For Wade and others, NBA Christmas games remain a privilege
Christmas has already been celebrated at Dwyane Wade's house. His wife and kids unwrapped their presents on Wednesday night, since waiting until Sunday morning wasn't an option this year.
Dad's got to work. Again.
Wade will wake up on Christmas morning in San Antonio, instead of being with his family in Chicago. He's part of the NBA's lineup on Christmas for the 12th time in his 14 professional seasons - and even though it meant having a nontraditional holiday celebration, the Bulls guard still relishes being part of the league's showcase day.
''I won't lie to you and say it means as much as it did when I was young or when I got to be in my first Christmas game,'' Wade said. ''But it is still special. At the end of the day, no matter what's happened in my career, the NBA has put me on Christmas, let me play on Christmas, let me be part of Christmas. One day, I won't be playing. But for now, it's still so cool.''
The annual Christmas quintupleheader - highlighted by the NBA Finals rematch of Golden State visiting champion Cleveland - involves 10 teams, five arenas, hundreds of players and team employees, who-knows-how-many workers in those various buildings and will draw about 100,000 fans.
And no fewer than seven other teams will be traveling at some point on Christmas, because they play on Dec. 26.
''It's not a burden,'' Cavaliers guard James Jones said. ''You come to find out that it's a privilege because if you're playing on Christmas, that means you are on one of the good teams. You're one of the teams people want to see. You don't lose sight that our business, my business, is entertainment and there's no better time to play than when everyone is at home.''
It's a smorgasbord of basketball, starting with Boston visiting New York at noon and followed by Golden State at Cleveland, Chicago at San Antonio, Minnesota at Oklahoma City and the Clippers visiting the Lakers in the building they share in Los Angeles.
The league's schedule mandate is simple: There's usually a Finals rematch, and the other four games are about finding matchups of high-profile teams or players and hoping fans at home watch.
And they will. There's two NFL games on Christmas as well, but the NBA always is a huge TV draw on Dec. 25.
''It's the responsibility of being the best,'' Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said. ''You're going to play on Christmas.''
LeBron James is playing on Christmas for the 11th time, Pau Gasol for the ninth time, and Chris Paul and Kevin Durant will be making their seventh appearances. Some of the league's next stars - Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins - all will make Christmas debuts.
''Being able to play on Christmas is like a privilege,'' Wiggins said. ''Not a lot of people get to do that. Usually it's the best teams in the league or the most exciting teams, and for the NBA to think that we're one of the most exciting teams to play on Christmas, that says a lot for us.''
There's obvious inconvenience, but Boston's Jae Crowder said it gets canceled out by the opportunity.
Besides, it's a 40-minute flight from New York to Boston. That means he'll be home for Christmas night.
''This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal for me,'' Crowder said.
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony abhors day games. He makes an exception once a year. For him, the atmosphere on Dec. 25 at Madison Square Garden is as Christmasy as the North Pole.
''You can't beat playing in the Garden on Christmas,'' Anthony said. ''I mean, that's a dream come true for people and I know, I remember watching games in New York and that feeling. It's a different feel playing here on Christmas.''
Memphis coach David Fizdale wants that feeling again.
He spent the past eight seasons as an assistant in Miami, and the Heat were a Christmas fixture on the NBA schedule during his tenure. The rebuilding Heat weren't picked this year, nor were the Grizzlies - something Fizdale hopes to change soon.
''Our guys (in Miami) really got up for that Christmas game,'' Fizdale said. ''They all got their new Christmas shoes that they could wear that day, and the new Christmas uniforms. They knew everyone was watching that game. That was always a great game to watch and at some point, while I'm here, we're going to get ourselves on Christmas Day.''
AP Basketball Writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Brian Mahoney in New York, AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and Associated Press Writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.