With the NFL approaching its final regular season weeks, fantasy football coming to a close, winners of NFL survivor pools celebrating their season-long good fortune (my wife scored big this year!), and Christmas day around the corner, I am suddenly reminded of how I survive each winter.
No, not faith in the Lord, but rather the NBA.
The NBA Christmas Day, a wonderful tradition, dates back essentially to the league’s inception and has persisted faithfully—with only a lockout blip here and there.
Don’t get me wrong. I love presents. And family, of course. But what I really love is waking up at 9am on the West Coast and having a meaningful NBA game to watch. You can literally sit on the couch for 13 hours of NBA Action on Christmas Day, if your family will let you.
This year’s slate of games is sure to have some disappointments (there are always disappointments), but I am most eager to see how Brad Stevens deals with Jimmy Butler’s 76ers, what LeBron’s face looks like when he realizes this year’s Lakers are no better than last year’s Cavs when it comes to facing the Warriors, and, in the nightcap, rooting for our own Blazers, of course, against the so-far surprisingly mediocre Jazz.
Speaking of the Blazers, they last appeared on Christmas Day in 2010, losing at Golden State 109-102. The year before that, however, Brandon Roy dropped 41 in a 107-96 home victory over Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets. Needless to say, the Blazers are due for a Christmas Day Special.
In fact, the Blazers have an insane winning percentage on Christmas Day games, with 14 wins and 3 losses (.824), so it will be interesting to see how they perform. Salt Lake City is a notoriously difficult place to play in, even if the Jazz have so far failed to live up to this year’s expectations.
The Jazz, meanwhile, haven’t appeared in a Christmas Day game since 1997, so they will surely be eager to prove they belong more regularly on the national slate. Only the Atlanta Hawks (1989) and Milwaukee Bucks (1977) have had longer stretches between Christmas Day games, but the Bucks are also appearing this year, in the morning game against the Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies have never appeared on Christmas Day games, which hopefully the NBA will remedy some season soon.
The fact that the teams rotate is one of the best aspects of NBA Christmas, and speaks not only to the league’s progressive nature, but to its drive toward equity for all its franchises. Unlike the NFL, where each Thanksgiving we are forced to stomach a lowly Detroit Lions team and an inconsistent Cowboys team, sports fans from around the country are treated to the viewing joy of their favorite NBA franchise, every few years or so on Christmas Day.
This year, fans in Milwaukee, New York, Oklahoma City, Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Portland, and Salt Lake City can waste a good portion of their day in front of the tube anchored to their home team. What could be better?
One person I imagine will be afforded the luxury of watching all 13 hours of Christmas Day basketball is Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy. While Simmons’ career took a downward turn in 2015-16 (dropped by ESPN, his website Grantland shut down, he was then picked up by HBO only to have his show Any Given Wednesday canceled within 6 months), he has remained as prolific as ever with his website The Ringer, which hosts his own The Bill Simmons Podcast.
Sports fans know it well, I’m sure, and the insane reservoir of sports knowledge and sardonic wit that made Simmons famous to begin with can be found everywhere he appears on the site. The Ringer is also full of articles and podcasts on pop culture, technology, politics, movies, and more, with recurring contributors that have been writing with Simmons for years.
But what I admire Simmons for most—and listen close if you are in need of a last-minute holiday gift—are his books, from when he was still ascending into the person that he became. He hasn’t released a book in almost 10 years, and there were only two, but they are gems. While the first is comprised largely of columns he had already written, the second – The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy – published in 2009, still stands in my mind as one of the most entertaining and fascinating books on basketball (specifically the NBA) that has been written.
Simmons’ personal connection to basketball is so meaningfully drawn, immediately, in admiration of his father (“I hope I can be half as good of a dad” reads the dedication), who purchased season tickets to the Celtics with a tax refund when Simmons was quite young. There’s a softness to balance his sharp intellect in The Book of Basketball that Simmons lost somewhere in the ten years following.
The bulk of the 700 page book (that’s not a typo) is comprised of Simmons’ “pyramid,” his elaborate reasons and schemata for ranking the top 96 basketball players of all time, and it’s a tribute to Simmons’ writing that these hundreds of pages don’t grow tiresome.
There are also elaborate “What-if” scenarios that still hold weight 10 years down the road, and basketball “myths,” as Simmons calls them, which he proceeds to debunk.
While Simmons crosses the line into unfortunate misogyny at times (and he was criticized for this in some reviews on the book’s release), the book remains a must-have for any true fan of the NBA.
And for this fan, revisiting it in anticipation of an NBA Christmas, one hopes Simmons might release a second edition someday, as he mentions he will throughout the original. I’d love to see where that all-time list stands now! Surely LeBron is no longer at #20. Where would Durant appear? Curry? Would Westbrook be on it? Would Simmons leave a vacant spot for Antetokounmpo to fill (as he did with Durant in the original)?
Regardless of where Simmons’ career takes him, The Book of Basketball remains a must for anyone interested in the history of the NBA, and how basketball evolved to where it stood in 2009. You can truly geek out to it, while geeking out for 13 hours this Christmas, head bouncing along with the little orange ball.