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The Raptors aren’t playing on Christmas Day, and that’s OK

It’s long past time we stopped complaining about this.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors are about two months away from tipping off their 28th NBA season, and for the 26th time, they won’t be playing on Christmas Day.

And that’s totally OK!

Christmas is the signature day for the league, and the unofficial date that casuals apparently start caring about the NBA, since the NFL is winding down. As usual, when the NBA knowers like Shams “unofficially” unveil the NBA’s Christmas Day slate, and the Raptors (once again!) aren’t on it, a certain (very vocal!) subset of Raptors fans take it as (yet another!) measure of disrespect. The league hates the Raptors, always has, always will.

Whether or not that’s actually true in some macro sense is a debate for another day, but when it comes to the Christmas Day games, it’s just not true.

Yes, Christmas Day is the NBA’s showcase day. You’d think that would mean the the league would show its best teams and best players.

But A) it’s not really about that and B) I’m not sure the Raptors qualify as one of the league’s best teams right now, anyway.

Let’s tackle the second idea first. There are five games on Christmas Day, meaning 10 teams get to show their stuff. If the NBA simply wanted to show off it’s 10 best teams and/or players, would the Raps make that list?

Sure, they have the reigning rookie of the year, Scottie Barnes, and a third-team all-NBAer, Pascal Siakam. But they were tied for the 10th best record in the league last year, and they got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in six games.

The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors all had better records, along with the Miami Heat and Utah Jazz; the Raptors and Denver Nuggets had identical 48-34 records. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Brooklyn Nets all had worse records, but bigger stars.

You can argue the lowly New York Knicks have no business playing on Christmas Day. You can argue the Nets, Heat and Clippers should all be playing.

But it’s hard to argue that, in terms of team quality and star power, the Raptors should be there.

So why aren’t the Heat and Clippers there? (You can understand the Nets’ omission, since no one has any idea what that team will look like next week, let alone by Christmas.) If Christmas Day isn’t about showing off the best players and best teams, what is it about?

Prepare to be shocked — it’s about money.

Ad revenue, specifically. The NBA Christmas Day slate is, other than the Finals and perhaps All-Star Weekend, likely the event from which the NBA can reap the most revenue from selling television ads. The only way that works is if the NBA can promise its advertisers that the games will draw enough eyeballs to make it worth it for them to pay the high cost of those ads.

And folks, the Raptors just don’t draw enough eyeballs.

And before you exclaim “but they have a whole country behind them!” remember that that means nothing to U.S. advertisers. Every single household in Canada could watch the game and it would mean nothing to U.S. advertisers because they wouldn’t be watching U.S. ads. They be watching the same BMO commercials over and over, like every dang Raptors game, because they’d be watching the Canadian broadcast.

The advertisers want viewers watching in the U.S., and without a built-in U.S. fan base, the Raptors just don’t draw ratings.

You can argue that the Raptors should draw U.S. viewers. They’re a good team, with good players, good coaches and great management, and have been for almost a decade now.

But the fickle-ness of casual viewers is also a debate for another day. Let’s get back to the money.

The money is why the Knicks play on Christmas. That’s why the Lakers play too, although having LeBron James certainly helps. (I’m 100% OK with the Lakers, as long as they have LeBron, getting a Christmas Day game. Am I tired of LeBron? Sure. But he’s either the best or second-best NBA player ever. Go ahead and put him on TV and give everyone a chance see his greatness before he hangs it up.)

As for the Knicks, well, I don’t like it, but they are a draw. Their fans tune in — and there are a lot of them, in New York and across the country. (I’d be saying the same about a LeBron-less Lakers team.) It also explains why the Bucks-Celtics game — possibly the single best game of the day — is in the dreaded early slot. The league knows the Bucks aren’t a huge draw.

Of course, the league isn’t going to come out and say “we’re putting these terrible teams on our big day, because they bring in money.” They’re going to keep saying it’s about showcasing the best talent and the best teams. But just like the Bubble, where the league said it was about “competitive balance” and “giving people something to root for in tough times,” that’s just a big ol’ lie. It’s about money. It’s always about money.

So don’t take it personally, Raptors fans. And hey — take Christmas Day and spend it with your family, or at least watching other teams and not getting all angsty about the Raptors. And be happy that the Raptors get to have the day off too!