Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 at 1:45 pm  |  46 responses

The 10 Best Christmas Day NBA Performances

From LeBron James to Bernard King, look back on the League’s best holiday gifts.

by Brad Graham

While the NBA’s international communications officers have been busy drumming up new season support and making a collective fuss about 2011 being Kobe Bryant’s record setting 14th Christmas Day appearance (a rather unusual record that’ll see him surpass Dolph Schayes, Earl Monroe and Shaquille O’Neal—if such a mark even matters), we can’t help but wonder whether or not it’ll lead to the Black Mamba serving up a superbly cooked banquet of stats now that the Lakers’ Head Chef is using an unfamiliar Mike Brown recipe.

Since 1947, December 25 has grown into a marquee staple on the annual pro hoops schedule. The NBA basically owns Christmas Day the way the NFL owns Thanksgiving, or the NCAA rents out the second half of March; hence why the Commissioner and his cohorts rushed for a late December start (over a more sensible New Year opening).

The Portland Trail Blazers may own the leading Christmas Day win/loss record (14-3) but as we’ve come to expect from blockbuster regular season showings, it’s often not the teams but the individual subplots, statements and athlete stat-lines which matter most.

With the next NBA season tipping off on December 25, what better time is there to unwrap a ranking of the Top 10 Christmas Day performances? They are:

10. (tie) Christmas 2010
Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James – 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists
Despite the much-hyped Christmas Day-themed NIKE sneakers trying to steal the limelight, King James’ inaugural visit to the Staples Center with his new Miami friends in tow reminded fans everywhere that his all-court brilliance can be trouble-free. Notching his 31st career triple-double—which included a season-high 5 treys—LeBron led the commanding team display as the Heatles trounced the two-time defending champion Lakers, 96-80 on national television.

10. (tie) Christmas 1993
Houston Rockets vs. Phoenix Suns
Charles Barkley – 38 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists
After being named League MVP (during the latter stages of the ‘93 postseason), Barkley, brimming with confidence, showed everyone why he was the best out west as he gave Hakeem Olajuwon and his Rockets nightmares during the Suns’ 111-91 Christmas Day victory.

9. Christmas 1994
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
Scottie Pippen – 36 points, 16 rebounds, 5 steals
After losing to the bruising Knicks in the ’94 Playoffs, Pip extracted his revenge when his Bulls (remember: Michael was swinging and missing at pitches then) danced with Pat Riley’s men on Christmas night. Hubert Davis’ miracle make may have forced an extra session, but it was all Scottie from there as the Swiss-army knife not only scored all seven of Chicago’s OT points, but also blocked consecutive trey attempts at the death to complete his reprisal, 107-104.

8. Christmas 1987
Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Dominique Wilkins – 45 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists
In a December classic, ‘Nique showed Charles Barkley and Co. what happens when you try to cage a Bird of Prey. The 106-100 end score gave the Hawks an early-season W against one of their most formidable Eastern Conference foes. ‘Nique then carried his red-hot Christmas Day form into 1988, where he finished the season tallying a career-high 30.7 ppg.

7. Christmas 2006
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade – 40 points, 11 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocks
Billed as a Mexican stand-off between the Next (Wade) and the Now (Kobe), only one player remembered to load their revolver. Thanks to his XL, Wade helped the Heat walk away with an emphatic 101-85 triumph. Bryant, meanwhile, could only manage 16 points.

6. Christmas 2002
Detroit Pistons vs. Orlando Magic
Tracy McGrady – 46 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
What makes this outing so memorable is the fact that T-Mac wasn’t supposed to participate, and as late as Christmas Eve his availability remained uncertain. Instead of a quiet dinner with the family, McGrady showed us why he was the game’s most entertaining player as he produced 46 points using a variety of classic T-Mac shots. During an era in which McGrady couldn’t be contained, the Magic only won 104-99 because their star was overcome with Christmas spirit.

