Happy Thanksgiving from the Marriott.
As the marketers get more and more influence over the business that is the NBA, there are more and more changes that benefit the fans and the networks. They don’t benefit the players or their families very much … but that isn’t much of an issue.
Lets face it. For most teams, it is getting harder and harder to find time to yourselves on TV.
The NBA used to start training camp in the middle of September and open the regular season up in the middle of October. Then MLB expanded the playoffs and the NBA would open its season during to World Series to crickets. Knowing that they weren’t going to win that battle, in the early 80’s the NBA season got moved to a Halloween start. At least that way the fact that the season started would make the newspapers.
Then came the holidays.
The holidays now are what other people enjoy while the players are playing games. It used to be Thanksgiving Day was for pro football, and Christmas and New Years Day was for college bowl games.
Not anymore. The NBA hasn’t started playing Thanksgiving games yet, but it has adopted Christmas as the unofficial start of the season complete with special Christmas Day uniforms and tons of pageantry. There are 5 games Christmas Day followed eight games on New Year’s Eve and five more on New Years Day. That sure is a change from the old days when the holidays were days off, with only a rare Christmas Day game.
It was typical to have one or two games on Christmas, none on New Year’s Eve, and maybe one on New Year’s Day. It was not unusual to have just four games in the two weeks between December 22nd and January 2nd.
I don’t know who moved first, the chicken or the Bowl Game, but with the college football bowl season lasting about 3 months there was lots of room for the league to bogart those dates.
In the 80s, the only risk to missing the holidays was to be the unfortunate road team on a long trip. I remember spending my Thanksgiving 1982 in the beautiful hotel ballroom having a team Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. While the team did their best, it just wasn’t the same.
One of my favorite holiday memories had to do with the Christmas Day ritual that we had in Denver. Our coach, Doug Moe, was a different kind of a guy and was a real players’ coach. He had this theory that Christmas celebrations were pretty much over by 10 a.m.
The kids got up early to open presents and went crazy for a few hours. Then there were a couple of hours of dead time until the traditional feast at around 3. Being the middle of the season, the guys were on the road a lot, so the wives would have them working around the house since they were finally home.
So to rescue the players from the house cleaning chores he did what any thoughtful players’coach would do. He called a mandatory practice at noon on Christmas Day.
Each year the wives would chew him out and call him a heartless bastard (or worse). Being the charming guy that he was, Doug would just laugh lovingly at them and let them know that it was crucial that the guys attend as we had a game coming up and we needed to stay focused.
Of course we would all come down to the arena for practice ready for 2 hours of playing H-O-R-S-E and watching football while the wives were at home scraping the kids off the walls and cleaning up the wrapping paper that had been flung around the house.
The hardest part was keeping a straight face while we went home and tried to look exhausted from practice! Luckily there was Christmas dinner waiting. After all, I was working to see whom I could freeload with.
For me being the single, Jewish guy I looked upon this entire dance with amusement. The team always had a great couple of hours together and got regenerated for the next part of the schedule.
I don’t know if the wives were ever really fooled, but they were good sports about it. Of course they didn’t get much of a choice. Doug loved playing his part and in the end the team was better for it. We all know that sacrifices are a part of every successful athlete’s life, and this is just one of the many.
Look on the bright side. Unless the NBA expands the playoffs, players get to enjoy the 4th of July every year!
Danny Schayes is a retired 18-year-veteran of the NBA, a professional broadcaster and soon-to-be-published author now penning NBA columns for SheridanHoops. Follow him on Twitter.
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