Christmas Day belongs to basketball

Richard Jefferson

The NBA first began playing games on Christmas in 1947. Over the years, great individual and team performances took place, and playing on Dec. 25 has become as much a tradition as football games played on Thanksgiving.

Before last Sunday’s five NBA Christmas Day telecasts on ESPN and ABC, Analysts Richard Jefferson and J.J. Redick answered questions about the annual tradition from reporters, including the MSR, on Zoom.

“I remember my second year in the league,” recalled Jefferson when asked by the MSR. “We got a rematch with the Boston Celtics after we played them in the Conference Finals. That was my first Christmas Day game.

“Playing on Christmas is a mark of significance, it’s a mark of validation, and it carries meaning,” added Redick. “You know it’s going to be nationally broadcast—you got excited to play.”

Both analysts are former NBAers. Jefferson is a 2001 first-round draft pick who played in the league (2001-2018). Redick also was drafted in the first round in 2006 and played from 2006 to 2021.

“You’ve got NFL on Thanksgiving… Normally Christmas Day is basketball as football is Thanksgiving,” said Jefferson.

State of the Wolves to date:

Reporters also asked Jefferson and Redick their thoughts about the 2022-23 regular season, which is about one-third in the books. We asked them about the Minnesota Timberwolves, a club that came into the season with high expectations but for the most part has been up and down.

“I think things take time,” said Jefferson of the Wolves, who have undergone several changes during the off season because of a big trade that got veteran center Rudy Gobert from Utah. “I think people expect things to just go right away.  

“I think there’s some maturity thing that probably needs to happen with some of their younger players in general, and I also think that they’re lacking a true point guard to kind of manage the environment.

“I think D’Angelo Russell is talented,” observed Jefferson. “I just think it’s going to take time for that group to get together and figure out how to maximize Rudy, and Rudy to figure out how to fit in. But they gave up a lot [for Gobert], so they’re going to spend a lot of time to make it work.”

“I do think it takes time,” concurred Redick, “and I also think this league is all about fit.” He noted that he doesn’t like seeing center Karl-Anthony Towns playing away from the basket to accommodate the seven-foot Gobert—both are tall centers.

“I think that really affected him,” said Redick of Towns, who is currently out with an injury. “And I think it affected the team, and I think it affected ANT [Anthony Edwards].”

State of the NBA to date:

“I think Milwaukee is there,” stated Jefferson. “I think Memphis has that ability” to be a marquee team vying to win it all at season’s end, he added. “I think Brooklyn is undervalued. I think Cleveland is undervalued in the Eastern side.

“On the Western side, I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t think there’s anybody that would be kind of a dark horse coming out of the West. I think there’s five teams that are kind of trying to figure out who’s the best and who’s the dominant one.”

Jefferson concluded, “I don’t see any 60-win teams in the Western Conference. I think Boston and Milwaukee [in the East] could be 60-win teams. There’s a lot of talented teams, and I think that’s what makes the game fun.”

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