Gerald Henderson: Christmas, NBA Style

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By Gerald Henderson, a veteran shooting guard for the Blazers who’s a regular contributor for, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes   

As NBA players, we have a job where our game schedule dictates how we spend our holidays. For most, this time of year is about spending time with your closets family and friends, but for us NBA players, it’s unlikely we will be with our families in one common place.

Something as “normal” as getting a Christmas tree must be planned around our travel schedule. This year, the only logical time I had to get one was on a day off between road trips or else I would have had to wait until Christmas Eve! The tree will probably be pretty simple this year (a couple ornaments with a star on top), but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without one, so I make sure to get one regardless of what city we play in on the holiday. And as far as Christmas shopping goes, I end up doing most of that online. There’s not much time to hit the mall!

I’ve been blessed to have some great coaches in the NBA. Not just X and O coaches, but ones who believe that players should be with their families on holidays when it’s possible. Most coaches, I presume, want to be with their families as well. Again, that’s what the holiday is about. Also, this time away is good for the overall morale of the team. I think guys come back refreshed after a day or so with their families.

Even though our team will be home in Portland on Christmas this year, it’s going to be hard for my family to come all the way out to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate. It’s different now. Both my brother and sister are married and have their own family Christmases planned on the east coast. Honestly, I don’t even have enough furniture to house everyone at my place yet in Portland!

Long gone are the Christmases that I loved as a child, with our whole family all watching Christmas movies, singing carols, maybe sitting around a fireplace. I grew up in a cold city (Philadelphia) and had family in New York, so our holidays felt traditional, kind of like what you see in the movies. The snow, the lights, etc.

As a very young kid, with a Dad who played in the NBA, I can remember traveling to spend Christmas in whatever city he was in on that day. We tried to make it feel like Christmas, but it wasn’t very homey. After he retired, around when I was 5, we spent many memorable holidays together as a big family. That’s definitely something I miss!

When I think back to my most memorable Christmas as an NBA player, there’s definitely one that sticks out. I had just bought a house in Charlotte, and later that month my whole family came out to celebrate Christmas together in my new house. My mom took over and decorated the entire house. She cooked all my favorite foods and made the holiday feel like it did when I younger. To top it off, it snowed on Christmas Day (in Charlotte, North Carolina of all places) and we did not have to play, practice or travel. It was about as close to perfect as you could get.

Like most, as I’ve gotten older, Christmas has become less and less about giving and receiving presents. I grew up in a very Christian family, so it’s a religious holiday for me. I always try to “remember the reason for the season.” I do, however, think every kid deserves to have the excitement of opening up a present on Christmas. Therefore, in the past I have participated in toy and gift drives that allow this to happen. I plan to find a place in Portland this year that will help the less fortunate youth enjoy Christmas like every kid should.

I want to wish a very happy holidays to all of the fans out there! I hope it’s one to remember, spent with family and friends!

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