5. Christmas 1992
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
Michael Jordan – 42 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals
No NBA list would be complete without an appearance from his Airness. Following his dual NBA titles and ’92 Olympic Gold, Jordan upped the ante and set about defending his crown, in style, for a second straight time. His 42 points against Patrick Ewing and the Knicks was capped off by a 89-77 Bulls victory.

4. Christmas 1966
San Francisco Warriors vs. Cincinnati Royals
Rick Barry – 50 points
One of basketball’s most prolific scorers, Rick Barry poured in a League leading (and career high) 35.6 ppg during his second pro season. On Christmas Day, during that same campaign, Barry took it straight to Oscar Robertson and the Royals, finishing with a half-a-dollar’s worth of points; but what impresses us most about his stellar night was the fact it happened during an away game. In short, Barry wasn’t just an a-hole. He was also a Grinch.

3. Christmas 1972
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Kansas City Kings
Nate Archibald – 18 assists
During the 1972-73 season, the man nicknamed Tiny became the first NBA player to lead the League in both scoring (34 ppg) and assist averages (11.4 apg). More so, Archibald was clearly in a festive season mood when he gift-wrapped a heap of points to the tune of 18 dimes (a Christmas Day record that still stands) when his Kings locked horns with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks.

2. Christmas 1961
Philadelphia Warriors vs. New York Knicks
Wilt Chamberlain – 59 points, 36 rebounds
During a season in which Wilt averaged 50 ppg and 25.7 rpg—remember, those were his averages—his December 25 output doesn’t look all that spectacular (by comparison), but that shouldn’t detract from a distinction that would’ve otherwise been most’s greatest performance ever. The upside of course is that Wilt still holds the Christmas Day record for pulling down the most rebounds in a single Dec. 25 contest with 36.

1. Christmas 1984
New Jersey Nets vs. New York Knicks
Gift by: Bernard King – 60 points
The 6-7 forward set the standard for festive season feats when he tried valiantly to guide his Knickerbockers to a holy holiday victory. Despite dropping an hours worth of points, Buck Williams and the Nets still prevailed, walking away 120-114 victors. Since that memorable King of New York showing, Kobe Bryant’s 61 point in Madison Square Garden (Feb. 2, 2009—fourth highest of his career) may have eclipsed the long-standing benchmark. But never fear Knicks fans, King’s 60 remains the highest single-game Christmas Day scoring total.

So there you have it, the top 10 (err, 11) Christmas Day performances. Looks like all the 2011 hopefuls will have their work cut out for them if they wish to best the offerings made by the Three Wise Hoopers: King (60 points), Chamberlain (36 boards) and Archibald (18 assists).

The 2011-12 NBA season opens on Christmas Day with five contests:
Game 1: Boston at New York (TNT)
Game 2: Miami at Dallas (ABC)
Game 3: Chicago at L.A Lakers (ABC)
Game 4: Orlando at Oklahoma City (ESPN)
Game 5: L.A. Clippers at Golden State (ESPN)

Brad Graham is the Editor / Art Director of the independently published basketball journal, BUCKETS Magazine—the second edition of which can be enjoyed for free here. Pre-ordering for the 2012 BUCKETS: Yearbook—featuring a massive 24 page career spotlight (and interview) with Kevin Durant; the best of 2011/all you need to know about 2012; and a riveting look at basketball’s greatest Heroes and Villains of the past 20 years—has commenced here.

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  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    That Dwyane Wade performance against LA was absolutely awesome.

  • Haven

    How can you make this list without Christmas 09 when Brandon Roy came back from a shoulder injury to lift the Blazers on his back with 41 points to beat the 1st place Nuggets?

  • http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/hamilri01.html Allenp

    Did y’all see the stats on Tiny?
    That’s for everybody talking about Nash is better than homie. Are you high!

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Who said Nash was better than Archibald?

