, Turner opted to use the Inside the NBA crew of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles Barkley for the game, with TNT’s #2 sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow working the sidelines and halftime.

ESPN/ABC Simulcast Games[edit]

Since 2018, the 8:00 ET game has usually been simulcast on both ESPN and ABC, and has always involved LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. 2018’s game featured James and the Lakers against Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the Golden State Warriors. Although the Lakers pulled away with a 127-101 win, the win did prove to be costly, as James injured his groin, forcing him to miss significant time, which later saw James miss the playoffs for only the third time in his career, and the Lakers miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. That all led to the Lakers acquiring Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in the offseason. The Warriors meanwhile, wound up making it to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Toronto Raptors in 6 games, in a series that saw Durant not play for the first 4 games due to a strained right calf, return in Game 5, then rupture his Achilles, and later sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. Durant subsequently missed the following season. It also saw Klay Thompson tear his ACL, causing him to also miss the following season, which was then followed by him tearing his Achilles, forcing him to miss another season. Thompson however, resigned with Golden State following the Finals.

2019’s game, which again featured the Lakers, led by James and Davis, pitted them against their hallway rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, in the Battle of LA. In what could’ve been a preview to that season’s Western Conference Finals, the Clippers came back and won 111-105. The Clippers later lost in the Conference Semifinals to the Denver Nuggets, while the Lakers wound up winning the NBA Championship in the Bubble.

The 2020 game once again featured the Lakers, led by James and Davis. This time, they faced Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, in a potential playoff preview. It was Dallas’ first Christmas Day game since 2011. The Lakers ran away and won 138-115, but in a similar manner to 2018, it proved to be costly, as both James and Davis both missed significant time due to injuries. Both teams wound up losing in the first round of the Playoffs later on, with the Lakers having to go through the new Play-In Tournament.

The 2021 game will feature the Lakers once more. This time, James, Davis, and newly acquired Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan, will host the Brooklyn Nets, led by Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Patty Mills. This matchup is seen as a potential star-studded Finals preview.

Game results[edit]

