The Miami Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, extending Miami’s win streak to six games, an active NBA best.
The Heat should feel good.
The Heat do feel good.
But there was still a little griping before Miami’s Christmas tilt with the Lakers, played in Los Angeles.
Truth be told, LeBron James didn’t really want to be here. None of them did. It never made much sense, a viewpoint that Dwyane Wade—among others—made clear to Adam Silver last month, when the commissioner-in-waiting visited the Miami Heat. Silver promised the players that, if they won another championship, they would be home for the next Christmas.
“Great incentive, huh?” James quipped prior to Miami’s mostly uneven but occasionally electric 101-95 win against the Los Angeles Lakers. “Growing up, I thought that was a rule. I don’t know if it was a rule, but I just thought that was like given. I don’t remember ever, besides, I guess, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen M.J. play on the road on Christmas. Maybe in the Garden, maybe.”
“I always thought if you win a championship, you kind of get some perks,” James said. “But we’ve been on the road, we’ve definitely been on the road. But it’s alright. Whatever.”
I’d never heard of the defending NBA champion being entitled to a home game on Christmas before reading this, but recent history supports LeBron’s claim.
The previous four defending champions – including LeBron’s Heat in 2012 – played at home on Christmas.
But before that, there was hardly a definitive Christmas schedule for the defending champion.
Since the league began scheduling Christmas games in 1947, defending champions have been more likely to not play at all on Christmas than play at home. Here are the splits:
- Home: 23
- Road: 20
- None: 24
The defending champion usually playing on Christmas is just a recent phenomenon. Between 1978 and 1987, no defending champion played on Christmas. Since then, the splits favor more home games, but hardly definitively:
- Home: 13
- Road: 8
- None: 5
Here’s the Christmas location for every defending champion in league history (click to enlarge):
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Trying to find a way to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt proves difficult. Not even back-to-back defending champs, like the Heat, get a guaranteed home Christmas game.
The 1998 Chicago Bulls – featuring Michael Jordan, whom LeBron cited – had just won back-to-back-to-back titles, and they didn’t even get a Dec. 25 game. In 1995, the Houston Rockets were defending champions, and they had to play on the road, as did the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and Lakers in 1988.
LeBron is correct that defending champions get perks. This just isn’t one of them.