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Art Garcia

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Christmas Day is highlighted by LeBron James and Co. visiting Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (5 p.m. ET, ABC).
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Christmas Day clashes bring back fond memories


Posted Dec 21 2009 8:25PM

The memories in the Ford home include everything you'd expect at Christmas. The decorated tree lighting up their house, the gifts underneath waiting to get unwrapped and family feasting on mom's best meal of the year.

And, of course, NBA basketball.

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"For us, it was an event," Pacers point guard T.J. Ford said. "You'd open presents, have a big meal, then all of your family members -- everybody would get in front of the TV -- and watch two of the better teams in the NBA go at it. It was something in my household growing up that we'd look forward to and continue to watch those games every Christmas."

The NBA began playing on Christmas Day with the inception of the league in the late 1940s, but it wasn't until 1983 that those games started becoming a household tradition. CBS and ESPN televised the first Christmas games that year with New Jersey-New York and Los Angeles Lakers-Portland, respectively.

The annual event has grown to five games this year, matching the most ever on Christmas. ABC tips off its NBA season with a doubleheader of league heavyweights. Boston visits Orlando (2:30 p.m. ET) in an Eastern Conference clash before Cleveland locks horns with the Lakers (5 p.m.)

The Lakers are as much a part of Christmas as stockings over the fireplace, having played a league-high 35 times on Dec. 25. (New Orleans and Toronto have the fewest, each with just one appearance each.)

"You always remember watching the Lakers," Mavericks sixth man Jason Terry said. "I remember the theme song would come on for the NBA on NBC, and you would see the 'Seasons Greetings' underneath on the screen."

The Lakers have been part of ABC's highest-rated game each year since 2002. Kobe Bryant and the defending champs look to continue the streak this year against LeBron James and Co. ESPN has a trio of Christmas games, starting with the Knicks headed down the coast to Miami at noon. Coverage picks up after Lakers-Cavs with the L.A. Clippers at Phoenix (8 p.m.) before the Christmas night ends (10:30 p.m.) in Portland with Denver coming to town.

Magic center Dwight Howard views having to head into the office on Christmas as a reward, not a burden.

"I don't see a challenge," he said. "We're playing basketball on Christmas. We couldn't help it. If you play on a pretty good team and if you have to play on Christmas, so be it. I enjoy it. I'd rather be playing on Christmas than sitting at home wishing I was playing on Christmas. I like it. I think it's fun."

Terry, a Seattle native, enjoyed last year's Dallas win at Portland on Christmas for several reasons.

"That was as close to home as I could get," he said. "My family came on the trip and we had a nice Christmas dinner. It was fun because growing up as a kid, you watch those games, but being a part of it really meant something to me after being in the league 10 years."

Christmas has provided its share of memorable moments. The Lakers and Celtics met last year in a Finals rematch. Knicks great Bernard King scored 60 against the Nets in 1984. Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing staged an epic duel in 1986, with New York prevailing on Ewing's last-second jumper.

Tracy McGrady, then of the Magic, outscored a rookie named LeBron James 41-34 in a 2003 shootout. Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal have authored their share of highlights, and they also happen to be the two active leaders in Christmas scoring.

They'll be adding to their totals and our holiday memories soon enough.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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