Season Visiting Team Score Home Team Score OT Significance Network
1979–80 Detroit Pistons 101 Cleveland Cavaliers 111 CBS, USA
New Jersey Nets 102 New York Knicks 131 Knicks–Nets rivalry CBS, USA
Golden State Warriors 91 Portland Trail Blazers 113 CBS, USA
Denver Nuggets 111 Utah Jazz 122 CBS, USA
Philadelphia 76ers 95 Washington Bullets 92 CBS, USA
1980-81 Boston Celtics 117 New York Knicks 108 Celtics–Knicks rivalry CBS, USA
San Antonio Spurs 111 Phoenix Suns 131 Spurs–Suns rivalry CBS, USA
Golden State Warriors 114 Portland Trail Blazers 115 CBS, USA
New Jersey Nets 94 Washington Bullets 109 CBS, USA
1981–82 New Jersey Nets 96 New York Knicks 95 Knicks–Nets rivalry CBS, USA
Los Angeles Lakers 104 Phoenix Suns 101 CBS, USA
Seattle SuperSonics 94 Portland Trail Blazers 99 CBS, USA
Indiana Pacers 98 Washington Bullets 115 CBS, USA
1982–83 New Jersey Nets 112 New York Knicks 110 (OT) Knicks–Nets rivalry CBS, ESPN, USA
Seattle SuperSonics 88 Portland Trail Blazers 95 CBS, ESPN, USA
Phoenix Suns 111 Utah Jazz 101 CBS, ESPN, USA
Atlanta Hawks 97 Washington Bullets 91 CBS, ESPN, USA
1983–84 New Jersey Nets 110 New York Knicks 112 (OT) Knicks–Nets rivalry CBS, ESPN, USA
Los Angeles Lakers 121 Portland Trail Blazers 141 CBS, ESPN, USA
1984–85 Atlanta Hawks 106 Cleveland Cavaliers 109 CBS, TBS
Philadelphia 76ers 109 Detroit Pistons 108 CBS, TBS
New Jersey Nets 120 New York Knicks 114 Knicks–Nets rivalry CBS, TBS
Golden State Warriors 97 Portland Trail Blazers 106 CBS, TBS
1985–86 Boston Celtics 104 New York Knicks 113 (2OT) Celtics–Knicks rivalry CBS, TBS
Los Angeles Clippers 107 Portland Trail Blazers 121 CBS, TBS
1986–87 Chicago Bulls 85 New York Knicks 86 Bulls–Knicks rivalry CBS, TBS
Washington Bullets 102 Philadelphia 76ers 97 CBS, TBS
1987–88 Detroit Pistons 91 New York Knicks 87 CBS, TBS
Atlanta Hawks 106 Philadelphia 76ers 100 CBS, TBS
1988–89 Washington Bullets 110 Philadelphia 76ers 125 CBS, TBS
Los Angeles Lakers 87 Utah Jazz 101 CBS, TBS
1989–90 Cleveland Cavaliers 104 Atlanta Hawks 115 CBS, TBS, TNT
1990–91 Detroit Pistons 86 Chicago Bulls 98 Bulls–Pistons rivalry NBC, TBS, TNT
1991–92 Boston Celtics 99 Chicago Bulls 121 NBC, TBS, TNT
Los Angeles Lakers 85 Los Angeles Clippers 75 Lakers–Clippers rivalry NBC, TBS, TNT
1994–95 Houston Rockets 90 Orlando Magic 92
San Antonio Spurs 105 Phoenix Suns 100 Spurs–Suns rivalry
1995–96 Houston Rockets 90 Orlando Magic 92
San Antonio Spurs 105 Phoenix Suns 100 Spurs–Suns rivalry
1996–97 Detroit Pistons 83 Chicago Bulls 95 Bulls–Pistons rivalry
Los Angeles Lakers 108 Phoenix Suns 87
1997–98 Miami Heat 80 Chicago Bulls 90
Houston Rockets 103 Utah Jazz 107 Jazz–Rockets rivalry
1998–99 Due to the league's six-month lockout, the season started late in February. As a result, no Christmas Day game was held during this season.
1999–2000 New York Knicks 90 Indiana Pacers 101 Knicks–Pacers rivalry
San Antonio Spurs 93 Los Angeles Lakers 99 Lakers–Spurs rivalry
2002–03 Detroit Pistons 99 Orlando Magic 107 (OT)
Boston Celtics 81 New Jersey Nets 117
Sacramento Kings 105 Los Angeles Lakers 99
2003–04 Cleveland Cavaliers 101 Orlando Magic 113 (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 111 Sacramento Kings 103
Houston Rockets 99 Los Angeles Lakers 87
2004–05 Detroit Pistons 98 Indiana Pacers 93
Miami Heat 104 Los Angeles Lakers 102 (OT)
2005–06 San Antonio Spurs 70 Detroit Pistons 85
Los Angeles Lakers 92 Miami Heat 97
2006–07 Los Angeles Lakers 85 Miami Heat 101
2007–08 Miami Heat 82 Cleveland Cavaliers 96
Phoenix Suns 115 Los Angeles Lakers 122
Seattle SuperSonics 79 Portland Trail Blazers 89
2008–09 Washington Wizards 89 Cleveland Cavaliers 93
