The Los Angeles Lakers will play their second game of the season on Friday evening, but more importantly, they'll be playing their 47th Christmas game. The Lakers have been a Christmas basketball tradition almost as long as the NBA has existed. They appeared in the league's first nationally televised Christmas game in 1967 and have been featured every year since the 1998 lockout.
Only the Knicks, with 53, have played more Christmas games than the Lakers. The league and its broadcast partners mercifully stopped forcing the Knicks into America's living rooms last season. Meanwhile, LeBron James will play on his 15th consecutive Christmas game on Friday.
Before joining the Lakers he had already taken the Knicks' place as the league's other premier franchise. LeBron has played on Christmas in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
LeBron and the Lakers are to Christmas as the Lions and Cowboys are to Thanksgiving. The holiday just doesn't look right without them. Hopefully, LeBron finds some solace in the fact that he is a part of so many people's holidays since he's said on multiple occasions that he'd rather be home with his own family instead of yours.
LeBron first expressed dismay about not being home for the holidays in 2010 as he approached his fourth straight Christmas game. Via the Los Angeles Daily News:
"“If you ask any player in the league, we’d rather be home with our families,” James said. “I think the people that even set the games up would rather be home with their family during this day. It’s not just a regular holiday. It’s definitely one of those days that you wish you could wake up in the morning with the kids and open up presents.”"
Here he is in 2015, via ESPN:
"“I won’t be with my family on Christmas, unfortunately. ... They’re not even here [in Ohio] right now. They’re in L.A. right now, actually. So, no, we have no traditions. If I can get a home game on Christmas, then we’ll have a tradition.”"
He briefly thought he would have Christmas off this year because of the circumstances surrounding the late finish to the '19-'20 season.
Can you really blame him? His entire adult life he hasn't really had a chance to have a normal Christmas with his family. That sucks! Who doesn't want Christmas off? Even when he's playing at home he still has to leave his house on a day where he should be relaxing and putting batteries in toys and downloading updates on gaming systems and watching basketball.
That's the rub. There are ratings to be pulled and there is money to be made on Christmas. All that stuff about needing sports to come back early in the pandemic as a distraction, that's what fans do every holiday. We want to watch football on Thanksgiving. We expect basketball on Christmas. We must be entertained. We rarely think about that entertainment coming at the expense of real people upending their own holidays for that to happen.
LeBron is a part of Christmas for millions. For him, I'm sure no amount of money can make up for having to watch his kids open presents over a video call and that does suck. It's the same for everyone who has to be away from their families on the days we're told that's the most important thing. All we can really do is say thank you and Merry Christmas.