7 Memorable Moments From NBA’s Christmas Past
We look back on the spectacular performances and riveting games of yore
A global holiday tradition continues this year when the NBA plays games on Christmas Day for the 69th time in league history. Five games will be televised in more than 200 countries and territories in 40 languages.
The NBA has produced no shortage of spectacular performances and riveting games on Christmas Day. Here is a look at a handful of memorable moments from Christmases past:
The Dec. 25 matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will mark the eighth time that the teams from the previous season’s Finals are squaring off on Christmas Day the following season. This will also be the first meeting between the teams since Game 7 of last season’s stirring NBA Finals, which culminated with the Cavaliers winning their first championship after completing a historic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. The roles were reversed on Christmas Day last season, when Golden State faced Cleveland as the reigning champion. In that matchup, the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 89-83 to improve to 28-1 on their way to an NBA-record 73-9 season.
The greatest individual scoring performance in Christmas Day history came in 1984, when Hall of Fame forward Bernard King of the New York Knicks scored 60 points in a 120-114 loss to the New Jersey Nets. King broke the Christmas scoring record set by Wilt Chamberlain, who had 59 points (and a Christmas-record 36 rebounds) for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 136-135 double-overtime loss to the Knicks in 1961. The record-setting outing highlighted an outstanding 1984-85 season for King, who averaged a league-leading and career-high 32.9 points per game.
Christmas in New York
King’s 60-point effort is one of many Christmas Day highlights for the Knicks, who have been featured on the holiday more than any other NBA team. New York has played 50 games on Christmas Day, including 42 at home, where fans have been treated to incredible drama. For instance, Madison Square Garden hosted stirring Christmas Day games in back-to-back years in 1985 and 1986. In the first game, rookie Patrick Ewing and the Knicks rallied from a 25-point deficit to stun the mighty Boston Celtics in double overtime. One year later, Ewing scored the game-winning basket at the buzzer as the Knicks defeated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This season, the Knicks will host the Celtics on Christmas Day.
For the better part of two decades, NBA fans could count on seeing Kobe Bryant lead the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day. Bryant is the NBA’s all-time leader in scoring (395 points) and games played (16) on the holiday. With Kobe’s retirement, Dwyane Wade is now the league’s active leader in Christmas Day scoring with 277 points—the third-highest total of all time. (Oscar Robertson ranks second with 377 points). Wade and his new team, the Bulls, will visit the San Antonio Spurs on Christmas Day this year. The Lakers, meanwhile, will play the LA Clippers.
Speaking of Kobe and D-Wade…
The two superstar guards played prominent roles in one of the most memorable Christmas Day games. In 2004, the Miami Heat visited the Lakers in the first game between former longtime teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant since a blockbuster trade between the teams landed O’Neal in Miami alongside Wade. The matchup lived up to expectations as the Heat extended its winning streak to 11 games with a 104-102 overtime victory, overcoming Bryant’s 42 points behind double-doubles from O’Neal (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Wade (29 points, 10 assists).
Season of Giving
Nate “Tiny” Archibald of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings was clearly in a festive mood when he gift-wrapped 18 assists (equaling a Christmas Day record) in a 104-99 loss to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (32 points) and the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972. Archibald’s performance was part of a season in which he became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists. The Hall of Famer remains the only player to accomplish the feat, but Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets rank among the league leaders in both categories this season. Westbrook will play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Christmas Day this year.
Box Score Stuffers
Westbrook is not only one of the NBA leaders in scoring and assists, but he is also posting triple-doubles at a staggering rate. The five-time All-Star reached the quarter mark of the season averaging a triple-double—something only one player has done for an entire season, Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. In fact, Westbrook and Robertson are two of the five NBA players who have recorded a triple-double on Christmas Day. LeBron James has also accomplished the feat, as have John Havlicek and Billy Cunningham. Westbrook and James are the two active leaders in triple-doubles in all games.
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