Boston Celtics 83 Los Angeles Lakers 92 Celtics–Lakers rivalry
New Orleans Hornets 68 Orlando Magic 88
San Antonio Spurs 91 Phoenix Suns 90 Spurs–Suns rivalry
Dallas Mavericks 102 Portland Trail Blazers 94
2009–10 Miami Heat 93 New York Knicks 87 Heat–Knicks rivalry
Cleveland Cavaliers 102 Los Angeles Lakers 87
Boston Celtics 86 Orlando Magic 77
Los Angeles Clippers 93 Phoenix Suns 124
Denver Nuggets 96 Portland Trail Blazers 107
2010–11 Chicago Bulls 95 New York Knicks 103 Bulls–Knicks rivalry ESPN
Boston Celtics 78 Orlando Magic 86 ABC
Miami Heat 96 Los Angeles Lakers 80 ABC
Denver Nuggets 106 Oklahoma City Thunder 114 ESPN
Portland Trail Blazers 102 Golden State Warriors 109 ESPN
2011–12 Boston Celtics 104 New York Knicks 106 Celtics–Knicks rivalry ESPN
Miami Heat 105 Dallas Mavericks 94 ABC
Chicago Bulls 88 Los Angeles Lakers 87 ABC
Orlando Magic 89 Oklahoma City Thunder 97 ESPN
Los Angeles Clippers 105 Golden State Warriors 86 ESPN
2012–13 Boston Celtics 93 Brooklyn Nets 76 ESPN
New York Knicks 94 Los Angeles Lakers 100 ABC
Oklahoma City Thunder 97 Miami Heat 103 ABC
Houston Rockets 120 Chicago Bulls 97 ESPN
Denver Nuggets 100 Los Angeles Clippers 112 ESPN
2013–14 Chicago Bulls 95 Brooklyn Nets 78 ESPN
Oklahoma City Thunder 123 New York Knicks 94 ABC
Miami Heat 101 Los Angeles Lakers 95 ABC
Houston Rockets 111 San Antonio Spurs 98 Rockets–Spurs rivalry ESPN
Los Angeles Clippers 103 Golden State Warriors 105 ESPN
2014–15 Washington Wizards 102 New York Knicks 91 ESPN
Oklahoma City Thunder 114 San Antonio Spurs 106 ABC
Cleveland Cavaliers 91 Miami Heat 101 ABC
Los Angeles Lakers 93 Chicago Bulls 113 TNT
Golden State Warriors 86 Los Angeles Clippers 100 TNT
2015–16 New Orleans Pelicans 88 Miami Heat 94 (OT) ESPN
Chicago Bulls 105 Oklahoma City Thunder 96 ABC
Cleveland Cavaliers 83 Golden State Warriors 89 Cavaliers–Warriors rivalry ABC
San Antonio Spurs 84 Houston Rockets 88 Rockets–Spurs rivalry ESPN
Los Angeles Clippers 94 Los Angeles Lakers 84 Lakers–Clippers rivalry ESPN
2016–17 Boston Celtics 119 New York Knicks 114 Celtics–Knicks rivalry ESPN
Golden State Warriors 108 Cleveland Cavaliers 109 Cavaliers–Warriors rivalry ABC
Chicago Bulls 100 San Antonio Spurs 119 ABC
Minnesota Timberwolves 100 Oklahoma City Thunder 112 ESPN
Los Angeles Clippers 102 Los Angeles Lakers 111 Lakers–Clippers rivalry ESPN
2017–18 Philadelphia 76ers 105 New York Knicks 98 ESPN
Cleveland Cavaliers 92 Golden State Warriors 99 Cavaliers–Warriors rivalry ABC
Washington Wizards 111 Boston Celtics 103 ABC
Houston Rockets 107 Oklahoma City Thunder 112 ABC
Minnesota Timberwolves 121 Los Angeles Lakers 104 TNT
2018–19 Milwaukee Bucks 109 New York Knicks 95 ESPN
Oklahoma City Thunder 109 Houston Rockets 113 ABC
Philadelphia 76ers 114 Boston Celtics 121 (OT) 76ers–Celtics rivalry ABC
Los Angeles Lakers 127 Golden State Warriors 101 ABC/ESPN
Portland Trail Blazers 96 Utah Jazz 117 ESPN
2019–20 Boston Celtics 118 Toronto Raptors 102 ESPN
Milwaukee Bucks 109 Philadelphia 76ers 121 ABC
Houston Rockets 104 Golden State Warriors 116 ABC
Los Angeles Clippers 111 Los Angeles Lakers 106 Lakers–Clippers rivalry ABC/ESPN
New Orleans Pelicans 112 Denver Nuggets 100 ESPN
2020–21 New Orleans Pelicans 98 Miami Heat 111 ESPN
Golden State Warriors 99 Milwaukee Bucks 138 ABC
Brooklyn Nets 123 Boston Celtics 95 ABC
Dallas Mavericks 115 Los Angeles Lakers 138 ABC/ESPN
Los Angeles Clippers 121 Denver Nuggets 108 ESPN
2021–22 Atlanta Hawks New York Knicks ESPN
Boston Celtics Milwaukee Bucks ABC
Golden State Warriors Phoenix Suns ABC
Brooklyn Nets Los Angeles Lakers ABC/ESPN
Dallas Mavericks Utah Jazz ESPN

