Has the NBA ever played on Thanksgiving?

The NFL is known for owning Thanksgiving while the NBA goes dark on the holiday, but this is a relatively new development.

Gary Payton dribbles the ball
Gary Payton dribbles the ball / Otto Greule Jr/GettyImages

The NBA goes dark on Thursday in what has become the norm for the league on Thanksgiving Day. With the NFL and college football taking center stage on television, the NBA opts to focus on its big Christmas Day slate of five games and leaves the late November holiday to the guys toting and throwing the pigskin.

But has this always been the case?

Thanksgiving was just another day on the schedule in the early days

Between 1946-80, there was at least one NBA game every year on Thanksgiving. During that period, the league staged a total of 100 games on the holiday, including five games each in 1949, 1950 and 1952.

This isn't the only history of pro basketball on Thanksgiving. During its nine-year run, the American Basketball Association played on the holiday every season and played 13 games in all.

The first time the NBA didn't schedule a Thanksgiving Day game was in 1981. There was a single game on the 1982-83 schedule before the holiday was abandoned for 11 years.

The Detroit Lions of the NBA?

When the NBA resumed playing on Thanksgiving in 1994, the Indiana Pacers made an attempt to become the signature team on the holiday, much the way the NFL's Detroit Lions have played every Thanksgiving since 1934.

The Pacers hosted a game on Thanksgiving annually from 1994-2005, with the exception of the lockout season in 1999. The Los Angeles Clippers were added as a host in 2001 for a Turkey Day doubleheader, with the Los Angeles Lakers taking over the hosting duties in 2005.

The beginning of the end for NBA Thanksgiving

In 2006, when the NFL added a prime-time game to its Thanksgiving slate, the NBA once again opted to stop scheduling games.

The doubleheaders were revived in 2008 and continued until 2010. But when the early season games were wiped out by another lockout in 2011, the NBA declared itself finished with scheduling contests on Thanksgiving Day.

The NBA game on Thanksgiving was the second game of a doubleheader on Nov. 25, 2010. It's possible the visiting Sacramento Kings had the turkey and trimmings delivered to the locker room at the half because after trailing just 54-50 at intermission, the Kings scored just 32 second-half points en route to a 100-82 pounding.

Ceding Thanksgiving to the NFL likely makes sense from a television ratings standpoint, as the NBA rarely does well when it goes head-to-head with the guys in the helmets and shoulder pads.

Call it cosmic balance. The NFL gets Thanksgiving, the NBA has Christmas and the universe is in equilibrium, which is probably good for all of us.

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