As much as the dictates of the calendar occasionally present an opportunity for the NFL to air games on Christmas Day, the NBA rules Dec. 25 in the much same way in which Santa has dominion over the North Pole. In a bid to further underscore how televised basketball is now a holiday staple alongside more suspect traditions such as mistletoe, fruitcake and egg nog, ESPN and jolly old St. Nick have teamed up to declare "Xmas" the official holiday of the NBA.
As part of a campaign that will begin rolling out Friday on ESPN's various TV and digital platforms, comic actor Jon Glaser has donned the Santa suit for a series of spots featuring NBA stars Ben Simmons, J.R. Smith, John Wall, Nick "Swaggy P" Young and Bradley Beal. (The Knicks' Balkan beanstalk Kristaps Porziņģis, he of the 8-foot wingspan, appears in a cameo of sorts as a unicorn.)
Among the more effective promos are the one that demonstrates rookie phenom Simmons' preternatural cookie-snatching quickness and Golden Stater Young's request to Glaser Claus to "take me to space."
Glaser, who is perhaps best known for portraying Pawnee orthodontist/city councilman Jeremy Jamm on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," said that Smith and Young were the only players who seemed amenable to sitting on Santa's lap. Even so, some studio magic was conjured up to ensure that the 5' 10" Glaser didn't have his spindly femurs snapped by his considerably larger guests.
"We made a rig that made it look like they were sitting on my lap," Glaser says of the L.A. shoot. "We kind of had to fake it a little bit so I wasn't absorbing all of their crushing weight."
Once the risk of having his leg bones crushed into a fine powder were alleviated, Glaser says the trickiest part of the ESPN gig was getting into Santa's head. "I was like, 'Who is this guy? What's he all about? Did he ever want to be an athlete? If so, is he resentful in any way?'," Glaser says. "I wanted to do him justice; it was really a matter of not insulting the man."
The 49-year-old Glaser says that while he hasn't done much in the way of promotional work in the past, he was drawn to the part because of ESPN's commercial track record. "They've always had great writers working on their stuff, and it's always been really funny. Sometimes, the things you get offered are … not so funny," he says. "And making money, of course, is nice."
Glaser is sort of an old hand at Bristol, having starred from 2008-2009 on "Mayne Street," a web comedy series helmed by ESPN personality Kenny Mayne. Among the cast members who appeared on the show at that time were "Parks and Rec" sarcasm monster Audrey Plaza, "Sopranos" heavy Tony Sirico, late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel and Nick Kroll, formerly of FX's "The League." He also appeared in the ESPN Classic curiosity "Cheap Seats."
ESPN collaborated with the Oakland-based creative agency Funworks on the Christmas hoops campaign.
The ho-ho-holidays tip off on noon Christmas Day when Simmons and the 76ers pay a visit to Porziņģis and the Knicks at noon ET on ESPN, which will be followed at 3 p.m. ET with an NBA Finals rematch between the Cavs and Warriors (ABC). At 5:30 p.m. ET, Boston hosts the Wizards on ABC, which concludes its NBA marathon at 8 p.m. ET with a Rockets-Thunder showdown. As that game wraps up, fans will be encouraged to switch back to ESPN to take in the season's final installment of "Monday Night Football" (Raiders-Eagles), which will overlap with the front half of TNT's presentation of the Timberwolves-Lakers game at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Speaking of football, the NFL Network will telecast its last live game of the season when the Steelers travel to NRG Stadium to square up against Houston. With kickoff set for 4:30 p.m. ET, the AFC skirmish will air opposite the back half of the Cavs-Warriors game and a good chunk of the Celtics-Wizards telecast.
Last season's Warriors-Cavs Christmas battle on ABC was the fifth most-watched Yuletide NBA broadcast since the century began. Per Nielsen, Cleveland's 109-108 win delivered 10.1 million viewers and a 4.9 household rating.