Christmas Day standings[edit]

Of current NBA teams.[22]

Team Last Game Wins Losses Win % Previous team names
Atlanta Hawks 1989
(Won 115–104 vs. Cleveland)
9 11 .450 Tri-Cities Blackhawks (1949–1951)
Milwaukee Hawks (1951–1955)
St. Louis Hawks (1955–1968)
Boston Celtics 2020
(Lost 123–95 vs Brooklyn)
15 19 .441
Brooklyn Nets 2020
(Won 123–95 at Boston)
5 5 .500 New Jersey Nets (1977–2012)
Charlotte Hornets Never 0 0 Charlotte Hornets (original) (1988–2002)
Charlotte Bobcats (2004–2014)
Chicago Bulls 2016
(Lost 119–100 at San Antonio)
13 7 .650
Cleveland Cavaliers 2017
(Lost 99–92 at Golden State)
7 7 .500
Dallas Mavericks 2020
(Lost 138–115 at L.A. Lakers)
2 2 .500
Denver Nuggets 2020
(Lost 108–121 vs. L.A. Clippers)
1 6 .143
Detroit Pistons 2005
(Won 85–70 vs. San Antonio)
10 22 .313 Fort Wayne Pistons (1948–1957)
Golden State Warriors 2020
(Lost 99–138 at Milwaukee)
13 17 .433 Philadelphia Warriors (1946–1962)
San Francisco Warriors (1962–1971)
Houston Rockets 2019
(Lost 104–116 at Golden State)
6 6 .500 San Diego Rockets (1967–1971)
Indiana Pacers 2004
(Lost 98–93 vs. Detroit)
2 2 .500
Los Angeles Clippers 2020
(Won 121–108 at Denver)
8 8 .500 Buffalo Braves (1970–1978)
San Diego Clippers (1978–1984)
Los Angeles Lakers 2020
(Won 138–115 vs Dallas)
24 23 .511 Minneapolis Lakers (1948–1960)
Memphis Grizzlies Never 0 0 Vancouver Grizzlies (1995–2001)
Miami Heat 2020
(Won 111–98 vs. New Orleans)
11 2 .846
Milwaukee Bucks 2020
(Won 138–99 vs. Golden State)
4 3 .571
Minnesota Timberwolves 2017
(Won 121–104 at L.A. Lakers)
1 1 .500
New Orleans Pelicans 2020
(Lost 98–111 at Miami)
1 3 .250 New Orleans Hornets (2002–2005, 2007–2013)
New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (2005–2007)
New York Knicks 2018
(Lost 109–95 vs. Milwaukee)
22 31 .415
Oklahoma City Thunder 2018
(Lost 113–109 at Houston)
6 14 .300 Seattle SuperSonics (1967–2008)
Orlando Magic 2011
(Lost 97–89 at Oklahoma City)
5 4 .556
Philadelphia 76ers 2019
(Won 121–109 vs Milwaukee)
18 14 .563 Syracuse Nationals (1949–1963)
Phoenix Suns 2009
(Won 124–93 vs. L.A. Clippers)
12 6 .667
Portland Trail Blazers 2018
(Lost 117–96 at Utah)
14 4 .778
Sacramento Kings 2003
(Lost 111–103 vs. Dallas)
18 11 .621 Rochester Royals (1948–1957)
Cincinnati Royals (1957–1972)
Kansas City-Omaha Kings (1972–1975)
Kansas City Kings (1975–1985)
San Antonio Spurs 2016
(Won 119–100 vs. Chicago)
4 6 .400
Toronto Raptors 2019
(Lost 118–102 vs. Boston)
0 1 .000
Utah Jazz 2018
(Won 117–96 vs. Portland)
5 2 .714 New Orleans Jazz (1974–1979)
Washington Wizards 2017
(Won 111–103 at Boston)
16 7 .696 Chicago Packers (1961–1962)
Chicago Zephyrs (1962–1963)
Baltimore Bullets (1963–1973)
Capital Bullets (1973–1974)
Washington Bullets (1974–1997)