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21


  • Selwyn ( UK )

    “Ber-NARD KING !! “Yes – and it counts ! ” (in Marv voice )

  • http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/hamilri01.html Allenp

    A couple of people on that post where we started discussing the top five point guards of all-time.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    smh, its a generational thing i think. The younger people who didn’t get much of a basketball history lesson growing up don’t seem to really care what happened before they were really paying attention. So guys like Nash, Kobe, & LeBron — get extra credit from people historically with no real idea of what they are talking about.

  • http://www.slamonline.com James R S

    JTaylor – Barry shouldn’t even be on here right? 50 points with minimal assists means he didn’t do sh!t.

  • Ldub20

    How in the hell do you “AVERAGE” 50 and 25??? Imagine if someone was able to do that now. We keep saying who is the next Jordan or the next Kobe….who is the next WILT? Seriously…imagine going against someone who was like “well time to get another 50 point 25 rebound night” and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. Makes these 20 and 10 players seem weak. I understand it was a different game and WILT actually transitioned the game…like tupac and biggie (just ahead of his time)…but damn. I wish i would average 50 and 25!

  • http://none Leif

    What do you mean how in the hell?
    The dude was guarding 6ft7 centres and he was a 7footer.. In all honestly will was a good player but he was just better during his time period. Put him in the 90′s and he wouldn’t be close. Hakeem, Shaq, Robinson, Ewing would have had there way offensively. Defensively centre’s like Zo and Mutumbo would have given him trouble considering his very basic post moves.

  • http://none Leif

    wilt* he would have been solid defensively, somewhat of an athletic mutumbo but really… he’s a product of his generation. I hate how people overrate him.

  • ripslam

    Struggling to understand how 60 points is more impressive than 59 points and 36 rebounds…

  • Mike From Spain

    36 rebounds? There are whole _teams_ that don’t grab as many rebounds!


    Tiny would own Nash

  • Justin G.

    I was one of those that said I would take Nash over Archibald. I guess it depends what kind of point you’re looking for doesn’t it? If you want a pure point guard who makes the entire team better while also shooting at a high percentage than you’re going to take Nash. If you want a score first point than you’ll take Archibald. I do wish Nash had been a little bit more selfish over his career as far as scoring but it’s just not in his nature to look for his shot unless the team is struggling. He did shoot better than 50% for 6 straight years and 49.2% last year. His 48 point outburst against Dallas and 42 against San Antonio are just two examples of how he could score if he wanted to. AllenP and nbk, I didn’t realize you guys were in your 50′s or 60′s and had followed the NBA this long, remembering all the great games Tiny had. I grant you that I was born in the early ’70s and never saw Archibald play so I’m just going off of what I read, player accounts, and other journalists lists about top point guards of the game. Incidentally, nobody I’ve read so far except for one had Archibald ahead of Nash. Interesting…

  • Justin G.

    Also, I agree that number 1 and 2 should be flip flopped on the Christmas Day list. 59 & 36 is ridiculous

  • robb

    59 & 36 is too sick

  • http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/blog/the_dagger/post/Being-an-absolute-jerk-cost-Kris-Humphries-a-K?urn=ncaab-wp4959 nbk

    A lot more shot attempts back then. A lot smaller players. Wilt.

  • http://skjflf.com Jukai

    LOL, how’d I get into this?
    Prime Archibald would make Nash his b*tch. Seriously, Nash would have to pay for Archibald’s dinner after that game. There’s no comparison.
    Unfortunately, prime Archibald didn’t last for very long. He got injured a year after his explosion season which robbed him of half his athleticism… then got injured again, which robbed him of all of it. Could you imagine a healthy Archibald for all of his career? Probably woulda never gone to Boston to win that ring, but holy smokes, he’d finish with crazy numbers.
    I’m a huge Nash fan, but Nash barely makes the top-10 point guard list. There are nine guys better than him… and unless Nash wins a ring, there’s not much he can do to change that.

