Hello everybody, it’s that time of the year. Christmas time. It’s a time where families get together to give gifts, sing carols, and have some good ol' Christmas ham. However if you are a fan of basketball, then you're in for a treat as the NBA has been gifting fans with basketball games on Christmas Day, going all the way back to the beginning back in the mid 1940s. After so many years, there have been so many games played with so many memorable performances and moments. But after going over all of them, yours truly was able to pick out his Top 5 moments. So here we go.
Honorable Mention: The First NBA Christmas Game Ever
All traditions have to start somewhere. The NBA’s first Christmas game was back on in December 25, 1947, between the New York Knicks and the Providence Steamrollers (yup, Rhode Island had a professional basketball team). The Knicks won that game against the Steamrollers 89-75, a forgettable score considering the Steamrollers would finish the 1947-48 season with only 6 wins. But regardless of the outcome of the game, the NBA had laid the foundations of what was to be a yearly match.
5. (Tied) Wilt Chamberlin grabs 36 rebounds in '61 -- Bill Russell snags 34 in '65
If you talked about Wilt Chamberlin, you had to talk about Bill Russell as well. If you talked about Bill Russell, you had to talk about Wilt Chamberlin. Those two players were the two megastars of the 1960s NBA scene as well as two NBA legends whose names are synonymous with greatness. They’ve clashed against one another time and time again, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Yet surprisingly enough, Russell’s Boston Celtics never faced against Chamberlin’s Philadelphia Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers in a Christmas match up. But even when they weren’t competing against one another in person, there was always some form of gamesmanship between the two.
First in 1961, Wilt Chamberlin and the Philadelphia Warriors squared off against the New York Knicks at the Philadelphia Civic Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the game, Chamberlin led all scorers with 59 points. But what was more eye-opening was that Chamberlin pulled down a whopping 36 rebounds, an NBA Christmas Day game record. However it wasn’t enough as the Warriors lost to the Knicks in double-overtime 136-135.
Now fast forward to the year 1965, where the Russell-Chamberlin rivalry was slowly dwindling down. However you couldn’t tell since both Russell and Chamberlin were still trying to outperform the other. In a Christmas day match up between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Bullets, Russell tried to break Chamberlin’s 36-rebound record. However he ended up with just 34 rebounds, 2 short of his rival’s Christmas Day record. Russell also finished the game with just 16 points as the Celtics won 113-99.
So even when they were not in direct competition with one another, Russell and Chamberlin were still trying to outdo one another. Only more proof that their rivalry is the stuff of legends.
4. And So It Begins…
When you talk about team rivalries in the NBA, the first one that comes to mind is Celtics-Lakers since they’ve faced each other numerous times for the NBA Title in the 1960s and 1980s. But the one rivalry that you had to turn on the TV to watch during the 90s was between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. NBA fans tuned in to see Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls square off against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, especially when it came to playoff time. But like all good rivalries, it needed to get off the ground.
In previous matchups, there was very little interest between the Knicks-Bulls rivalry. But that changed during the 1986-87 NBA Season. Already the Bulls had beaten the Knicks in 2 previous matchups that year (108-103, 101-99) and they were gunning for a third game in a row. However on Christmas Day, it was the Knicks who struck back, outlasting the Bulls at Madison Square Garden 86-85. The game essentially duel between Jordan and Ewing as each young star gave it their all. Ewing logged in a team-high 28 points on 13-of-29 shooting in 41:00 minutes of play. He also had a game-high 17 rebounds plus 2 blocked shots to go along with his scoring. Jordan, on the other hand, scored a game-high 30 points on 10-of-28 shooting, including 10-for-12 from the free throw line. He also chipped in game-highs in assists (5) and steals (6) plus 2 blocks in 41:00 minutes.
Although the Bulls ended up winning the season series that season 4 games to 2, that Christmas game help nourish and feed a growing rivalry that would define both teams for many years to come.