Mike D'Antoni said that the players should feel "very fortunate" to play on Christmas Day and said that they could adjust their schedules a bit.

Several fans, players, coaches, and members of the news media support the tradition of Christmas games. For players and coaches, the standard public statement is that a Christmas game is an honor, as it is not only a chance to play on national television, but also a reward for having a great team and great players.[3]

Before the game between the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic at Amway Arena in 2009, personnel on both sides referred to playing on Christmas as a reward. Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said that like most of the players, he always watched Christmas Day games growing up. He said, "As a kid, you wanted to be on Christmas...I tend to look at it as a reward."[23] In 2010, added that it was an "honor" to be part of the marquee games, saying, "I look at it as a privilege. The fact that they asked us to play on Christmas means we're one of the good teams, one of the featured teams."[24] Magic Center Dwight Howard said that he didn't "see a challenge. We're playing basketball on Christmas. We couldn't help it. If you play on a pretty good team and if you have to play on Christmas, so be it. I enjoy it. I'd rather be playing on Christmas than sitting at home wishing I was playing on Christmas. I like it. I think it's fun."[10]

Lamar Odom called it "a tremendous privilege to be able to entertain the world...playing on TV in those games."[3] In 2010, Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni said that players should be "very fortunate" to be playing on Christmas Day and that "it helps the league, helps other people on Christmas or on the holidays."[17]

Doug White, an ESPN executive, said that Christmas is "Thanksgiving on the NBA side. Obviously, Christmas Day is a day when everybody is home, everybody is relaxing, and what better way to serve them than with as many games as we possibly can...We try to put on the best games possible that people have interest in."[25] Jermaine O'Neal on the Celtics agreed, saying, "It's special because the whole world is watching. It's Christmas, it's a special day, with everybody together to spend time with each other, as far as family and friends. We have the opportunity to do that, bringing our families down with us. It makes it that much more special—the opportunity to play in front of the rest of the world and be together at Christmas with our family."[24]

During broadcasts of NBA games, commentators and the news media have agreed with White and said that the nature of the games played has made Christmas Day the best day of an NBA regular season. They serve as a preview of a potential series in the playoffs, and perhaps, the finals.[6][21]


The Orlando Magic was fined in 2009 after Coach Stan Van Gundy said that the NBA should not be playing on Christmas Day.

In recent years, players and coaches have complained about playing on Christmas Day, saying that takes time away from families.[26] In 2009, Orlando Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy requested that the NBA do not schedule any more games on Christmas Day, saying "I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game" and said that the day is best spent with family.[23] The Magic coach was fined for his comments.[26]

In 2010, there were complaints from both sides before the game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, son of two Christian ministers and author of a book on spiritual growth related to basketball, said, "I don't think anybody should play on Christmas Day" and "it's like Christian holidays don’t mean...anything any more."[27] From the Heat, LeBron James said, "if you ask any player in the league, we'd rather be home with our families...It's not just a regular holiday. It' of those days that you wish you could wake up in the morning with the kids and open up presents."

