The Miami Heat tends to play games on Christmas Day. The squad has won the last two NBA titles, they made the Finals in 2011, and they also served as both a championship contender and league champion during the middle part of the last decade. This is a successful organization featuring several big stars, and the NBA and its broadcast partners likes to show those big names off.
Past and present Heat stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James likely don’t have an issue with that. What they don’t appreciate, as much, is the fact that the Heat also tends to play their Christmas games on the road. For four times in five years. Dang.
According to Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick, incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver promised LeBron James and his team a home Christmas game in 2014 if the franchise pulls off its third straight title in 2013-14, something that has been accomplished by only two teams in NBA history. LeBron proceeded to furrow a few eyebrows after that:
"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."
The Heat have played at home on Christmas before, taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Miami in 2006, back when people still cared about whether or not Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would bump fists before a game. And LeBron has played at home on Christmas before, taking on the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards in Christmas games in 2008 and 2009. Beyond that, though, the Heat have been on the road in either Los Angeles or New York, only playing at home with LeBron one time in a Finals rematch against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.
James is correct about Michael Jordan, too. He only played on the road on Christmas once, in a famous contest at Madison Square Garden that saw Patrick Ewing ruin MJ’s day with a last second game-winning jumper in 1986. Beyond that, the Bulls always worked from home – the league even blessed us Bulls fans with home contests on Christmas when Jordan was retired in 1993 and 1994.
Of course, those Chicago contests featured rabid fans that were in their seats (early and often, to use the local parlance) in time for the national television cameras. And even without Kobe Bryant suiting up on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers fans filled the Staples Center in time for the klieg lights to go on.
Miami fans? They tend to take their time. They also tend to leave early. We don’t doubt that there are scores of rabid and mindful Miami Heat fans out there that we don’t want to lump in with the annoying fair-weather lot, but those fans don’t tend to fill the lower bowl. They’ll make up most of it, but they won’t exactly fill it – and that’s a significant distinction.
There’s no way of knowing if that deserved stereotype plays a role in the league deciding to send the Heat all over North America on Christmas, or if it’s just a scheduling quirk. After all, Oklahoma City fans are just as notorious for being at the arena and rather loud as the game readies itself for tip, and the NBA decided to put last year’s Christmas game in Miami. Fans showed up late for that one, too, as is their Miami custom; and it’s possible that Heat players are paying for that local indifference.
The NBA schedule makers have a devil of a time trying to figure these things out. One can be a cynic and point to the fact that the first three contests on Christmas Day took place in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Los Angeles; but during the summer most also thought both the Nets and Knicks would be fielding potential 50-win teams this season, and Kobe Bryant was expected back from his Achilles tear in time to take on LeBron and company. This isn’t the NFL, which can shuttle teams in and out of broadcast view in a 16-game season. The NBA has 82 games to think of, while conflicting with arena music tours and the NHL’s own schedule along the way. Putting this together isn’t easy.
Toss in the fact that Kobe Bryant is a sure draw, the knowledge that the Heat will bring in viewers no matter who the opponent is (the most viewed 2013-14 NBA game heading into Christmas was the Heat’s Wednesday night pairing against the small market Indiana Pacers), and those scores of empty seats in Miami’s lower bowl in the first and third quarters, and you can see why the NBA told the Heat to pack it up for the holiday.
It’s still an oddity, though, watching the NBA’s best player wear his Christmas road reds every time December 25 hits. And Michael Jordan never had to wear stupid sleeved jerseys, either.
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