Is playing on Christmas necessary?
That’s the question that then-Philadelphia 76ers guard Doug Collins asked 35 years ago in a 939-word Chicago Tribune opinion piece, written before a 1978 Christmas game against the New York Knicks. His answer: a resounding no.
While the Sixers haven’t played on Christmas since 2001, the holiday game used to be an annual tradition. In fact, the team had Christmas games during almost every season of Doug Collins’ eight-year NBA career spanning from 1973-81.
Collins said the games were exciting at first, but the Sixers’ 1973 first overall pick was sick of the tradition by his sixth season. Tired of spending time away from his two young children during the holiest of holidays, the Sixers shooting guard voiced his displeasure in the Tribune, in the most Doug Collins of ways.
Take it away, Doug:
“My daughter Kelly is only a year old, so she doesn’t really understand everything yet, but my son Chris is 4 now and Santa Claus is a very important person to him. You like to be there to see his reactions when he opens his gifts, which this year we’ll hopefully be able to do. We won’t be playing until the afternoon [3 p.m. Chicago time], so we [the team] probably won’t be leaving Philadelphia until 11. At least that way I’ll be able to enjoy a little bit of the excitement the day before I have to go.
BUT I’VE NEVER spent all of a Christmas Day with Chris, and he just doesn’t understand why I have to leave at all. He’ll say things like, “Daddy, why do you have to go?” Or, “Daddy, why can’t you sit home and help me put my toys together?” Shoot, I don’t do that very well anyway, I’m so bad I have to hire the neighbors to do it, but at least I’d like to be there to give it a try.”
The worst part is the mental part, Collins wrote.
“You get up and you just want to enjoy the little ones’ excitement over Santa Claus and all the gifts. You just hate to leave them. You keep thinking about sitting home by the fireplace, watching the Christmas tree, but then you have to get up, pack your bag, and leave. Once you get on the bus or to the arenas, it isn’t too bad. But tearing yourself away can be awful tough.”
It’s a compelling, heartfelt essay–like a Collins 2012 postseason press conference, in written form. Bringing little Chris and Kelly into it was a nice touch, too.
But lest not forget what he’s trying to do here, and that’s taking away every NBA fan’s favorite Christmas tradition. One that’s been alive since 1947. For what it’s worth (very little, probably), the Sixers-Knicks Christmas tradition died in 1978.
Collins, of course, isn’t the only Grinch to try and steal Christmas basketball. When he was coaching the Orlando Magic in 2009, Stan Van Gundy said the league should have fewer games on the holidays.
“I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game,” Van Gundy said.
Phil Jackson expressed similar sentiments in 2010 when he was coaching the Lakers.
“I don’t think anybody should play on Christmas Day,” Jackson said. “I don’t understand it.”
Collins, however, might be the first NBA player to attack the tradition in print. In my admittedly not-that-thorough search through New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post archives, Collins’ essay was the only one of its kind, before and after 1978.
And so, we’ve found yet another reason to dislike the Sixers’ former coach: Collins was a leader, if not the leader, of the War on Christmas Basketball. Not only does he does he hate fun things like 3-pointers, advanced metrics, and slow defensive rotations, but he’s also against holiday fun.