Game Preview | Excitement Surrounds Christmas Day Opportunity
NEW YORK, NY - The NFL has Thanksgiving. Major League Baseball, the spring-summer trifecta of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. In the NHL, prominent games are often played on Black Friday, or New Year’s Day.
The signature date on the NBA calendar, however, is undoubtedly Christmas, with this season marking the 70th time that December 25th serves as a showcase for some of the league’s most compelling match-ups, and captivating players.
Visiting the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Monday (12:00 PM EST; ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), the 76ers will help lead off a day-long quintuple header. The Christmas Day appearance will mark the 30th in franchise history, but the Sixers’ first since 2001, when they squared off against the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center in a Finals redux.
While trying to help a team with budding young talent and proven veterans reverse its current course, Brett Brown remains enthusiastic about the Sixers having the chance to step back into the national spotlight, particularly for the prominent Christmas billing.
“I love it,” Brown said Sunday, after overseeing a practice in Lower Manhattan. “I love the fact that the club has provided for our players’ families to come to New York with us. I love the fact that it’s proximity, and you still can enjoy Christmas at home later in the evening.”
For the 56-year old who grew up in a hoops household, the association between Christmas and basketball conjures nostalgia.
“I just remember as a child watching Christmas Day NBA basketball,” said Brown, the son of an accomplished New England high school and college coach. “It was always a treat.”
The tone Brown set Sunday during the Sixers’ hour-long workout in Lower Manhattan was one part determination, another part transparency.
“We aren’t accepting losing,” he said, refusing to point to injuries or scheduling as excuses. “This doesn’t represent who we are.”
In his four-plus years with the Sixers, Brown has traditionally broken down the 82-game NBA campaign into thirds: opening night to Christmas, Christmas to the All-Star Game break, and from the All-Star break through to the regular season finale.
He considers Monday’s pairing with a long-time rival to be a timely juncture for the Sixers to reset goals, and start fresh.
“You add it all up, it’s a privilege, it’s a tremendous opportunity, and we’re excited to go represent the organization, represent it the way we want to represent it,” said Brown. “Lately, that’s not who we are. We want to cleanse ourselves a little bit, and reclaim who we really are.”
In the spirit of the day, we’ll leave you with a collection of memories from members of the Sixers about some of the basketball-related items they’ve received on Christmas throughout their lives.
“Every Christmas I ever had, certainly my childhood life, and probably into my 20s - not so much anymore - but as a kid, every year featured a Nerf ball hoop, a new rim, some kind of basketball game. I’m the son of a coach. There was always something. It could have been a basketball lollipop in your stocking, it could have been anything, but it was something.”
“Probably a [basketball] video game. I played a fair amount of NBA Live. It’s screwed up. I was always two systems behind, so the bits would double every time, so by the time Nintendo 64 was out, I still had SEGA Genesis 16-bit for Christmas, that’s what I was getting. My parents were waiting for everything to go on-sale. I was a little behind.”
“I got a jersey the first year I started playing basketball of Tony Parker. That made me really happy, because that was my favorite player at that time. Spurs jersey, No. 9, white with the black number and the name on the back, that was great.”
“I always watched the games on Christmas when I was in France, playing in Europe, growing up. It just means a lot to play and be able to be on the court, especially at Madison Square Garden.”
“I cannot remember exactly, but for sure I got sneakers for Christmas, or shoes. I got a couple times I remember Batman or Spiderman toys. That was my Christmas, pretty similar to here. You’re with your family.”
“Video games for sure. I’m talking NBA Live, like ‘98, with Antoine Walker on the cover. Got one of those, and then my best gift ever was a reversible Allen Iverson jersey, when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I used to wear it every day in the summer. I literally probably wore it every day, and my mom would be like, ‘Take it off so I can wash it.’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I can just flip the side on the white side, and it’s not dirty anymore.’ I used to hide the jersey from her just so I could wear it outside to play ball in. That’s one of the best basketball-related Christmas gifts I got, because at the time, I had braids, and Allen Iverson was my favorite person in the world. I was a real Iverson fan. I met him the other day when he was at the [Sixers] game.”
“My favorite gift was my mom [who worked at a sporting goods store] getting me a rim [10 or 11 years old]. It allowed us to always be outside, and gave us something to do during the summer. It kept us a lot out of the streets, just everybody used to be at my house, everybody on the block, we’d play basketball in the backyard, my little brothers would play, and my love for [basketball] began. My mom bought us so much stuff that we were able to do different things, and be into so many different things, and allowed us to stay off the streets, and made us more focused, rather than get caught in stuff in the streets.”
“[My parents] got me a Fisher-Price rim when I was younger, so I had to be 3 or 4. That was special. It was kind of how it started so that’s something I’ll always remember. Got plenty of video games. I remember NBA Courtside with Kobe Bryant. It’s a video game on Nintendo. It was the first basketball game I had; I’ll always remember that. And Jordan 11s when I was round 10. My parents did a great job on Christmas.”
With the NBA season approaching its halfway mark (!, that is not a typo), the New York Knicks currently assume the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Leading the way has been Kristaps Porzingis, who paces his club with an average of 24.7 points per game, while adding 6.7 boards and 2.0 blocks per tilt. He will certainly command the Sixers’ full attention.
“He can shoot over anybody,” Brett Brown said Sunday.
Which begs the coverage question, do you try to defend Porzingis with someone of similar height, or do you go with a slightly smaller option, like Robert Covington, Dario Saric, or Ben Simmons, more nimble guys who could crowd the Latvian a bit more?
“He’s gifted,” Brown said of Porzingis. “He’s so unusual to our league, and he’s one of the very unique features of our league because of his skill set and his size.”
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / ESPN
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network