  • http://skjflf.com Jukai

    But, just to put things into perspective, there was a lot more shots back then for Archibald to get that 34 a game. And his team finished with 36 wins and didn’t make the playoffs. So, you know, there’s that.
    What really should stand out about that year for Archibald is that he got over 11 assists a game. In the days where it was pretty damn tough to get assists. Playing with Sam Lacey and Tom Van Arsdale as the only other names I recognize on that team. And Arsdale only played half the season. Damn, how do you get 11 assists a game passing to Nate Williams and Matt Guokas?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OhGZNLPSOY&feature=related Allenp

    He took a lot of shots for real. 27 a game. But, then he got 11 assists, so cleary he wasn’t just shooting.
    I think it’s impressive that he rebuilt his game after the knee injury and learned how to run a team without dominating as a scorer. I find that sort of change a clear indication of a very good basketball mind and skill set.

  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    Allen: Totally agree. He wasn’t just athletic, he was a skilled guy. He wasn’t like Iverson, who could both shoot and pass masterfully but only if the ball went through him— he could distribute while taking a backseat, as shown by his time in Boston.
    He actually changed his game a lot, and was still an all-star through all variations of himself. That’s quite a feat in itself.

  • Sean B

    I refuse to buy the hype with the stats on Wilt Chamberlain. The game was too much different than what you see now.

    For example during that year Wilt averaged 50-25 teams in the NBA had an average of 120 possessions per game. For comparison to today’s game, the 2007-08 Boston Celtics had about 80 possessions per game.

    And let’s not forget 98.5% of the league back then was made up of slow, un-athletic white guys. Watching Wilt back then against anyone other than Bill Russell(and he put up #s against him too), was like watching the nation’s top high school recruit against 10 year olds. It was a joke.

    The fact that he has all these records and put up all these numbers but only won 2 NBA Championships I think says it all.

  • http://www.leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=pawtucketymca Gametimeweezy

    You are seriously underestimating the the raw dominance of Wilt Chamberlain. This was not Tim Tebow hype. The man averaged 50 ppg for every game he played for an entire season. Not just once or twice a year. He was skilled and powerful and ahead of his time. A man amongst boys.

  • Boss Bai;ey

    What we need to discuss is who is capable of placing there names on the list this year. Basically every relevant name in the L is playing this Sunday with the exception of Nash, DWill, Grizzlies and the Spurs. I believe that Kevin Durant will be the one to own the day. Playing against an disinterested Orlando team Durantula will easily be able to drop 45 & 12 (as long as Westbrook doesn’t decide to make it his mission to add his name to this list) So in five years when SLAM does a Top 15 Xmas Performances KD will be near the top of the list.

  • Boss Bai;ey

    SLAM can I get Top 10 Xmas Sneakers list???

