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Not a Normal Christmas for NBA Players

Grant Hill’s oldest daughter, Myla Grace, won’t wake up in her own bed on Christmas morning. She may or may not have a macaw waiting for her either, although it is at the top of her wish list. Myla Grace, however, will get a special visit from someone on Dec. 25.

No, Santa Claus already will have come and gone.

“She likes room service,” said Hill, of his 5-year-old.

Hill’s family — his parents, wife, and daughters Myla Grace and Lael Rose, who is four months — will celebrate Christmas in a Los Angeles hotel early on Dec. 25. Hill will then take the court with the visiting Phoenix Suns for an afternoon game (2 p.m. local time) against the Lakers.

“It’s not your conventional Christmas morning, but the most important thing is that we’re together,” Hill said. “It is important to be with family and enjoy the holidays, Christmas in particular.”

So is life for NBA players on the road during the holidays. There are three games on the schedule this Christmas, and players on the Miami Heat, Seattle SuperSonics, as well as Hill’s teammates with the Suns, face challenges similar to Hill’s. While tears certainly aren’t shed over the working conditions facing NBA athletes, who rake in million-dollar salaries, hoop stars are human, too. And most humans like to spend Christmas Day at home with their families.

Playing games on Christmas Day is an NBA tradition that dates back to the league’s early days, more than five decades. Earl Monroe and Dolph Schayes each played in 13 games (the most ever) on Dec. 25 during their careers.

“I think it’s fine,” said Hill, who played in his first Christmas Day game in 1996 against the Chicago Bulls when he was with the Detroit Pistons. “The whole NBA season is a little bit of a sacrifice on the family and everyone.”

Hill said that after the game the players and their families will enjoy a team dinner; Santa might even make another appearance for the kids.

Miami’s Ricky Davis said his family won’t be traveling with him to Cleveland, citing safety concerns.

“We’re going to have an early Christmas,” said Davis, who has two young sons, Tyree, 3, and Terez, 1. Tyree has made it clear what he hopes to find under the tree.

By Bill Woten
MSNBC contributor