NBA working overtime on Christmas

Congressmen who complained about the prospect of working during the week between Christmas and New Year’s should be grateful they don’t have the hops to play in the NBA.

Christmas Day has become the NBA’s annual coming-out party, a showcase for marquee franchises. At first blush, that makes a bit of sense, with a limited college football bowl menu to provide distraction at holiday gatherings.

For the past few years, however, the key matchup has been supplanted by an all-day orgy. Double- and triple-headers are for sissies. We’re talking a quintuple-header — roughly 13 straight hours of pro basketball, beginning at noon Eastern time and spilling past midnight, around the time masochists start lining up for post-holiday sales.

Frankly, there isn’t much I can envision doing for 13 hours, even back when I was in college and still had some semblance of stamina.

The day tips off with Bulls vs. Knicks on ESPN. The action then shifts to sister broadcaster ABC (both are owned by Disney) for Celtics vs. Magic, followed by the pièce de résistance, Heat at Lakers. This ensures the required stereotypical shots of palm trees and shirtless outdoor hoops while much of the United States is freezing its butt off.

After that, it’s back to ESPN for Nuggets-Thunder (which actually might be the day’s most entertaining contest) and Trail Blazers-Warriors.

Not everyone, even in the NBA, is thrilled by this holiday gluttony. When the NBA and ESPN inaugurated the five-game blitz two years ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson — who loves jabbing at the league — called his team’s Christmas showdown against Boston a “gimmick game,” forcing the Lakers to suit up with scant rest coming off a four-game trip just to satisfy the TV gods.

As if to underscore how this trend has taken root, including this year, Lakers star Kobe Bryant has laced up his sneakers on Christmas Day for 12 consecutive seasons. Nobody needs to hold any bake sales for Bryant, admittedly, but opening presents with the kids once again will take a back seat to figuring out how to defend against Miami’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who apparently has a standing Dec. 25 date with Bryant, having faced him last year with Cleveland.

Mostly, the Christmas crush is symbolic of a TV landscape where anything worth doing is worth really overdoing.

That’s certainly true of the other major holiday-season sports viewing option, college bowl games, which have gone the opposite route, having scattered from their traditional New Year’s Day lineup. Yes, there are still a half-dozen Jan. 1 games, including the Rose Bowl, but the main attractions happen over the next nine days, featuring seven bowls culminating in the BCS championship on Jan. 10.

By then, if you’re still watching college football nursing a New Year’s Eve hangover, it’s probably a sign you’re in need of professional counseling.

Given that the NBA’s Christmas matchups were devised months in advance, at least give credit to schedule-setters for lining up a genuinely appetizing assortment of games, mostly involving division leaders. By that measure, Trail Blazers-Warriors stands out as the one pairing that doesn’t justify the electricity required to keep the set on for another 2-1/2 hours.

Being asked to play on Christmas in NBA circles — which one sportswriter accurately called “the price of prosperity” — has come to mirror the distinction that traditionally existed between New Year’s Day bowls and the consolation prizes with funny names that precede them. Laboring on the holiday separates contenders from pretenders, which might explain why the Lakers’ geographic companion, the Clippers, have sat idly every Christmas except one since 1992.

As Orlando center Dwight Howard said last year: “I’d rather be playing on Christmas than sitting at home wishing I was playing on Christmas.”

That’s the spirit, not-so-tiny Dwight. And God bless us, everyone. Even the Clippers.