This year, Christmas Day will be the same Southern California thing. The temperature will be in the eighties. The trees will still have leaves. Oscar hopeful movies will come to local theaters. And the Lakers will play a game.
Expect Jeanie Buss to greet as many fans as she can. Jack Nicholson or Denzel Washington or perhaps Rihanna will angle for camera time. The Laker Girls will entertain. Downtown L.A. will charge what feels like a month’s worth of rent for parking.
This isn’t new. If it is Christmas, the Lakers will be in action.
The Lakers have not missed a Christmas Day game in a very long time. It was December 25th 1997. (1998 was a lockout year, all Christmas Day games were cancelled).
In 1997, President Clinton was in office. Gas was $1.19 a gallon. The movie Titanic premiered. Been Around the World– Puff Daddy & the Family featuring Notorious B.I.G.- was the number one song two weeks before Christmas. The Florida Marlins won the World Series. Steve Jobs returned to Apple. And the Lakers did not play on Christmas Day.
The 1997-98 Lakers team had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, Elden Campbell and Rick Fox.
That year, the Lakers last game before Christmas Day was on December 21st and they played and beat the Houston Rockets on the road, their fifth game in six nights. The Lakers won by 11. Nineteen year old Kobe Bryant, a bench player, was the leading scorer with 19 points. He had 0 assists. Elden Cambell had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Van Exel had 10 assists. (Shaq didn’t play because of injury).
The Rockets team consisted of an old Clyde Drexler and an old Charles Barkley and old Kevin Willis. Beating them wasn’t very difficult even after a road trip with two back to backs. The Lakers improved to 21-6 but were not glamorous enough to play on Christmas Day.
The Rockets played the Jazz on Christmas. The Bulls played the Heat. The Lakers chilled before playing the Clippers at home on the 26th. 20 years later, they are doing the Lakers Xmas day thing, this time it is the last game on the schedule so half the country won’t see it. But it will be a showcase for lottery picks. Two number one picks: Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins. Two number two picks: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram. Add in veterans Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Brook Lopez and Luol Deng. The Timberwolves, because of their All-Star experienced talent in Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, are favored to win. They win the coach experience game as well, with Tom Thibodeau.
If the Wolves are really going to win 50 games and be a four seed as everyone is predicting, they should beat the young Lakers who are expected to win between 32-35 games. But stranger things have happened. Don’t count out a competitive game. Still, the Wolves will have the best players on the court in Towns, Wiggins and Butler. All three players have scored 40 points against the Lakers in their career.
Unlike the Lakers, the Timberwolves have been on television only once Xmas day. Last year. They lost to the OKC Thunder by 12.
Although the Lakers always play on Christmas Day, they rarely win which is something that is in the Wolves favor, besides the experience and talent advantage that is on the Wolves side. The Lakers are 21-21 on Xmas, but that’s irrelevant to those in the dark rooms of the NBA offices hammering out the schedule. They Lakers show up every year on Christmas Day because they bring in viewers. Lakers apologists, Lakers haters. This year the Lakers are even more polarizing with Lonzo Ball and daddy. The Lakers, even in the midst of rebuilding, make money for the league and so they will continue to haunt the airwaves. As long as the Lakers are the Lakers, meaning their three ring drama circus is front and center, they will show up on television during the holidays.
photo via llananba