Sports

Will Christmas Be the Same Without a Nationally Televised Knicks Loss?

The NBA has canceled a sacred tradition.

Knick Marcus Morris grimacing as he gets stuffed (and fouled) on a layup against the Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein
New York Knicks forward Marcus Morris playing balletic, festive basketball against Golden State Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein at Chase Center in San Francisco on Dec. 11. Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

Holiday traditions are much more noticeable when they’re absent. Why didn’t Aunt Denise come over for dinner? (Gout.) Where did my Singing Elvis ornament go? (Garbage.) How come the cat isn’t wearing her Christmas sweater? (Trauma.) We’re surrounded by familiar sights, smells, and sounds during the festive season, and the removal of even the most insignificant holiday element can have the same effect as rudely yanking the bottom block from a wobbly Jenga tower. Thanks to the NBA, that merry edifice is set to come tumbling down this year: You won’t be able to watch the New York Knicks lose on Christmas Day.

Before this season started, the league’s schedule-makers determined in their infinite wisdom that the Knicks would be irrelevant come Dec. 25 and unworthy of a national TV spot. They were correct, naturally, and the Knicks are currently tied for the second-worst record in the league (7–23).

No team has played more games on Christmas than the Knickerbockers. The team helped start this NBA tradition when it beat the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden in 1947. New York has played 53 Christmas games total—and it’s lost 31 of those festive affairs, which is also an NBA record. (The Lakers come in second with 22 Christmas losses, though they’ve only played 45 games.)

Six of New York’s Christmas losses occurred this decade, with their most recent holiday success coming against the Boston Celtics in 2011. (A key member of the Knicks squad that day was Toney Douglas, who currently plays for Movistar Estudiantes, the 16th best team in Spain.) Since that thrilling victory, the Knicks have lost to the Lakers, Thunder, Wizards, Celtics, Sixers, and Bucks. Their average margin of defeat during that span was 12 points, though that number is skewed by a 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City in 2013. After that game, then–Thunder star Kevin Durant commented on the overwhelmingly unfestive atmosphere in Madison Square Garden. “I said that on the bench, I was like, ‘Man, it feels like nobody’s in here.’ ” (It was a sellout crowd.)

How dare the NBA take this wonderful tradition away from us? The War on Christmas is fake, but the assault on Knicksmas is very real, and it sets a very scary precedent. The last time the team didn’t play on the holiday was 2015, and we all know how 2016 turned out.

It doesn’t matter that the Knicks again find themselves among the NBA’s worst teams. Christmas games aren’t about competitiveness. If they were, the Zion Williamson–less New Orleans Pelicans, who have the same record as New York, would surely get bumped. Same goes for the Golden State Warriors, who are 6–24 and clearly don’t want to be playing basketball on any day, let alone Christmas. The purpose of these games is not for entertainment, but rather to fill our TVs with color and movement while we fade into a lifeless holiday stupor. It’s a role the Knicks were born to play.

People crave familiarity and comfort when enveloped by this eggnog-induced torpor. Anything more is a shock to the system. That’s dangerous! There’s a reason TBS plays A Christmas Story on repeat for 24 hours straight. Similarly, a yuletide Knicks game follows its own consistent script: The ball gets tipped, a few hours pass, they lose. The middle section can get pretty dark, but, just like It’s a Wonderful Life, the macabre bits barely register after so many viewings.

Will Christmas even be Christmas without a Knicks loss? You can sing a million carols and eat bûche de Noël ’til you puke, but nothing will replace the festive feeling of Marcus Morris bricking a 27-footer with 19 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Bah humbug.