How the NBA came to own Christmas Day

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How big is Christmas Day to the NBA?

Look at it this way: Last year’s Christmas Day game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder drew more viewers (9.6 million people) than all but one playoff game prior to the NBA Finals (that was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Indiana).

On the whole in 2012, 33 million people tuned in to watch the NBA on Christmas Day.

For a lot of casual sports fans Christmas Day is the day the NBA tips off — they have followed their fantasy football team closely all fall, and while the NBA started playing a couple of months ago they have only been watching out of the corner of their eye.

That changes on Christmas Day because the NBA has worked over the years to own that day of the sports calendar — once you get your new 70-inch flat screen installed you turn on some hoop because the NBA has put forward showcase games.

“The NBA on Christmas is a tradition dating back almost 70 years,” said Michael Bass, the NBA’s Senior Vice President, Marketing Communications. “Each year, our goal is to provide fans with the most compelling contests based on storylines, rivalries, player matchups, and the history and tradition of the teams and the players. Christmas Day is always one of the most watched days on the NBA calendar.”

Yes, 70 years.

The NBA had its first NBA Christmas games in 1947. Three games were played that day and it worked so well there were four the next year. Then six in 1949. Since then the number of games has fluctuated but the NBA has been consistent in making its presence felt on that day. While the NFL and college football have had some games, the NBA makes sure on showcase matchups.

It is the day that ABC starts its broadcast of NBA games, taking advantage of those matchups.

For the past six years the NBA has settled on five games — a full late that tips off at noon Eastern and features the biggest names in the sport. This year you get to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony (if healthy after tweaking his ankle Monday), Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and more. (The games are Bulls at the Nets, Thunder at Knicks, Heat at Lakers, Rockets at Spurs, and Clippers at Warriors.)

“The players love it,” said former NBA coach and current NBC analyst Stan Van Gundy. “The are big games with big audiences and they want to be in those games.

“I never liked the Christmas Day games and wish the NBA would stop playing them. I got fined for my opposition to the games. Christmas should be a day for family. For the players and coaches, even though I don’t like it, at least we benefit financially from the NBA TV contracts. But for the ushers, security people, ticket takers, concession workers etc. they are paid low wages, but have to work on Christmas because the NBA cares about little other than how much money they can make.”

Like Christmas itself, the NBA on Christmas Day can come off as all about the marketing and commercialism. For example you have the shoe brands breaking out special Christmas Day editions of players’ signature shoes.

In addition, this year for Christmas Adidas has designed and the players will wear a special edition sleeved NBA jerseys with an oversized logo — which are available for purchase online, not so coincidentally. LeBron has already said the Heat’s shooters don’t like them, but the reality remains the league thinks it can sell more jerseys with sleeves so you are going to see a lot of those.

Still, just like all things Christmas, if you look past the commercialism you see something good. Something pure.

In this case great basketball played by the best in the world.

Like the time more than 50 years ago Jerry West dropped 47 on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to lead the Lakers to a win. Or in 1984 when Bernard King had 60 points (but the Knicks still lost). Or LeBron’s first Christmas Day game when he had 34 points but was outdone by Tracy McGrady who had 41 points and 11 assists.

“As a player, you know the whole world is watching,” said former player an NBA coach Byron Scott, while working for NBA TV. “The Christmas and New Year’s Eve [games] have the spirit of happiness. You just opened a bunch of gifts, the kids are running around, maybe they’ve gotten a jersey or two from their favorite player and everyone is watching. So [all the players] try and put on their best performance.”

And those performances are how the NBA really came to own Christmas.

Rockets’ Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green suspended two games for charging into Clippers’ locker room

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The Clippers-Rockets game on Monday was wild from start to finish past finish. Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to the Clippers locker room to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin after the game.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and guard Gerald Green have each been suspended two games without pay for entering the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room to confront a player from the opposing team, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred following the Clippers’ 113-102 win over the Rockets on Jan. 15 at Staples Center.  During the league’s investigation, which included more than 20 interviews with executives, staff, coaches and players from both teams, as well as arena personnel, it was determined that Ariza and Green entered the Clippers’ locker room immediately after the game and engaged in a hostile, verbal altercation with several Clippers players.  The league’s investigation further concluded that Rockets players, James Harden and Chris Paul, followed Ariza and Green into the corridor outside the locker room in an effort to defuse the situation, and accordingly, discipline is not warranted.

It’s difficult to unsort exactly what happened away from the court. I don’t envy the NBA’s job here, nor do I blindly trust that the biggest stars should escape punishment.

Ariza and Green will miss games against the Timberwolves on Thursday and Warriors on Saturday. Paul and Harden (if healthy) will be eligible to play in both nationally televised contests.

I’m just surprised Griffin didn’t receive additional penalty for striking Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni:

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Anthony Davis

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The New Orleans Pelicans look every bit the playoff team right now — at 23-20 they are the farthest they have been over .500 and fivethirtyeight.com lists them with an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs.

They wouldn’t be there without Anthony Davis, who has been brilliant all season but has turned it up in the past week, and that got him the NBC ProBasketballTalk Player of the Week award. In his last three games, Davis has averaged 43 points on 56.3% shooting, plus 14 rebounds a game, and the team. More importantly, the Pelicans have won every game, including knocking off Boston behind his 45 points a couple of days after he dropped 48 at Madison Square Garden.