3. 33 is Greater Than 23
The year was 1994, a year many Chicago Bull fans tend to phase out since it was the year after Jordan had retired from the NBA to pursue a baseball career. It was the first year of a two-year lull where the Bulls did not make it to the NBA Finals after 3 consecutive titles from the past 3 seasons. However they still remained competitive, still remaining in the playoff hunt all thanks to none other than Bulls SF Scottie Pippen. On Christmas Day, the Bulls faced off at home against their most hated rivals of the decade, the New York Knicks. It was a thriller of a contest, going right down to the wire as the Bulls came out on top 107-104 in overtime.
However the star of the game was none other than Mr. Pippen. The game itself was 53 minutes long and Pippen played every minute of it. He also had game highs in points scored (36), rebounds (16), steals (5), and blocks (2). The following clip below merely shows a portion of Pippen’s performance in that game. However to the Bulls fans who were there that day, they saw that it wasn’t just the Bulls were not just a one man show. Rather it was a two-man performance with the second guy being just as good as his partner. But if you talk to some people, they would tell you that 33 was greater than 23.
2. Hail to the One True King
Before LeBron James took the moniker as “King,” before Michael Jordan became synonymous with greatness, there was the original, the first King of Basketball, Bernard King. Originally drafted by the New Jersey Nets 7th overall in the 1978 NBA draft, King bounced around in the NBA during the early years of his career. He then settled with the New York Knicks during the mid-80s (1983-1987). During that timeframe, the Knicks won only 30+ games once (47 in the NBA 1983-84 season).
Yet people kept tuning in for the high-scoring output by Bernard King. In the 1984-85 season, King had an average scoring output of 31.6 points per game in 22 games prior to the Christmas day game. He had already had 3 games of scoring 40+ points, including a 52 point performance in a victory against the Indiana Pacers a month earlier.
But King saved his best performance of the season for a Christmas showdown with the team that drafted him, the New Jersey Nets. In that game, he went on a scoring rampage. King put up a game-high 60 points against the Nets, breaking the Knick’s franchise record of most points in a single game (57 points by Richie Guerin in a 152-121 Knicks win against the Syracuse Nationals back on December 11, 1959). King went 19-of-30 from the floor (.633) and shot 22-for-26 (.846) at the free throw line. His 19 field goals made and 22 free throws made were also game highs.
Unfortunately King’s heroics went for naught as the Knicks ended up losing to the Net 120-114. Still, those who were at the game were treated to a highlight reel performance only someone of royalty could master. To this day, nobody has come close to touching King’s 60 points in a single NBA Christmas game.
1. Kobe vs. Shaq
For the early part of the 2000s, the talk of the town were the Los Angeles Lakers. They had taken the NBA with the deadly duo of SG Kobe Bryant and C Shaquille O’Neal. However things were not all hunky dory in the City of Angels. Reports came out that the Lakers’ two biggest stars were at each others throats, that they couldn’t stand the sight of one another, and it was starting to divide the locker room.
So prior to the beginning of the 2004 season, the Lakers traded away their All-Star Center to the Miami Heat for 3 players a 2006 1st round draft pick, and a 2007 2nd round draft pick. Then it just so happened that the Heat and Lakers were set to face one another in a Christmas Day matinee. It marked the first matchup between Kobe and Shaq. Many were wondering if there was going to be trash-talking or even a fight between the two players.
Unfortunately there was no such occurrence. Instead the fans were gifted with a highly competitive and a high-scoring overtime thriller. The Miami Heat were able to squeak on by with the final score of 102-104. During the game, Shaq racked up a double-double with 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor, 11 rebounds, and a game high of 3 blocks. Yet he only played just 39:00 minutes out of the possible 53 minutes of the game, fouling out before the game went into overtime. Kobe, on the other hand, played 50:00 minutes and racked up a game high 42 points, including going a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line. However he also committed a game high 9 turnovers during the contest.
So even after all the trash-talking, predictions by media members of seeing a physical confrontation, and all of the bulletin board, all the fans got were just some pregame talk between Kobe and Shaq. Instead, they let their play on the court do all the talking and it was in full volume.
Now as we get set for Christmas Day in the NBA, we’ll always have in our memories the spectacular performances of Christmas past. Which player will wow the fans this time around? What memories will be entrenched into the minds of those watching? The only way to find out is to tune in and watch. So Merry Christmas to all you NBA fans out there and enjoy some good ol’ time hoops.
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