Extra Presents: Why Christmas Day Games Are NBA Favorites

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2015

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 25:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat posts up LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game  at American Airlines Arena on December 25, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

MIAMI — If the novelty of suiting up on Christmas was ever going to wear off for Dwyane Wade, it would have a while ago.

When he leads the Miami Heat into the holiday's opening tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans, it will be his seventh consecutive Christmas appearance and 11th overall.

He hasn't tired of the tradition yet. His career 9-1 mark on Dec. 25 may have something to do with that, but he's learned that being away from his family means sharing a celebration with millions of hoop heads across the globe.

"It's always been very special to play on that day," Wade told Bleacher Report. "The actual game day is great for sports fans around the world to have something to watch."

More often than not, Wade himself is a big part of that something. Among active players, only Kobe Bryant has made more appearances (15 to 10) and scored more points (383 to 258) on Christmas Day.

Wade's Gifts of Christmas Past
YearOpponent (Result)Notable Numbers
2004Los Angeles Lakers (W)29 points, 10 assists
2005Los Angeles Lakers (W)18 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds
2006Los Angeles Lakers (W)40 points, 11 assists, 4 blocks
2007Cleveland Cavaliers (L)22 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds
2009New York Knicks (W)30 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals
2010Los Angeles Lakers (W)18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
2011Dallas Mavericks (W)26 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists
2012Oklahoma City Thunder (W)21 points, 5 rebounds
2013Los Angeles Lakers (W)23 points, 7 assists, 64.7% shooting
2014Cleveland Cavaliers (W)31 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Some of this generation's biggest stories have spilled over into Wade's holiday outings.

The 2004 clash was Shaquille O'Neal's first return visit to the Los Angeles Lakers. Last season witnessed LeBron James' first trip back to South Beach. The two tilts with the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder were both rematches of the previous year's Finals. Wade's individual battles with Bryant have showcased two of the greatest shooting guards in league history.

"There's been a lot of memorable games," Wade said. "It's all been pretty cool and things that you remember."

Udonis Haslem, who's approaching his 10th career Christmas outing, said those Lakers contests sit atop his memory bank.

"The Lakers are a very accomplished franchise. Then you talk about Kobe, all the guys they had come through there," Haslem said. "That was a big deal early in my career."

Wade and Bryant scored a combined 182 points during three consecutive Christmas collisions from 2004 to 2006.
Wade and Bryant scored a combined 182 points during three consecutive Christmas collisions from 2004 to 2006.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

For some casual fans, Dec. 25 marks the start of their basketball calendars. With no football on the schedule and baseball's hot stove season entering its winter hibernation, hoops take center stage under a global spotlight.

The league clearly recognizes as much. Rarely is a spot wasted on its five-game slate. Major markets, elite teams and superstar players are all well-represented—and this season is no exception with Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin among the many top-tier talents on the bill.

That alone holds a certain significance to those chosen to play ball.

"You're selected because it's a lot of families together on holidays, and they're going to be sitting down and watching," said Luol Deng, who will make his fifth Christmas appearance. "It's always an honor to be playing on Christmas Day."

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: NBA referees pose for a photo before the Oklahoma City Thunder play the New York Knicks on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 25, 2013.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

That sense of pride is important. It's what helps players cope with the competing emotion of wanting to spend the day at home with their families. There's always some give and take with this double-edged sword, but guys find a way to make it work.

"What you do is spend time with the family as much as you can, and when you're with the team, it's back to work," Deng said.

For this Heat squad, that call to return for duty will come sooner than they'd like. After hosting the Pelicans at 12 p.m. ET Friday, they'll turn around and visit the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.

"The worst part about playing on that day is when you have a game the next day," Wade said. "That's the one thing I'm not a fan of at all. You're taking away time from your family, then you gotta travel and play elsewhere. That's not cool."  

That makes time management a must to maximize the family gatherings they're able to have.

"It's not like we can do it the night of Christmas, because we won't be here," Haslem said. "We can't do it early [Christmas morning] because we have an early game. We'll maneuver around it, make our adjustments and probably do it on Christmas Eve."

Consider it a stress of the holiday season, something all fans can relate to.

MIAMI, FL - December 20:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat participates in the annual Christmas With Chris Bosh event at Gametime in Miami, Florida on December 20, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

But there's a reason both time and money are sacrificed liberally this time of year. As enjoyable as gift-receiving can be, it pales in comparison to making someone else's day special.

That, more than anything, is what these players are tasked with doing.

"It's for the fans, truly it is," said Amar'e Stoudemire, a seven-time Christmas game participant. "It's to give them a treat and a gift on Christmas. For us to be able to play on that day and allow the fans to get a glimpse of us, showcase our skills and also allow them to enjoy a beautiful game of basketball."

Since 1947, when the New York Knicks toppled the Providence Steam Rollers at Madison Square Garden, NBA action has been a Yuletide tradition. It's not always a perfect setup for the players involved, but their sacrifice can make it a perfect holiday for the rest of us.

And that means something to them.

"I think the best part about it is that families are together, happy—probably eating—just enjoying the day with people that they love," Deng said. "We love that we are a part of their day."

All quotes obtained firsthand. Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.