Just to be clear on one other thing, the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon. Because they’re not stupid.

Paul Pierce says he told Celtics not to show Isaiah Thomas tribute video

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Isaiah Thomas announced he was withdrawing his request for the Celtics to play a tribute for him Feb. 11, the same night Boston will retire Paul Pierce’s number.

That was a nice gesture that ended a dispute started by Pierce, who said he preferred not to share his night with Thomas. It made Thomas look magnanimous, and it prevented Pierce – even if he had a fair point – from continuing an unbecoming campaign that made him look petty.

Except, before Thomas’ announcement, Pierce revealed just how far he went to stop Thomas’ video.

Pierce, via Jackie MacMullan and Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

“Danny and I talked about it for 40 minutes,” Pierce explained to ESPN early Tuesday afternoon. “He told me, ‘This is what we have planned,’ and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘If you don’t want us to do Isaiah, we won’t.’ So I told him, ‘I really don’t.’ So that was it.

“That’s how we left it.”

“(Thomas) had a shot to be honored,” Pierce said. “You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don’t see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they’re going to be running other tributes for other players.

“Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, ‘He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.’ They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It’s guilt. That’s what it is.”

Ainge said Tuesday night that Thomas intended all along to bow out of the video tribute once he learned of Pierce’s reservations.

If only Pierce kept quiet publicly a little longer, he could have avoided looking even pettier. Yet, he revealed his conversation with Celtics president Danny Ainge, so he we are.

That probably won’t matter to those close to Pierce, though. Though Rajon Rondo was most blunt, he wasn’t the only member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team to take Pierce’s side.

Tony Allen, via Jay King of MassLive:

“Yeah, I’m with Pierce, man. He didn’t put in more work than Pierce. Anybody disagree? OK. Paul Pierce put in big work, man. Why would they honor him on that same day, man?”

Kevin Garnett, as relayed by Pierce to ESPN:

“Everyone understood where I was coming from,” Pierce said. “KG was like, ‘Isaiah who? Hell no, you’re damn right you’re not sharing your night with him.'”

Was there nobody to in Pierce’s life to tell him just to let Thomas have his short video during pregame introductions?

Pierce got his wish. He just looks even pettier as a result.

Tension between players, referees about communication more than calls

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Tensions between NBA players and referees are at a higher level than seen in decades.

Players are frustrated — they feel the calls are inconsistent, and if they try to talk to a referee about it they get a technical fast. And technicals have come fast — D’Angelo Russell got one for applauding a call from the bench the other night. LeBron James was ejected for the first time ever this season. Draymond Green already has 11 technicals this season, not to mention getting fined for complaining about the officiating and saying it’s personal (something Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins have echoed). A referee even headbutted a player this season.

However, this is a two-way street — players seem to complain about virtually every call. Watch a game, and on how many drives to the basket does the shooter or defender throw their arms in the air and say something to the ref about the call/no call. How do you expect the referees to react? Officials feel players are disrespectful, and they are just trying to keep control of the game.

Sam Amick of the USA Today did a great job talking to representatives of both sides for a story.

“The No. 1 issue on their minds is officiating. And it’s only gotten worse over the years, (and) probably now is about as hot as it has been,” Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA Players Association since 2014, told USA TODAY Sports….

“Players are intense and frustrated, and that’s to be expected,” Mark Denesuk, spokesman for the National Basketball Referees Association, told USA TODAY Sports. “I think the referees expect a certain amount of it, but I think there’s just been a decline in civility, a decline in respect, an increase in aggression.”

“I just really think that to the extent that there are officials who adopt that absolute ‘I’m not going to comment (with players during game action)’ rule, they should reconsider that,” Roberts said. “That drives my members fairly batty, too, because guys don’t think talking to the ref is necessarily going to change the call but they want to be able to say, ‘Ref, hey maybe you didn’t see it, but he hit me here, or he touched me there.’”

The players want to be able to lobby for future calls. They want an open line of communication. Carmelo Anthony said as much recently.

“The game has changed a lot since I came in 15 years ago, the players and the officials had that dialogue, whether it was good or whether it was bad, there was always a point where they would let you get a little steam off, and then would come to you and say that’s enough, let’s move on. And now, the trigger is too quick. You look at somebody wrong, you get a technical foul. You say one wrong thing, you get a technical foul. So I think that’s the difference from when I came in, the dialogue and communication and the relationship the players and officials [had] when I first came in and from now is a lot different.”

Those lines of communication need to be opened up again. Referees have to listen to players, and players need to be more respectful and less demonstrative when talking to an official.

It’s also easy to say that writing a story, or from the NBA offices in Manhattan, but when the players are emotional during a game (as they should be) calm conversations are harder to come by.

Hopefully, some of this can be worked out when the representatives of the players’ union and referee’s union sit down All-Star Weekend to talk. The NBA promoted long-time official Monty McCutchen — one of the better communicators among officials — to help move the league in this direction.

Hopefully, all this works, because the tensions are really starting to impact the game.