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NBA’s Christmas Tradition Turns 75 This Year, But Competition from NFL Awaits

This Christmas, the NBA is celebrating 75 years of serving its fans a side of hoops to go along with its turkey.

Although the tradition has reached its diamond anniversary, the current all-day, multi-game television extravaganza is a more modern phenomena.

There was only one Christmas Day game as recently as 2006, and it was normal for there to be two or fewer games on the holiday from the mid 1980s to the mid 2000s.

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Still, Christmas Day and the NBA have become so synonymous over the years, some think it should serve as the opening day of the season — which it nearly did in 2020 because of COVID-19.

The Christmas NBA schedule is certainly a boon to online sports betting and television networks, drawing attention from many Americans who’ve already experienced a little too much family togetherness.

But no matter how engrained basketball has become as a Christmas escape, there’s one sport that might give even Santa a run for his money in terms of holiday popularity — the NFL —and it’s coming for the NBA this Dec. 25.

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Christmas Day NBA Schedule

  • Philadelphia at New York, noon, ABC
  • L.A. Lakers at Dallas, 2:30 p.m., ABC
  • Milwaukee at Boston, 5 p.m., ABC
  • Memphis at Golden State, 8 p.m., ABC
  • Phoenix at Denver 10:30 p.m., ABC

Christmas Day NFL Schedule

  • Green Bay at Miami, 1 p.m., FOX
  • Denver at L.A. Rams, 4:30 p.m., CBS
  • Tampa Bay at Arizona, 8:20 p.m., NBC

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NFL Features Limited Christmas Schedule

While the NBA loads up its Christmas schedule every season, the NFL only plays on the holiday when the calendar falls just right.

And even this year, with Christmas on a Sunday, the NFL is playing its full schedule Saturday and featuring just three games Sunday.

Despite having only one team above .500 in those three games, the NFL will dominate the day when it comes to viewership.

In 2021, 12 of the 14 most-watched primetime TV telecasts were NFL games. Of the top 100 telecasts, only one NBA game made the list — Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals at No. 58.

The story is the same on Christmas. Last year, Cleveland vs. Green Bay on FOX had more than 28 million viewers, five times the audience of the most viewed NBA game of the day (Brooklyn vs. L.A. Lakers, 5.75 million).

Even the NFL Network broadcast of Indianapolis vs. Arizona doubled the viewership of Brooklyn-LA.

The most watched Christmas Day NBA game of the last seven years was the first of three straight holiday meetings between Golden State and Cleveland in 2015, which drew more than 11 million viewers with no NFL competition.

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NFL Christmas Viewership Since 2015

Year Matchup Network Audience
🏈 2016 Denver vs. Kansas City NBC 21.4 million
🏈 2016 Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh NFL NET 14.77 million
🏈 2017 Pittsburgh vs. Houston NBC 16.9 million
🏈 2017 Oakland vs. Philadelphia ESPN 11.7 million
🏈 2020 Minnesota vs. New Orleans FOX, NFL NET 20.1 million
🏈 2021 Cleveland vs. Green Bay FOX, NFL NET 28.59 million
🏈 2021 Indianapolis vs. Arizona NFL NET 12.6 million

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Top Christmas NBA Viewership Since 2015

Year Matchup Network Audience
🏀 2015 Golden State vs. Cleveland ABC 11.166 million
🏀 2016 Golden State vs. Cleveland ABC 10.1 million
🏀 2017 Golden State vs. Cleveland ABC 8.8 million
🏀 2018 Golden State vs. L.A. Lakers ABC 10.21 million
🏀 2019 L.A. Clippers vs. L.A. Lakers ABC 8.76 million
🏀 2020 Dallas vs. L.A. Lakers ABC, ESPN 7.01 million
🏀 2021 Brooklyn vs. L.A. Lakers ABC, ESPN 5.75 million

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What to Watch on Christmas Day

This year’s Christmas Day lineup is made for NFL betting — unless you’re a fan of one of the teams playing, you’ll need to have a wager on these games to make them interesting.

If you can only watch one NFL game on Christmas, make sure to wrap up lunch early, as Green Bay vs. Miami at 1 p.m. on FOX figures to be the only appointment viewing of the day.

The Dolphins are currently a game behind Buffalo for the AFC East lead. Green Bay is struggling, but there’s always Aaron Rodgers — if he can stay healthy for one more game.

The Denver-L.A. Rams game at 4:30 p.m. will put the popularity of the NFL to the test. Each team has three wins, and the Rams (currently missing three of their best players) will likely go down as the worst follow-up Super Bowl champ in history.

The NBA is counter-programming the NFL’s worst game of the day with its best — at least in terms of records. Milwaukee and Boston, currently the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference and the top two NBA title favorites at BetMGM Sportsbook, face off at 5 p.m. on ABC.

Both leagues feature some of their biggest star power in prime time, as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson lead Golden State against Ja Morant and Memphis at 8 p.m., while the NFL kicks off 20 minutes later with Tom Brady and Tampa Bay against Arizona.

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