Growing up as a kid, watching a sporting event on TV on Christmas Day was a treat. Opening presents, eating a big meal, turning on a great football or basketball game to watch with my Dad and brother- it was all part of the tradition.
Mike D’Antoni and the Suns will be entertaining the nation on Christmas day.
But what I didn’t think much about was the sacrifice the players were making. After all, they weren’t enjoying the same traditional routine I was. They were off in some city, away from their families, staying in a hotel and entertaining TV viewers all over the country.
Years later, lucky enough to be playing in the NBA, I realized what it was like to actually be doing the entertaining – rather than being entertained – on Christmas Day. In my 15 year career, my teams played 5 times on December 25th. I can tell you I have mixed emotions about the experience.
The most important element of the Christmas Day game as a player is whether or not you’re playing at home. If so – like I did in Chicago as a Bull three different times – it’s great. The routine doesn’t have to change much. You can still spend Christmas Eve with your family, you still wake up the next morning in your own bed, and you still open presents under the tree. And after enjoying plenty of family time, everyone is ready to get out of the house and go see a game later that day. It makes for a fun day.
If you happen to be on the road – like the Suns will be this Christmas – you’re making a major sacrifice. You leave home on the 24th, miss out on Christmas Eve and then wake up in a hotel room rather than your own bedroom. I can remember Christmas Day in 1989, as a member of the Cavaliers, having Christmas Eve dinner in an Atlanta hotel bar with Paul Mokeski and Craig Ehlo. We ordered quesadillas, which arrived 30 minutes later with a side of cocktail sauce rather than salsa. I told Ehlo and Mokeski, ‘Hey, no offense, but I’d really much rather be eating turkey at home with my family than hanging out here eating faux Mexican food with you two.’ The feeling was definitely mutual. We lost to the Hawks the next day and flew home Christmas night. I don’t count it as one of my all time favorite Christmases.
Because of the sacrifice that our Suns players are making this year, we’re going to do everything we can as an organization to make Christmas Day in LA as much fun as possible. The players are welcome to bring their families on the team charter. We have a Christmas dinner scheduled at the hotel – turkey and all the trimmings, rather than quesadillas. And Santa will stop by, bearing gifts for all the children.
The NBA also recognizes the sacrifices the players and coaches are making, and they always provide nice Christmas gifts for them all. (Nice leather goods from ‘Coach’ with the NBA logo on them were always the gift of choice, as I remember).
Of course, the best gift our guys can enjoy that day would be a W over the Lakers. As a player, you know that the game that day is a huge event. Every sports fan in America – and every other NBA player – is watching your game. It’s The Show, basically, and you want to perform well. So even if you’d rather be home with the family, the energy of a Christmas Day game is there, and the adrenaline kicks in early.
Hopefully we’ll play well, have fun and put on a great show for basketball fans across the country. Ultimately, that’s what the Christmas Day games are about: entertaining the millions of fans who are home, looking for something to watch on TV.
Let’s just hope that next year, if the league puts us on the Christmas Day schedule, we can play in Phoenix. Our players would be much happier.