The NBA isn’t like other professional sports in North America; they play on Christmas. Not only do they play, but the games on the national holiday signal a focal point for most NBA observers and double as the day when it’s finally appropriate to take stock of the first quarter of the NBA season. With Christmas approaching this week, we thought it would make sense to count down the 10 biggest Christmas Day moments in NBA history, culminating in our top two choices on Christmas Even 2014. That’s today, and here they are…
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2. Bernard King scores 60 points in Christmas Day loss to the New Jersey Nets
He had 40 at half, and it seemed like he could hit whatever he threw up, particularly from his go-to spot on the left block:
But for all of Bernard King’s scoring prowess on Christmas Day, 1984, the Knicks were unable to muster offense anywhere else. A Nets team spearheaded by the trio of Michael Ray Richardson (36 points), Mike Gimski (27) and Kevin Ransey (24), beat New York, 120-116, despite Bernard King’s all-time Christmas Day scoring mark of 60 points.
Stilll, Bernard’s performance was one for the ages, and kept Knicks fans at Madison Square Garden dialed in to see just how many the sweet-shooting forward would score. King finished 19-for-30 from the field and 22-of-26 from the free throw line. The fact he scored so many without attempting a single three-pointer shows you how much the game has changed since 1984.
At the time of the scoring outburst, it was an MSG record:
There’s a contemporary Knicks forward with a similarly smooth mid-range game who is playing on a dreadful Knicks team this season. Carmelo Anthony bested King’s scoring record at MSG by a Knicks player last season when he dropped 62 (Kobe has a 61-point game at the Basketball Mecca). At least ‘Melo won the game against the then-Bobcats. Knicks fans are hoping Anthony won’t end up like King, who was one of Anthony’s NBA idols as a kid. Bernard never really won while scoring insane amounts of points (he led the NBA in PPG that season with 32.9) for those early and mid 1980s Knicks squads.
Lifelong Knicks fan Spike Lee will always remember exactly where he was when King torched New Jersey for 60 on Christmas Day:
1. Shaq and Kobe Bryant face off in 2004 after their on-going feud implodes a possible Lakers dynasty
If you didn’t know, Kobe Bryant used to play with Shaquille O’Neal. The two combined with a bevy of smart and underrated rotational players (Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox et al.) to form the backbone of a Lakers team that won three titles in a row in 2000, 2001 and 2002. But while Shaq was the most dominant player in the game at the time, Kobe was morphing into Mamba, a vino-loving assassin.
To accommodate their blossoming superstar, rather than their current one, the Lakers traded Shaq to Miami following the 2003-04 season (when an LA team featuring Gary Payton and Karl Malone got beat by the Pistons in the Finals, 4-1). This came after both Lakers stars chided each other publicly in the press and privately in the confines of the Lakers locker room. Their broiling animosity dominated headlines on the West Coast for two years before Shaq was moved to Miami for a po-po platter of players with Lamar Odom as the marquee name coming back to Hollywood.
With all that hype in mind, the NBA’s Schedule Gods decided to put their first meeting since the split on Christmas Day, 2004. What a doozy of a game for Christmas Day!
We can remember eagerly awaiting the pre-game handshake when it seemed like they might either fight, or give each other DAP. Instead, they ended up giving a half-hearted attempt at a pound that never really materialized (all those folks who say they didn’t acknowledge each other weren’t watching closely enough).
The game itself lived up to the billing. Shaq ended up with 24 points and 11 rebounds, ho-hum numbers when compared to his peak 1999-2000 season, but still impressive condering his co-star’s shot-heavy performance. Dwyane Wade attempted 26 shots, making 10 of them for a team-high 29 points to go with 10 dimes, two steals and a block.
But Kobe was better in the point column than both Heat stars, netting 42 on 12-of-30 from the field and 5-of-13 from beyond the arc. Bryant added six assists and a steal, but he was perhaps a tad overexcited to be facing off against his nemesis on Christmas Day. Bean also committed nine turnovers.
But the game was close, and Wade had two chances to win it at the end of regulation before the teams headed to OT knotted at 94. Wade added six points in OT, and while Odom hit a pair of three-pointers and a pair of free throws to keep pace, a three-point shot by Kobe with under a second to play in OT missed, and the Heat had a 104-102 OT win.
Now you can exhale, and make sure to enjoy today’s games. One of them might end up on this list in the future.
What are your favorite Christmas Day moments?
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