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NBA just gives fans what they want
The war on the “war on Christmas” trudges into yet another year. No exit strategy has been settled upon, no deadline to withdraw from yearly finger pointing about who is destroying this Christian holy day. So we engage in the same fights about nativity scenes in courthouse lawns and express outrage about an $8.75-an-hour-clerk saying “Happy Holidays.”
Only the rhetoric and volume change.
I have slight buy in with this “war on Christmas” narrative, especially as we inch closer and closer to turning what is a meaningful religious holiday for many into just another day of excessive consumption — of stuff, of food and of sports. Where this crowd loses me is how they can rage against the clerk following company policy yet be complicit with another slate of NBA games on Christmas Day this year.
Because what says holy day more than Nuggets-Clippers?
We will watch. Ratings say we watch in crazy numbers every year.
And we would have watched the NFL, too, if it had played. The league made the decision this year not to have Monday Night Football since it would have fallen on Christmas Eve. If they had, I guarantee the ratings would have been crazy good.
So who again is taking the meaning out of Christmas — corporations, sports league or us? Because while I fervently believe and annually write that the NBA and NFL should not play games on Christmas, what I also know for sure is NBA commissioner David Stern is not personally warring against anything, much less Jesus and Santa.
This seems necessary to point out after San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins accused Stern of “ruining Christmas for far too many people” in a recent column. He has since apologized, which is good because the column doubled down on this stupidity by saying Stern does this because -- wait for it -- “Stern, who celebrates Hanukkah, has no real feel for Christmas in the first place.”
Like if Stern only had a personalized knitted stocking, a Christmas tree and a picture on Santa’s lap to draw on from his childhood, he would quit tempting us with Lakers-Knicks.
The column fits perfectly into the false outrage about the “war of Christmas.” We are always blaming others — Stern, atheist parents, Jewish parents, the First Amendment and its clear and concise language about a separation of church and state — for taking Christ out of Christmas. This is a straw man.
Christ cannot be taken out of Christmas without our express written permission, just like God cannot be taken out of Yom Kippur. He is always there. The real question is do we include Him in our celebration?
Because we choose how we celebrate the day — with a TV blaring or with conversation with family, with Kobe or with the guy we proclaim is the reason for the season.
I happen to disagree with playing games on Christmas. Full disclosure: This is slightly selfish. I hate being away from my family on Christmas, and Thanksgiving for that matter. I know I am not alone. I have had many NBA and NFL players tell me how much they hate playing on a day that is very meaningful to them and their faith. There are bigger reasons, too. It would not kill us to have a couple of days of the year where our focus is on our families, where our TVs are off, where the centerpiece of a day we proclaim to be holy is not sports.
This is not judgment. There is no right way to celebrate.
Church. Or floor seats.
A game of Scrabble. Or Knicks-Lakers.
Tree. Or menorah. Or none of the above.
It is less about the games and more about the hypocrisy. We demand everybody respect our holiday, but do we? Is turning Christmas into just another day of sports really respectful?
The truth is scheduling games on Christmas is good business for the NBA. Why Stern has his league play games from sun up to sundown on Christmas Day is because we watch them. It has nothing to do with faith or lack thereof, and absolutely nothing to do with the faith of the commissioner.
The NHL (when it is actually having seasons) shuts down on Dec. 24 and 25 not because commissioner Gary Bettman “has a feel for Christmas.” He is Jewish. It has to do with him listening to players who said they wanted to be home with their families.
When we talked a year ago about the NHL’s decision not to play on Christmas, Bettman and I actually laughed at the idea that he would not get this because he is Jewish.
“Christmas is one of those days in North America where, no matter what religion you are, things come to a halt,” he said at the time. “And is that such a bad thing?”
What Bettman seems to get better than anybody is what I have written many times. We do not exclude others when we insist on honoring our beliefs and keeping them holy. We exclude others when we refuse to do likewise for them when it comes to theirs.
We do not honor the Reason for the season when we demand people say Merry Christmas, or scream about the lack of a decorated tree at the public school, or put the onus on others to make our days holy.
Because if this is indeed a war, as we are being sold, what side are you on if you choose to spend the day with LeBron instead of the One whose birthday it is?