The NBA's Christmas Day marathon on ESPN and ABC proved the league is still the unquestioned king of the sports world on December 25th. ABC's doubleheader of Lakers-Knicks and Thunder-Heat drew overnight ratings of 5.9 and 6.0 respectively. The early game (between mega markets Los Angeles and New York) was the highest rated game in the early afternoon timeslot since 2004 and was up 11% from a Celtics-Magic matchup from 2010. The 9.2 overnight the game pulled in the New York market is the third highest ever for a regular season NBA game on ABC (which actually isn't surprising considering the state of the Knicks franchise in recent years). Not to be outdone, the Thunder-Heat Finals rematch that followed at 5:30 PM was the fourth highest rated regular season game of all-time on ABC, and the highest rated regular season ABC game in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Miami markets.
ESPN kicked off the marathon at noon by airing the Celtics-Nets game, which matched 2010's Bulls-Knicks game with a 2.7 overnight. The matchup actually did great numbers in the Boston and Providence markets, clocking in at a 3.1 in Boston (fourth highest rated regular season ESPN game) and a 3.8 in Providence (second highest rated regular season ESPN game). The two later games, Rockets-Bulls at 8:00 PM and Nuggets-Clippers at 10:30 PM, were both also up double digits from 2010, with the earlier matchup drawing a 1.7 that was 21% up from Nuggets-Thunder in 2010 and the late game drawing a 2.0 overnight, which was up 54% from the Trail Blazers-Warriors duel in 2010.
With no football on the schedule, hockey in the wind, and just one Top 25 college basketball game (San Diego State-Arizona, which began at 10:15), sports junkies had nowhere to turn aside from the NBA on their Christmas Day. As a whole, the trio of ESPN games drew a 2.1 rating, which was up 17% from 2010. (Those comparisons to 2010 are because the league doubled up Christmas Day as Opening Day last year.)
What the NBA has managed to do with Christmas is something that is slowly getting to the point where the NFL is with Thanksgiving and MLB is with the Fourth of July. When you want to watch something sports-related on that holiday, you're pretty much outside of options aside from those leagues. That's a type of branding that is absolutely invaluable at the end of the day, and will help the leagues out vastly in future years.