The gift and curse of playing in the NBA on Christmas

LeBron James has played on every Christmas for the past 10 years and is basically never home for the holidays.

The Cavs star, who will be in Oakland, California, this year, leads all active players with seven road Christmas games.

“I won’t be with my family on Christmas, unfortunately,” James says. “So, no, we have no traditions. If I can get a home game on Christmas, then we’ll have a tradition."

And that's about how it goes: If everything is going beautifully with your NBA career, if your dreams are coming true on the court, then chances are you'll be working on Christmas, when games traditionally are reserved for champions, MVP candidates, teams on the rise and the highest-profile matchups.

NBA players know this and accept this. But it does somewhat complicate celebrating the holiday.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks

Melo has had some huge Christmas performances in recent years -- his 37 points and eight assists in a win against Boston in 2011 come to mind -- but those games have come on a schedule suited to his son, Kiyan, now 8. "He's always the first one up," Anthony says, "so the gifts are out, the toys are open and there's no rest."

There’s also a mood shift. "You have to turn that right off and then get right into work mode," Anthony says. "So it's the gift and the curse of playing on Christmas Day."

Chris Bosh, Heat

Bosh, whose children are ages 2, 3 and 7, says the trick is to set a certain mood.

"A few years ago, Christmas was on a Wednesday, so we had to leave," the Heat's big man says. "We ended up celebrating Christmas on the Sunday before we left, three days before. We woke up that morning and I'm about to go, but I’m yelling, 'It’s Christmas everyone. Merry Christmas! Let's open the presents. Santa came, yayyyy! Oh, my god!'

“They never even knew it wasn't Christmas.”

But on the road, Christmas can present a whole different problem. Bosh says: "Two years ago, I was in L.A. and it was the most boring-est Christmas ever. It was just boring. After the game, it was like nowhere is open to eat, nowhere to go on the road."

Kobe Bryant, Lakers

The 20-year veteran says one of the keys is to create Christmas traditions that don't have to happen on that actual day. "Every year we go and watch 'The Nutcracker,'" Bryant says, "So this year, American Ballet Theater, we went and watched 'The Nutcracker.' We do that every year, for the last 15 years."

The day itself is typically a little rushed for Bryant. “Yeah, it's always really interesting. Our house was always like, you wake up in the morning, see what Santa brought you, you open up the gifts, then it's like: OK, you got to go. You know what I mean? ... It's always tough. Every year.”

James Jones, Cavaliers

Cleveland veteran James Jones takes a page out of the Bryant playbook by creating a tradition on another day with his kids -- 10-year-old Jadynn, 8-year-old James Dylan (aka J.D.) and 6-year-old Jodie:

"I take my kids to Toys 'R' Us, and they each have their own shopping cart and they just load it up with the gifts. So it's pretty much like a shopping spree. Imagine giving a kid a free leash on life in a toy store, their smiles, they'll be beaming.

"But it's getting a little tougher. My 10-year old, she's a little older, and so Toys 'R' Us doesn't work for her anymore. So for her now it's more fashion, it's more mall shopping sprees and girl stuff. So we made the transition."

Matt Bonner, Spurs

The San Antonio forward says being away on Christmas just "comes with the territory" of playing in the NBA, but it's getting tougher as his son and daughter, now 3 and 6, respectively, are more aware.

"This might be the first year to be gone since my kids have been old enough to understand Christmas. So it's definitely going to be tough not being there on Christmas morning to see the looks on their faces when they come down and see the presents from Santa and everything. I'm definitely gonna Facetime it, but it's still not the same."

Jason Terry, Rockets

"It’s a special day," says Houston's 16-year veteran and father of four. "You know the world is watching."

This year, he's in luck because he can be with his Dallas-based family -- Terry played in Dallas for eight years -- on Christmas Eve. "For me, my family is in Dallas, I have a home game in Houston [Christmas Day], so I'll be able to see them, so it works out, it works out. ... We'll open gifts on Christmas Eve, do dinner Christmas Eve and then I'll get out late that night."

As for the shopping?

"Fortunately we're in the Internet era, so we do a lot more of it online," Terry says. "But for my younger kids, Santa Claus is doing much of the grunt work. They don't know yet."

David West, Spurs

San Antonio's 12-year veteran says that for him Christmas with his family is usually "just phone calls." But sometimes you can make a little Christmas magic with the team's private jet.

"The year we played in Orlando when I was with the Hornets, the game was at noon. So we were home by 7, 8 o'clock that night. So we just had a later deal that night. The other times, it just didn’t make sense ... You sacrifice a lot in terms of your personal life and your family life at times for the game. It's something we sign up for."

Ian Begley, Michael Wallace, Baxter Holmes, Michael Wright and Dave McMenamin contributed to this story.