MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Bobby Portis says he didn’t even bother getting a Christmas tree for his home this year.
There was no need. He and his teammates are making an extended holiday visit to New York.
NBA players have become accustomed to the possibility they’ll be working away from home on Christmas. But no team’s ever had a holiday trip quite like the one the Bucks are experiencing.
“Obviously I ain’t going to be able to open no presents under my tree," Portis said earlier this week, pointing out the team is leaving Friday. "They’d be sitting at the crib under the tree for five or six days after Christmas.”
The Bucks have consecutive early afternoon games with the New York Knicks on Saturday and again on Christmas Day before visiting the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks just the second time an NBA team has played three straight road games in the New York metro area, and the first time that it’s coincided with Christmas.
The Washington Wizards played at Brooklyn and then followed it up with two games against the Knicks in March 2021. The Atlanta Hawks will become the third team to have play consecutive road games in the Big Apple when they have back-to-back games in Brooklyn on Feb. 29 and March 2 before facing the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 5.
After going unbeaten during a seasonlong, six-game homestand, the Bucks are trying to make the best of this unusual trip.
“Aside from home, there’s no place like New York on Christmas, right?” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “I know a lot of people love New York on Christmas time, so we’re fortunate to be able to spend it there.”
Many of the Bucks have relatives joining them.
Bucks guard Malik Beasley plans to get an artificial tree to put in his hotel suite. Rookie Andre Jackson Jr., who grew up in Amsterdam, New York, and went to Albany Academy, is hoping to fit in a trip upstate to see his grandmother. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo says his extended family is coming along.
“Everybody’s going to be there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s going to be like a huge party.”
Antetokounmpo’s younger brother, Alex Antetokounmpo of the NBA G League’s Wisconsin Herd, will be in the area playing a game against the Long Island Nets on Dec. 27. Antetokounmpo even brought up the possibility of attending a Broadway show.
Another quirk in this schedule has the Bucks playing early afternoon games in each of the two matchups with the Knicks. The noon tip-off for the Christmas Day game raises complications on exactly when players and their families can celebrate the holiday.
“We're going to have that Christmas spirit, play the game and then come back and open presents,” Beasley said. “I think it’s a little too early to open presents at like 7 a.m. for a (noon) game.”
Despite the unusual length of time in New York, the Bucks cherish the opportunity to play on Christmas.
Portis recalled his own childhood watching Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett each Christmas and believes this is a privilege he doesn’t take for granted. Neither does guard Damian Lillard, a seven-time all-NBA player who has played on Christmas just once before.
“It’s a special day, it’s a special opportunity to be able to do that,” Lillard said.
Having it in New York only adds to that feeling.
“When I was a kid, in high school and middle school, I knew for sure on Christmas Day, as soon after you opened presents, my mom was cooking and we’re watching the NBA all day,” Beasley said. “It’s a great day for NBA basketball. To play on it is going to be awesome. I’m going to watch it in the future with my kids and say, ‘Look, Daddy played in the NBA on Christmas in Madison Square Garden.’“