Others have managed to voice some discontent while still accepting the Christmas game tradition. Before the game between the Bulls and the Knicks in New York, Coach Mike D'Antoni said, "I can adjust a little bit. I can open my presents up at 7 o'clock at night instead of 7 o'clock in the morning."[17] Raymond Felton said, "you'd rather be with your family. We're still going to celebrate." He, like many players, said that he was fortunate to have played with his family in attendance.[17] Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said, "I think it's an honor and a privilege to be playing. I know it's tough on the away team, particularly the players who have kids. But that's all part of it."[16] Derrick Rose said, "I'm going to miss my family, and I hate being away from home. But this is my job and it's an honor to be playing on Christmas."[16]

In 2004, the NBA was criticized for scheduling a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. It was the first time since their brawl that the two teams had faced each other.[28] Such a pairing was unintentional, as the regular season was scheduled before the brawl took place.[28] The other game scheduled that day drew similar criticism. The game between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center marked the first time since the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat that the two teams were facing each other and the first time that Shaq and Kobe Bryant would be facing each other as opponents.[11]

The NBA does not schedule games on Christmas Eve, December 24, to allow players and coaches who have to play on Christmas Day to be with their families.[26] Also families of players and coaches who participate in Christmas games, normally attend the games.[26]

Television ratings[edit]

The NBA's Christmas games have garnered some of the highest ratings for any televised regular season NBA game.

In 2009, the game between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks drew a 1.9 share with 2.6 million viewers, the highest rating for an NBA game on ESPN during the 2009–10 season.[25]

In 2010, the games that aired on ABC and ESPN delivered the highest cumulative audience ever. ABC's doubleheader averaged a 5.5 rating and ESPN's three telecasts averaged a 1.8 household coverage rating, the highest averages for either network when airing multiple NBA games on Christmas Day.[29] The game between the Heat and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers drawing a 7.3 rating, making it the second-highest rated NBA regular season game on ABC, trailing only the game between the two teams on Christmas Day in 2004, which drew a 7.9 rating.[29][30][31] Because of the nature of the Heat-Lakers game, Miami guard Dwyane Wade had a new commercial unveiled nationally on Christmas.[26]

In 2011, due to a lockout, the regular season started with the Christmas games. These games drew larger audiences than the games in 2010.[31] The games averaged 6.2 million viewers,[31] with the Bulls–Lakers game drawing a 6.5 rating, the third-highest rated NBA regular season game on ABC, and the Celtics–Knicks game on TNT drawing a 4.0 rating, making it the most-watched Christmas game on cable.[31] The game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors drew a 2.3 rating, making it the highest-rated Christmas prime-time game on ESPN.[31] The Associated Press said of the large audiences: "NBA fans seem more excited about basketball's return than bitter about the lockout based on television ratings for the league's delayed openers."[31]


