In America, sports and holidays are often intertwined. New Year’s Day belongs to college football and its postseason bowls. Last month, millions of people tuned in to watch NFL games on Thanksgiving, as they do every year. Christmas is a day for the NBA, which always saves marquee matchups and big-market showdowns for December 25th. Over the years, I have gotten accustomed to relaxing after Christmas morning activities by watching the NBA’s best teams battle it out against each other. However, I always thought that sports and holidays were more of an American thing.
This year I spent Christmas in South Africa, my first Christmas in a foreign country. Much to my surprise and delight, I learned that America doesn’t have a monopoly on the whole ‘basketball on Christmas’ idea. Long before Boston and Brooklyn tipped-off their game to begin the Christmas NBA marathon, long before the team formerly known as the Lakers squeaked out a win over the team posing as the Knicks, in the first hours of the American morning when the Heat and Thunder players were still sleeping, another traditional Christmas Day basketball game tipped-off. This one was played a world away, in the township of Lamontville, South Africa, where every Christmas morning people gather to play basketball at the township’s main court. They play an annual game pitting the “new school” vs. the “old school”. The “new school” is made up of the younger generation and is comprised of players in their late teens and early 20’s. The “old school” is made up of guys who may have passed their prime basketball-playing years but still love to play the game. Many “old schoolers” have grown-up, gotten jobs, and moved out of the township, but they return on Christmas morning to lace up their shoes and take on the newest generation of Lamontville hoopers.
This Christmas, I was invited to come play with the “new school” team. The demand for Christmas morning basketball is high enough to where several games are played, as each side has 15-20 players and everyone wants to log time on the court. Many of the players have been affiliated with PeacePlayers as either a participant or coach, past and present. In addition to all the players, many members of the community, young and old, gathered to watch the games taking place. Some stopped for a few minutes on their way to do other things, others brought chairs and set them on the small ridge overlooking the court.
I balled in a Santa hat, spreading Christmas joy and cheer with a dazzling array of basketball greatness (ok I actually played pretty poorly, but in my defense, one of the hoops had a badly deformed rim which created a challenge to a degree which I have not faced since trying to pound the circle block into the square hole when I was a toddler.) The oldies got the best of the youngsters, winning about 80% of the games, but the day was about more than wins and losses. Everyone had fun, reunited with old friends, and, at least for me, made a lot of new ones.
This year’s Christmas Day NBA games were very exciting and entertaining to watch, but they weren’t the only ones being played on that day. Next Christmas, as you settle onto your couch to catch the first NBA game of the day, just remember that the Christmas Day basketball marathon has already started. It started 11 hours ago, in a little place called Lamontville, South Africa.