When the NBA released its original 2011-12 regular-season schedule last summer, Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant was not happy.
The Oklahoma City Thunder would not be playing on Christmas Day.
When the league finalized its abbreviated schedule after a 149-day lockout, not only was the Thunder granted another Christmas Day game, OKC would host for the second straight year, facing the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
“The Lord's Day,” Durant said, flashing a smile, “and to play basketball on that day is pretty special.”
Durant certainly was pretty special last year on Christmas Day, scoring 44 points in a 114-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets inside the Ford Center, which this year became Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant's family was on hand to enjoy the show.
“Everybody was here,” Durant said. “It was the first time my little cousins came, plus my mom, my grandmom, my dad were all here. It was a special time for me.
“If I had 20 points and a loss, I still would have had a great day, because it was Christmas and my family was there supporting me. It was kind of like icing on the cake to have won and had 44 points. Regardless, I was just blessed to have had an opportunity to play on Christmas.”
Durant isn't alone in his affection for playing on this day.
“I don't want any gifts,” Thunder guard James Harden said. “I'm just happy the NBA's back and that we're playing and I'm around this good group of guys.”
This will be the fourth straight year his team has played on Christmas for Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who was obtained last February in a trade with the Boston Celtics.
“When you're one of the teams picked to play on Christmas Day, I think you should take it as being an honor,” Perkins said. “It's a nod that you're on one of the elite teams.”
Dec. 25 showcase
Tumultuous negotiations for the league's new collective bargaining agreement were expedited during Thanksgiving weekend last month so the season could commence Dec. 25.
Christmas has become an NBA showcase and being included on that day's schedule is a sign of respect. Five games will be played today and each will be aired on national television.
Rarely, if ever, has an NBA franchise been included on the Christmas Day schedule so quickly after relocating, but such has been the case for the Thunder, which arrived from Seattle in July 2008.
OKC fans have quickly included the Thunder in their Christmas Day plans.
“It's becoming a tradition because we plan our schedule around the Thunder,” Kyle Whitson said via Twitter. “We usually get together and watch the game!”
Fan Jimmy Michaels said Thunder games on Christmas Day are “becoming must-watch affairs.”
Sarah McCubbin said her family has been consumed by Thunder basketball.
“Every game there is at least a significant chunk of my immediate family and/or extended family cheering the team on,” the 25-year-old McCubbin said. “Since a game has fallen on Christmas Day the last two years, we've actually reschedule our entire family Christmas dinner that we've had my whole life and have all gone to the game together instead. As far as my family is concerned, we would love for there to be a Christmas Day game every year so that it can become a regular McCubbin family tradition.”
Future Christmas games for the Thunder depend on the team's competitiveness and appeal. Continued success figures to bring continued appearances, but there are no guarantees.
If Dec. 25 does remain on the schedule, not every Thunder game will be at home — like the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
“Save the turkey for Thanksgiving and give us the Durantula for Christmas,” McCubbin said.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows there will come a time his team will be asked to hit the road for Christmas.
“It's a great honor to play on this day and obviously it's tougher when you're on the road and you have to make the adjustments,” Brooks said. “We haven't had to do that yet. I'm assuming that will happen soon.”
Durant said he views Christmas Day as a culmination of his life's work.
“To be able to do something you worked your whole life to do, and to live out your dream at the highest level of basketball, and to play on Christmas, I just can't explain how special that is,” Durant said. “Hopefully, we'll get to play on Christmas every year.”