For many around the globe, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” filled with presents, festivities, jingle bells and reindeer. While not typically associated with sports, there is one major American professional sports league that has matchups an- nually on Christmas Day. The National Basketball Association has a long-standing tradition of holding marquee basketball matchups on the twenty-fifth of December. The tradition is steeped in history and over the years has had some memorable competi- tions and record-breaking feats. From LeBron to Michael, Magic to Kobe the NBA’s Christmas extravaganza is certainly an extra special present for die-hard fans.
The first NBA game held on Christmas was back in 1947. The New York Knicks hosted the Providence Steamrollers at the world-famous Madison Square Garden. The Knicks came out victorious, winning 89-75. Since then, the tradition quickly caught on mostly because there were no other major sporting events on Christmas. As part of its collective bargaining agreement, the National Hockey League cannot make its players compete on Yuletide. Moreover, the National Football League does not have matchups on Xmas unless it falls on a Sunday, Thursday, or Monday, the days on which NFL games are played each week. Furthermore, the National Collegiate Athletic As- sociation (NCAA) does not hold any of its most popular sports, such as basketball and football, on Christmas. These intermissions, coupled with the offseasons of Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, force sports-hungry Americans to rely on the NBA to satisfy their appetite. To elevate the prestige of their Christmas day games, pairings are often between rivalry teams, playoff rematches, and power-house franchise battles. Also, players wear stylish alternate uniforms and sneakers to wow viewers. Additionally, all six matchups are televised nationally on ABC or ESPN, easily accessible to millions of viewers. Overall, the NBA’s Christmas matchups are a big “gift” to the league and sports fans alike.
Christmas games have a storied history and have been packaged with wild stats and memorable performances. Bernard King of the New York Knicks holds the record for most points on the holiday, with 60 in a 1984 matchup against the New Jersey Nets. The Knicks have also played most frequently of any franchise on Christmas, a record 53 times. While Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has played in 16 holiday games, the most of any player. The Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies have yet to play on St Nick’s Day. Wilt Chamberlain grabbed the most rebounds in a Christmas game, 36 in 1961, and Nate Archibald had the most assists in a single Yuletide game, making 18 in 1972. Also, Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady averaged the most points over his Christmas career, putting up an insane 43.4 points per game.
In addition to the amazing statistics put up on Christmas, there have been many memorable games played on the holiday as well. In 1961, Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain put up 59 points and 36 boards in his Philadelphia Warriors’ 136-135 loss to the New York Knicks in double-overtime. On Christmas day 1985, number one overall pick rookie Patrick Ewing guided the New York Knicks to 113-104 double-overtime upset victory over the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. Ewing had 32 points and 11 rebounds. In 1995, for the first time ever, the previous season’s NBA Finals matchup was played on Christmas. In a low scoring affair, Orlando Magic duo Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal combined for 44 points and the Houston Rocket’s Hakeen Olajuwon had 30 as Orlando won 92-90. Nine years later O’Neal met former teammate Kobe Bryant for the first time since O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. Bryant and O’Neal had won three titles together with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat came out victors 104-102 in a thrilling overtime affair. Fast forward to 2008 and the defending champion Celtics rolled into the new season with a 19 game winning streak. Their Finals opponent Los Angeles Lakers snapped this streak, winning 92-83. Los Angeles’ coach, Phil Jackson, garnered his 1,000th career win that day. Lastly, in 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Golden State Warriors in a rematch of the previous season’s Finals. In a nail-biter, the Cavs overcame a 14 point deficit to squeak by, winning on a last-second shot by guard Kyrie Irving.
The NBA’s Christmas games are as thrilling as Christmas morning. There have been record-breaking and exciting matchups over the years. This season, the defending champion Toronto Raptors face their division rival Boston Celtics. Then, conference powerhouses collide as the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Philadelphia 76ers and the Golden State Warriors play the Houston Rockets. After that, Los Angeles’ new-look Lakers and Clippers will take the court. Lastly, in the nightcap, two young and exciting teams clash in the New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets. So in between feasts and festivities, grab some egg-nog, cozy up on the couch, and enjoy some hoops!