'Wait, what day is it?' (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Basketball fans will wake up on Tuesday morning to find a full slate of NBA games under their Christmas trees, beginning with a 12 p.m. ET tip between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, ending with a prime-time West Coast battle between the streaking Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, and featuring a trio of marquee stocking-stuffer matchups crammed in the middle. One of those hotly anticipated contests will see the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks travel to Hollywood to take on the 13-14 Los Angeles Lakers, who've struggled out of the gate due in part to injuries to stars like Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, but are finally starting to get healthy as the new year approaches.
While a jam-packed day of hoops is just about the perfect present for any NBA die-hard — assuming, of course, your local music retailer was all sold out of "A Very NBA Christmas" — it's not always so nice for the athletes who have to lace 'em up instead of relaxing with the family. To hear Lakers forward Metta World Peace tell it, the regular work schedule not only bums out his young ones — it actually makes him forget about the holiday entirely. From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
"My kids don't like it. My youngest doesn't like it at all," [he] said. "I'm to a point now I forget it's Christmas, to tell you the truth. I buy the presents and I'm never home, so I totally forget about Christmas."
Methinks Ron-Ron's exaggerating just a bit about going all "Memento" about the merriment and mistletoe — after all, he did take part in belting out the Lakers' recent rendition of "Deck the Halls", and has gone on recordwith Jeff Zilgitt of USA TODAY Sports as someone who he loves Christmas music: "Like I love when it's like Nov. 28 and you hear that first Christmas song. That's the best feeling ever."
Not the best feeling ever, according to Metta? Missing the chance to spend Christmas Day with your loved ones, which World Peace will do on Tuesday for the fourth straight year since joining the Lakers before the 2009-10 season. Before that, though, he'd actually never played on Christmas Day before — not with the Chicago Bulls in 1999, 2000 or 2001, the Indiana Pacers in 2002, 2003 or 2005, the Sacramento Kings in 2006 or 2007, or the Houston Rockets in 2008. (Indy did play on Christmas Day back in 2004, but the forward formerly known as Ron Artest wasn't with them, because of reasons.)
So while he's become a Christmas mainstay these past few seasons, he's got nowhere near the yuletide resume of teammate Kobe Bryant, who has played on Christmas in 15 of his 17 NBA seasons — the Lakers weren't on the 1997-98 holiday slate, and nobody played on Christmas during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, which didn't begin until after New Year's Day. Given that — and given his famously Grinch-y exterior — you'd understand if Bryant had a similarly "Bah, humbug"-style attitude toward the holiday festivities. And yet:
"It's just something that I've come to expect," Bryant told Bolch. "My entire family is used to us playing on Christmas Day. I mean, we've been doing it for years, since my kids were born. It's kind of part of what we do."
Just-returned L.A. point guard Steve Nash — who will make the sixth Christmas Day appearance of his career on Tuesday, and his first since 2009 — takes a similar "it comes with the territory" approach.
"I make the most of it," Nash said. "Of course it throws a wrench in everything, but it's still a great opportunity to play the game we love."
(I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock of Steve Nash offering a more polished, P.R.-savvy reply to that question than Metta World Peace did.)
Still, while many fans eager to simply enjoy the best of the best strutting their stuff as they unwrap presents will likely razz World Peace and any other NBA players for coming off a bit grumpy about being paid gobs of money for a few hours' work on a holiday, it's easy to understand — and, if you try, empathize with — athletes who'd rather be roasting chestnuts over an open fire with their loved ones. On that score, NBA players — even ones like Metta World Peace — aren't much different than the rest of us.
In difficult situations like this, it can sometimes help to talk to someone, so we're glad to hear that Ron recently sat down to discuss the pressure he feels with trained — albeit young — professionals, as captured in this video from The NOC:
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