With Christmas Day one of the most significant dates on the NBA regular-season schedule, it makes a certain amount of sense that the most high-profile teams are the ones featured on the holiday. And since the tradition of NBA Christmas goes back to 1947, it’s also logical that the oldest teams have played the most games on Christmas. But what franchises have the most and least appearances?
This year, 10 teams will add to their NBA Christmas tallies. Here is the schedule for Christmas Day 2021 (all times Eastern):
- Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks, noon
- Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks, 1:30 p.m.
- Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns, 4 p.m.
- Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers, 7 p.m.
- Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz, 9:30 p.m.
Before we get into which teams have played the most on NBA Christmas, what about the other end of the scale?
2 teams have never experienced an NBA Christmas
With NBA Christmas being a made-for-TV event, the league is looking for ratings. That leads to the NBA favoring the most popular teams for the coveted slots.
Two teams have yet to make the cut for Christmas Day games. The Charlotte Hornets launched in 1988, took a short hiatus when former owner George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002 and returned as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. The Memphis Grizzlies, late of Vancouver, have been around since 1995 and are still awaiting their first Christmas call.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors are next on the list. Each has appeared only twice. Minnesota made back-to-back appearances in 2016–17, while the Raptors were featured in 2001 and 2019. The Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, and New Orleans Pelicans have played four Christmas Day games (though Dallas will move up in the pecking order this year).
The top 3 teams on the NBA Christmas appearances list aren’t a surprise
It shouldn’t come as a shock that teams representing the two largest media markets in the U.S. top the list of most appearances on NBA Christmas.
The Knicks, one of the three original survivors from the old Basketball Association of America, made its first Christmas appearance in 1947, the same year the NBA (then the BAA) scheduled Christmas games. New York has made 52 Christmas appearances, with a record of 21–31. This year marks their first holiday game since 2018.
Next on the list is the Lakers. They were the Minneapolis Lakers when they played their first Christmas Day game in 1949, a year after they jumped from the National Basketball League to the BAA. The Lakers boast 46 Christmas appearances, and this year — much to the lament of LeBron James — extends a streak of consecutive appearances that began in 1999. The franchise is 24–22 on Christmas Day.
In third is the Boston Celtics. Another original BAA club, Boston has played 34 NBA Christmas games and is featured in 2021 for the sixth straight year. The Celtics first played an NBA Christmas contest in 1948 and played annually until 1959.
Three other teams top 30 appearances on Christmas. The Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers have played 32 times, with the Warriors playing 30 Christmas games.
The Lakers have perfect Christmas attendance in the 21st century
Since the turn of the century, the Lakers have been the only NBA team to make a Christmas Day appearance every year.
Five other teams have played in 10 or more NBA Christmas contests since 2001. The Miami Heat are second on that list with 12 games, and they are a sterling 11–1 in that span.
The Celtics are next with 11 NBA Christmas games, while the Knicks, Warriors, and Oklahoma City Thunder have appeared 10 times.
The Hawks will break a long gap between appearances this year when they play their first NBA Christmas game since 1989. Besides the Hornets and Grizzlies, Atlanta will pass that dubious honor to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings — who last qualified for the NBA Playoffs in 2006 — haven’t been featured on NBA Christmas since 2003.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.