Inline citations
  1. ^ a b c d e f Schuhmann, John (December 17, 2009). "Knicks, Kobe and more part of Christmas Day lore". Archived from the original on December 2, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Christmas: Three Wise Matchups". December 23, 2007. Archived from the original on September 8, 2009. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Eisenberg, Jeff (December 24, 2009). "Christmas Tradition". The Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise. p. B1.
  4. ^ a b c "Gasol sparks Lakers' late run to end Celtics' win streak". ESPN. Associated Press. December 25, 2008.
  5. ^ Robinson, Joshua (December 24, 2010). "Agony and Ecstasy on Christmas Day; From a 62-Point Defeat in 1960 to Bernard King's 60 Points in 1984, the Knicks Have Seen It All". Wall Street Journal. p. A23.
  6. ^ a b "Extra Hype in This Round of James vs. Bryant". The New York Times. Associated Press. December 25, 2010. p. B12.
  7. ^ a b Nadel, John (December 26, 2008). "Lakers Claim Finals Rematch; Celtics' 19-Game Win Streak Snapped". Washington Post. p. E1. Thursday's victory was the 1,000th for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, enabling him to become the sixth NBA coach to reach that milestone. The 63-year-old Jackson has a career record of 1,000-423 in 17-plus seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. He became the fastest to win 1,000 games, surpassing Pat Riley, who did it in 1,434 games.
  8. ^ Beacham, Greg (December 25, 2011). "Bulls rally to stun Lakers on Rose's winner". Yahoo! Sports. Associated Press. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d Beacham, Greg (December 25, 2010). "LeBron has triple-double, Heat rout Lakers". Yahoo! Sports. Associated Press. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c Garcia, Art (December 21, 2009). "Christmas Day clashes bring back fond memories". Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  11. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (December 25, 2004). "ABC Treating O'Neal-Bryant Showdown As Showcase". New York Times. p. D1.
  12. ^ Adande, J.A. (December 25, 2004). "Hosannas or Humbug?; O'Neal hopes for Christmas cheer, but Laker fans may not be in mood". Los Angeles Times. p. D1.
  13. ^ Sandoval, Greg (December 26, 2004). "Shaq Serves Holiday Stuffing; In Rivals' Showdown, Bryant Has 42, But O'Neal Wins". Washington Post. p. E1.
  14. ^ "NBA game: Knicks at L.A. Lakers Recap: Kobe Bryant scores 34 as Lakers drop Knicks to win 5th straight". December 25, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c Mahoney, Brian (December 2, 2011). "Magic-Thunder, Clippers-Warriors set for Christmas". Associated Press. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
  16. ^ a b c Greenstein, Teddy (December 25, 2010). "Bulls don't need a holiday break; Thibodeau, players proud to be chosen for marquee slot". Chicago Tribune. p. 2.1.
  17. ^ a b c d Beck, Howard (December 25, 2010). "Feeling Fuzzy About Holiday Slot". New York Times. p. B11. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  18. ^ Rosenbloom, Steve (November 29, 1998). "Selling Point". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. The NBA told NBC it has canceled the Bulls and the rest of the traditional Christmas doubleheader—Bulls-Knicks and Lakers-Suns.
  19. ^ DuPree, David (December 26, 1995). "Magic ground Rockets 92-90". USA Today. p. 1C.
  20. ^ Hoppes, Lynn (December 17, 2009). "Behind the scenes with Mariah Carey". ESPN.
  21. ^ a b c Mariah Carey NBA Christmas Special 2010 on YouTube
  22. ^ "CHRISTMAS DAY RECORDS (ACTIVE TEAMS)" (PDF). NBA Media Ventures, LLC. December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  23. ^ a b "Humbug: Magic's Van Gundy opposed to NBA on Christmas". Associated Press. December 25, 2009. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  24. ^ a b Forsberg, Chris (December 22, 2010). "Doc Rivers likes Christmas games". Retrieved December 23, 2011.
  25. ^ a b Finn, Chad (December 24, 2010). "Working holiday for NBA: Five games, but not all in the spirit". The Boston Globe. p. C2.
  26. ^ a b c d e Reynolds, Tim (December 22, 2010). "Christmas games can be tough on those involved". Associated Press. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
  27. ^ "Phil Jackson Complains That NBA Schedules Games on Christmas Day". Associated Press. December 22, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
  28. ^ a b "Christmas Day rematch 'makes me sick'". ESPN. December 21, 2004. Retrieved December 22, 2011.
  29. ^ a b "Five games deliver record ratings on Christmas Day". December 27, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  30. ^ "Heat-Lakers draws best rating since 2004". USA Today. Associated Press. December 27, 2010. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  31. ^ a b c d e f "TV ratings rise for NBA's season openers on Christmas Day". National Basketball Association. Associated Press. December 26, 2011. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  • Eisenberg, Jeff (December 24, 2009). "Christmas Tradition". The Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise. p. B1.