A true holiday tradition: The NBA on Christmas

Chicago Bulls mascot 'Benny' dunks a ball dressed as Santa Claus during a break in a game between the Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center on December 21, 2010 in Chicago, Ill. The NBA Christmas game has become a cultural tradition.

Bob Moon: This next story doesn't come with ancient ties. Think of it as more of a modern day tradition: Celebrating the holidays with some hoops.

For pro basketball fans, it's a gift they've had to wait to open while players and owners sorted out their differences. But the wrap comes off this Sunday, for the first game of the regular season. Still, it's no Christmas miracle -- the NBA usually plays on Christmas. Sally Herships tells us why.


Sally Herships: In 1961, Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act.

Andrew Zimbalist is a sports economist at Smith.

Andrew Zimbalist: Sunday was reserved for the NFL. Saturday for college football, and Friday for high school football.

And the NBA gets into action at Christmas when college and pro football are winding down. It’s the traditional start to the NBA’s national TV schedule. But holding games on Christmas Day – really?

Zimbalist: And you can think of it this way: If the NBA did not step up on Christmas Day, what would American men do at Christmas parties?

What indeed? Zimbalist says the post-present-opening, post-meal couch-sitting we do creates a ready-made audience. And this year, fans will be able to watch five games with some of the biggest teams, like the Celtics, Heat and Lakers.

Andy Regal works with BigLeadSports.com. He says this year's line-up is the NBA’s attempt to make up for that nasty labor dispute.

Andy Regal: There was a lot of bad blood, a lot of bad publicity and this is their Christmas present to fans.

And to advertisers. Regal says during a normal season big brands like T-Mobile, Taco Bell, and Verizon spend a total of $170 million on marketing. But this year’s season is short. There’s more at stake for teams and advertisers.

So will fans tune in on opening day? Knicks fan Jeffrey Cohen.

Jeffrey Cohen: Is your god Kobe Bryant? Or does your god have a white beard?

Whatever you celebrate, this year you get a present.

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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