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    “He was skilled and powerful and ahead of his time. A man amongst boys.” that is the point of both the last two comments. Which have a contradicting message.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Great piece.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    LOL I love the argument “only won two championships,” as if “only” winning TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS makes you a loser. I also love the (insanely inaccurate) argument that Wilt played against 6’6 white guys.
    A list of players 6’9 and over whom Wilt regularly faced throughout his career:
    Walter Dukes (7’0″, 220 lbs.)
    Swede Halbrook (7’3, 235 lbs.)
    Tom Boerwinkle (7’0″, 265 lbs.)
    Bob Lanier (6’11″, 265 lbs.)
    Darrall Imhoff (6’10″, 220 lbs.)
    Otto Moore (6’11″, 210 lbs.)
    Sam Lacey (6’10″, 235 lbs.)
    George Johnson (6’11″, 245 lbs.)
    Paul Ruffner (6’10″, 230 lbs.)
    Dick Cunningham (6’10″, 245 lbs.)
    Walt Bellamy (6’11″, 225 lbs.)
    Leroy Ellis (6’10″, 210 lbs.)
    Nate Thurmond (6’11″, 235 lbs.)
    Mel Counts (7’0″, 235 lbs.)
    Nate Bowman (6’10″, 230 lbs.)
    Clyde Lee (6’10″, 210 lbs.)
    Walt Wesley (6’11″, 230 lbs.)
    Henry Akin (6’10″, 225 lbs.)
    Hank Finkel (7’0″, 240 lbs.)
    Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7’2″, 225 lbs.)
    Neal Walk (6’10″, 220 lbs.)
    Elmore Smith (7’0″, 250 lbs.)
    Jim McDaniels (6’11″, 230 lbs.)
    LaRue Martin (6’11″, 215 lbs.)
    Tom Riker (6’10″, 225 lbs.)
    Conrad Dierking (6’9″, 225 lbs.)
    Johnny “Red” Kerr (6’9″, 230 lbs.)
    Bob Pettit (6’9″, 220 lbs.)
    Spencer Haywood (6’9″, 230 lbs.)
    Rick Roberson (6’9″, 230 lbs.)
    Luke Jackson (6’9″, 240 lbs.)
    Duke Hogue (6’9,” 240 lbs.)
    Zelmo Beaty (6’9″, 230 lbs.)
    Len Chappell (6’9″, 240 lbs.)
    Elvin Hayes (6’9″, 235 lbs.)
    Hub Reed (6’9″, 220 lbs.)
    LOL at people trying to dismiss Wilt Chamberlain’s legacy.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Swede Halbrook played ball for about three years in the early 1960s. If he was 7’3 playing against “6’7 white guys,” why didn’t he dominate like Wilt? The height argument is moot. That’s like saying LeBron James wouldn’t be as good if he wasn’t so strong–no sh!t! It’s not NEARLY the only thing that makes him a great basketball player, though.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Not to take anything away from Bill Russell, but here’s a comparison for you:
    “According to Philadelphia76ers stat man Harvey Pollack, Chamberlain and Russell played head-to-head a total of 142 times. In those matchups, Wilt averaged 28.7 PPG and 28.7 RPG. Russell, on the other hand, averaged 23.7 PPG, and 14.5 RPG.
    Also of note is the fact Wilt scored 62 points in a game against Russell on January 14, 1962 in Boston, and scored more than 50 points against him in six other games. The most points Russell ever scored against Wilt? 37. Also, Russell only scored more than 30 against Wilt two other times.
    Of further note is the fact Wilt set an NBA record grabbing 55 rebounds against Russell in a game on November 24, 1960, and grabbed more than 40 rebounds against Bill in six other games.
    His dominance of Russell was simply a fact and was profound. If it wasn’t for the fact Russell had Hall of Famers surrounding him his entire career, Wilt’s teams would have certainly won at least two or three of those titles Bill and the Celts have.”

  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    Wilt shouldn’t lose much points for playing against guys far less athletic than he is. Wilt should lose points because winning a championship at times was secondary a few times in his career.
    That being said, Russell’s will to win is vastly overrated.

  • Justin G.

    Jukai, you’re putting too much emphasis on rings as do many on here. Stockton didn’t win a ring but he’s still top 5 easily. Gary Payton didn’t win a ring until he went trolling for one and I don’t think anyone could call him a great contributor to that Heat team. As a point guard, your job is run the offense and make your teammates better by getting them shots in their comfort zones. I’d say Nash is one of the best at doing that and with a lot less talented players than a lot of these other point guards have played with. I mean, who’s the most talented player (not named Kidd or KJ like his rookie years) that Nash ever played with? Nowitzki early on and Stoudemire later. The teams/players he’s had could never be compared to those that Magic, Isiah and Stockton played with just to name a few.

    I used to think that Wilt wasn’t that great because of who he faced and the fact he was so ahead of his time but I don’t anymore. Yes he had all kinds of advantages but how is that his fault? I didn’t know about the differences in possessions which is crazy to think about it being that many. What would Jordan do if his team had 40 more possessions in his prime?

