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No holiday rest in sight for a certain NBA team

November 30, 2008|DAVID WHITLEY | Whitley is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

On the list of people you feel sorry for, NBA players generally rank just ahead of auto company CEOs. But even the guy in charge of bankrupting Chrysler can enjoy a holiday on his private island.

A select group of NBA players can't. The Orlando Magic is the only NBA team that will play on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve.

As if that weren't enough of a holiday downer, they also are scheduled to work on St. Patrick's Day, Groundhog Day and even America's highest holy day, Super Bowl Sunday.

Oh yeah, it all began with Halloween night in Memphis. When it comes to this year's schedule, it's all tricks and no treats.

"It's a little strange," Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I know it's all about TV, but at some point you'd think you wouldn't have to play both Thanksgiving and Christmas and you can get a holiday with your family."

Anthony Johnson has played for 12 teams in 11 years, and he can't remember one having to work so many holidays.

None of the players or coaches wants to come off as whiners. They know that 99.98% of America's work force would gladly trade jobs with them. And they wouldn't have jobs if America weren't so into sports.

But beneath the uniforms and seven-figure paychecks, they are people too. They have wives, kids, parents, in-laws and pets they'd like to gather around the table with on holidays.

"Thanksgiving and Christmas are everybody's favorite holidays," J.J. Redick said. "Being around my family those two days is the best time of the year."

He grinned toward the guy standing three lockers down.

"It's his fault," Redick said.

Dwight Howard is the unwitting turkey here. He has evolved into a player TV can sell. And TV really wants to sell itself on holidays, when millions sit around digesting food while pretending to listen to their daffy aunt talk about her lumbago.

In that sense, professional athletes perform as vital a service as surgeons, air traffic controllers, sportswriters and everyone else who has to work holidays. What else would people do after gorging?

Unlike the NFL (see: Detroit Lions), the NBA has a limited schedule on holidays featuring teams people want to see. Orlando hasn't made a Christmas appearance in five years. For some reason, ESPN didn't consider Kelvin Cato a ratings monster.

That's why Magic fans should be especially grateful today. They have a team worth watching.

Think of all the poor, starving NBA fans in Indiana, Memphis, Charlotte and Sacramento. What would they give to have a column in the local newspaper lamenting how their team has to work on holidays?

"Why complain?" Howard said. "We get to play on national TV. That's a great thing for us."

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