No matter what may happen throughout the year, we always have holidays to rekindle the relationships with friends and family that we haven't seen in a while. And few things compare to the unity created from rooting for a common team.
So, it's no surprise that sports and holidays have been synonymous with each other for a very long time. The NBA began playing on Christmas Day in 1947, just one year after its inception. The NFL has been playing on Thanksgiving since 1920. And the earliest known baseball game on the Fourth of July was in 1873.
Of course, baseball on July Fourth isn't as much about family as it is about the country, but being at a baseball game on that day has a special atmosphere. Ballparks are always sold out as people gather to celebrate America's independence with America's pastime. Jet flyovers, red, white and blue apparel, fireworks and civility among fans sweep the ballparks as camaraderie unites fans, regardless of fandom.
On the Fourth of July, fans at the ballpark become more than just fans, they become one big family.
That same sort of camaraderie exists among family later in the year, especially at Thanksgiving, which combines the three F's: family, food and football. Fans of the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have their yearly Thanksgiving routine planned around the game. Whether the meal is before or after the contest, it's always about the game and watching it together.
The NBA on Christmas doesn't have that same tradition element that's present with the NFL on Thanksgiving, probably because there aren't set teams that always on Christmas like the Cowboys or Lions. But the Christmas games are a feast for NBA fans with several marquee matchups — especially this year with the lockout being lifted.
In 2008, the NBA expanded the number of the day's games to five, giving each network that broadcasts games (ABC, ESPN and TNT) a piece of the action. The result is 13 straight hours of basketball, often featuring the best teams and players in the sport. It's the NBA's biggest day of the season, which is why players and owners rushed to the ratify a new collective bargaining agreement to make sure this year's games wouldn't be lost.
The NFL and NBA know families are going to be together on Thanksgiving and Christmas and market their games to appeal to watching as a family. It's the reason each league sets new ratings records every few years.
Other sports are trying to jump into holiday games, notably the NHL and its Winter Classic on New Year's Day. The NHL started the Winter Classic in 2008 and has been widely popular among hockey fans but will find it difficult to reach a national audience with college football's commanding presence on the same day (safe for this year when Jan. 1 falls on Sunday, the last week of the NFL regular season).
There's bound to be plenty of ratings to go around this year for the NFL and NBA. With Christmas falling on a Sunday, fans get a double whammy of basketball and football action. The NFL moved its slate of games to Saturday (Christmas Eve) with the Bears-Packers matchup being the lone Sunday game.
Now comes the question of how much we can get away with watching before being scolded by family to get off the couch. There's always the family member that tries to pull us away and wants to know what's going on in our lives. Of course, we'd rather have that conversation while watching.
Sports have become such a backdrop for our world today and the amount of sporting events on holidays reflect how important they are to us. Besides our family and friends, and maybe school and jobs, sports are toward the top of the totem pole for a lot of people.
So, when we can share our love of sports with the love of family and friends, that's a win-win.