  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    Justin: No no, I didn’t mean Wilt should lose points for not winning enough championships. He won two freaking rings on two different teams and went to game sevens five times in his career by the eventual champions. He shouldn’t lose any points for that.
    He should lose points because there was about a 1/3rd to a 1/2 of his career where it was more important for him to break records than it was to win games. I mean, to give you an example, when he vowed to lead the league in assists, he’d used to yell at his teammates for making the extra pass instead of just shooting it to get him the dime.
    Wilt was legendarily good, but there was a few times in his career where his priorities were ehhhhh.

  • Allenp

    I can’t believe anybody is questioning the talent Nash had. Dirk and Amare.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Yeah Nash played with a top 7 power-forward of all time, and another power-forward who is also better than Shawn Kemp (Amare), at least offensively by far. I don’t think you can argue Nash had worse teammates than Gary Payton. As for Isiah Thomas, he had some great teammates, but none like Jordan, Magic, or Bird. The two Hall-of-Famers he played with were Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars; not exactly Scottie Pippen (Jordan), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy (Magic), or Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish (Bird).
    And another thing about Wilt: the NBA changed the rules to make it harder for him; the refs let his defenders get away with pure hackery. In today’s game he would be pampered with superstar calls. Think about it.

  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    Teddy: Wilt said himself that the 80s NBA would have actually benefited him, with greater parity and the three point line… he said with so many great players, you could no longer triple team him and with the three point line, everything is spread out so much farther. He said he’d score 75 points a game.
    Whether you believe the last line or not (ahem…) he does have some pretty good points.

  • Sean B

    I’d say winning two titles in a 9 or 10 team league depending on the year is a pretty horrible ratio, especially when you consider the fact the Wilt’s arch-rival won 11 titles in 13 years during the same span.

    If Wilt was so great why did he always shrink in the pressure moments? Why did he get traded twice in his prime??? The guy was an overrated ball-hogging loser.

  • Justin G.

    Teddy, Dirk has become that player since Nash left Dallas. I don’t think back then you would have called him a top 7 PF of all time. Amare being better than Shawn Kemp is debatable but definitely close. I wasn’t just talking about Hall of Famers though either. The Pistons were a pretty deep team and as for Magic, it’s not just the Hall of Famers there either. Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, AC Green just to name a few were very good players and played their roles perfectly. As for Bird, don’t forget Bill Walton and Dennis Johnson. Really though, who MJ and Bird had as teammates are irrelevant since we’re discussing point guards.

  • Justin G.

    As for Wilt, yes the three point line would have helped but the list of bigger stronger centers that he would have had to deal with on both ends of the court is probably bigger too. I also remember during the all star game with the 50 greatest of all time when he got interviewed at courtside that he could still score 12 a game. I think he was in his 50′s at the time? Highly unlikely

  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    Justin: Wilt said a LOT of stupid sh*t. I’ll moderately defend Wilt: in his 40s, he regularly participated in scrimmages with the Lakers. There’s a famous semi-verified story about him getting pissed at a rookie Magic calling ticky-tac fouls during the pickups and he spent most of the game blocking the hell out of most of Magic’s shots.
    Players spoke so highly of how Chamberlain performed that the Cleveland Cavaliers offered him a roster spot. When he was 45.
    And at 50, Wilt Chamberlain was still completing marathons.
    I think even now, Wilt Chamberlain would be an athletic monster.
    But 12-points a game at 50….? Uh… yeah, Wilt also said he slept with 20,000 women.

  • a_whiteman

    Top 4 pgs ever magic stockton zeke jkidd abd I don’t see anybody passing any of them anytine soon, steve nash is borderline top 10 even with a ring he doesn’t sniff top 5

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  • http://www.apbr.org/forum Ray

    On Xmas day 1968, Chamberlain blocked 23 shots in the nationally televised game vs Phoenix (not recognized as NBA record since blocked shots were not official at that time) – this should probably the #1 Xmas day achievement.

  • http://j.com kk

    D Rose and Luol Deng clutch shots and phenominal performances