A Hardwood Holiday Tradition
The NBA has been playing games on Christmas Day since 1947. Over the past few decades, the Christmas Day matchups have become a showcase for the game’s best teams and players. Here are the top Christmas Day games of all time.
Philadelphia Warriors vs New York Knicks in 1961
The Warriors’ Wilt Chamberlain gifted fans with the first huge Christmas Day game in 1961. Wilt the Stilt turned in a typical performance with 59 points and 36 rebounds — just another day at the office for the hall of famer. As often happened when Wilt dominated like this, his Warriors lost 136-135. But his play still set the precedent for the jaw dropping performances on so many Christmases to come.
New Jersey Nets vs New York Knicks in 1984
Bernard King was one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, but on Christmas Day 1984 he outdid even himself. He scored 60 points against the Nets in Madison Square Garden, a Christmas total that still hasn’t been surpassed. King, utilizing his standard array of post-ups, baseline fadeaways, and a couple dozen free throws, had tossed in 40 points by halftime. His team lost however, as was often the case when King had his more impressive outbursts.
Chicago Bulls vs New York Knicks 1992
Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, the 90s, need we say more? The Bulls and Knicks had one of the most heated rivalries in NBA history, especially on Christmas Day. In 1992, Jordan avenged an earlier Christmas Day loss to the Knicks when he registered 42 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists to knock off Ewing and the Knicks. The game proved to be a preview of the epic 1993 Eastern Finals, which the Bulls used to catapult themselves to the NBA title.
Miami Heat vs Los Angles Lakers 2004
This game, which marked the first matchup between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant since their relationship imploded in Los Angeles, might have been the most anticipated Christmas Day game of all time. The pregame handshakes were a bit cold, but the game lived up to the hype, with the Heat prevailing 104-102 in overtime. Shaq would have the next laugh too, as he won his first Kobe-less title two years later. This game also signaled the true beginning of Christmas day as the NBA’s showcase event.
Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers 2008
This was a rematch of the previous year’s Finals, which Boston’s Big Three snatched away from Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The Christmas Day game had a different outcome however, as Bryant, Pau Gasol, and a young Andrew Bynum defeated the Celtics 93-82. The victory was Laker coach Phil Jackson’s 1000th win and propelled the Lakers to the first of back to back titles for the third time.