NBA: Lakers’ Jackson still down on Christmas games
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Phil Jackson says humbug to the NBA’s Christmas schedule.
The 11-time NBA champion coach restated his longtime opposition to Christmas games Tuesday night before his Los Angeles Lakers faced the Milwaukee Bucks in their final tuneup before Saturday’s visit from the Miami Heat.
“It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean to them anything any more,” Jackson said. “Just go out and play and entertain the TV. It’s really weird, but it is what it is. We have to go to work and make the best of it.”
Jackson is the son of two Christian ministers, and he famously wrote a book on his spiritual growth related to basketball.
The Lakers have played on every Christmas since 1999, including three straight games against the Heat during Shaquille O’Neal’s tenure after his trade from Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant has played on Christmas in 13 of his 15 NBA seasons – not including the 1998-99 season, which didn’t begin until the new year due to the lockout.
Jackson hates the Lakers’ annual spot in the showcase, noting the NHL and most other major sports usually take Christmas off.
“I don’t think anybody should play on Christmas Day,” Jackson said. “I don’t understand it.”
The coach doesn’t sound interested in voicing those concerns in person to commissioner David Stern, however.
“He’ll see it,” Jackson said with a grin.
Jackson also objects to the proliferating number of Christmas games in recent seasons, after many years with a single or two holiday games. The NBA has scheduled five for Saturday, with Bryant’s showdown against LeBron James and the revamped Heat at center stage.
Jackson said the timing of the game – and the 2 p.m. local start time, 5 1/2 hours earlier than the Lakers’ usual tip-off – will reduce its importance.
“It’s going to be Christmas, and you’re going to have little kids putting batteries in toys and putting their Christmas presents together,” Jackson said. “There’s all kinds of crazy stuff going on, and now your head has got to get focused on the game, in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day.”
Jackson believes the Lakers got overly amped about last season’s Christmas meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading to a painful loss that ended with fans throwing dozens of novelty foam hands onto the court. A year earlier, Los Angeles snapped the Boston Celtics’ 19-game winning streak in a rematch of the 2008 NBA finals.
Jackson would prefer to see those historic moments on other calendar dates.
“When I was in the CBA, we had a commissioner who scheduled a Christmas Eve game. I had to call him up and say, ‘That’s the holy time,”‘ Jackson said. “You just have to keep reminding them that this is a special day.”