Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
NEW YORKA noon start, away from their families. But all of that pales in comparison to the honorto a man, that was the word used to describe itof playing on Christmas Day.
I think its an honor and a privilege to be playing, and I know its tough for the away teamparticularly the players who have kidsbut thats all part of it and hopefully when we get back, theyll have a chance to spend some time with their families, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said prior to Fridays practice at Madison Square Garden.
Everyone around the worlds going to be watching. Everyone that loves basketball, theyre going to tune in, so its definitely an honor to play on Christmas, echoed Kurt Thomas, who couldnt remember how many Christmas days games hes played inthe former Knick estimated three to fiveover the course of his 18-year career. Its the fact thatmy kidsIm not at home, seeing the Christmas tree, opening up their presents. Thats really the only difficult part, but its part of the job. You just go out there and play, go have fun.
Luol Deng, the longest-tenured Bulls player, hasnt played in any games on the holiday during his career, so he acknowledged how the teams rising status in the league earned them their reward.
I think the league schedules it before the season starts, so I think they schedule it kind of depending on the players you have, Deng told CSNChicago.com. I think it shows a lot, the kind of guys we have on the team and people want to watch us. We could have came in with a bad record, but I think they scheduled it because people at home want to see all these players.
Carlos Boozer, coming from small-market Utah, definitely appreciates the benefits playing on a high-profile squad has garnered.
None Christmas Day games in Utah. I think I played in one in Cleveland, Brons LeBron James rookie year, said Boozer. Its an honor to play on Christmasits for the fans and we take great pride to be one of the teams thats featured for the fans.
Obviously we wouldnt mind spending more time with our family at home, toolike most peoplebut we take pride and honor in what were able to do and we look forward to the game tomorrow.
For native New Yorker Taj Gibson, playing in the Garden, in front of friends and family in his hometown, makes it even more special.
This is a dream come true, remarked Gibson. Hopefully we can get a win and it would be even better.
Deng, who attended high school in nearby New Jersey, shared his sentiments.
I went to high school not too far from here. Im going to have a lot of friends at the gameI always have friends coming hereI have some family in New York, so to me, its always been special because of that. History plays into it, but I think a lot of people, they dont have that connection with Madison Square Garden that I have, Deng told CSNChicago.com. I think everyones excited. Im a little bummed for Jo injured center Joakim Noah, but its part of the game. Hell be back and hell have his days playing here.
Thomas, whose Knicks career coincided with the last time New York was relevant in the league, also savored his return to the worlds most famous arena.
I love New York. I spent a lot of time here. Im always excited to come back here and play, said Thomas. Every time I walk into this building, I see people Ive known for a good number of years.
Going to the NBA Finals in 99, that definitely was the highlight, and just playing here in the Garden every night was just amazing. The fans here were incredible.
Derrick Rose didnt necessarily grow up dreaming about playing on the holiday, but understands its significance for the team.
I never thought about playing on Christmas. I just thought about playing in the NBA. I really didnt think about it when I was younger, like, I cant wait to play on Christmas. Its an honor to be playing on Christmas. I remember the first two years and being at homebeing in Chicago for Christmas, then going somewhere to play the next day, but its an honor to be playing and were playing in one of the best arenas in the world, said Rose. Were on the rise. Were getting noticed, but we still have to handle our business, knowing that this is still a job. We have to take this as very important, and go out there and play hard.
The serious-minded Thibodeau certainly has preached that to his team.
The big thing is its a holiday and its an early game, so theres a lot going on. But we have to be ready, so our preparation today and then early morning tomorrow at the walk-through and then noon start, we have to be focused, said Thibodeau, who will be facing one of the several teams, the Knicks, hes worked for as an assistant coach. Normally, you would haveif its a 7 or 7:30 startyou would have your shootaround in the morning, where you can go through some things live on the court and it changes when its a noon start. Youre in the ballroom in the hotel and youre just walking through things, so from that standpoint, it changes.
Besides that, its just a regular gameor so the participants would have you believe.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.