The NBA isn’t like other professional sports in 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 a 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 Eve 2014.
7. Michael Jordan scores 42 points as the Bulls top the Knicks in 1992
Michael Jordan was coming off a 1991-92 campaign that saw him win his second consecutive NBA Title and Finals MVP award as well as help the Americans win a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona that summer.
But he and his worn-down Bulls mates — including fellow gold-medal winning Olympian, Scott Pippen — still had to face a tough-minded Knicks team that next year led by Patrick Ewing and John Starks. If the Bulls were to have any chance at the first three-peat since Bill Russell‘s 1960s-era Celtics, they knew they’d have to get through the Knicks.
Christmas Day, 1992, was MJ’s chance to show New York that he was still up to the challenge even after consecutive runs to NBA Finals wins and his gold-medal winning performance in the 1992 Olympics for the Dream Team — at team that also counted Patrick Ewing as a member.
Cut up the highlight reel. MJ was 15-of-34 on his way to a game-high 42 points in the brutalizing 89-77 Bulls win on Christmas Day. The Bulls shot just 40 percent from the field and the Knicks were at 37.8 in the loss. Besides his 42 points, His Airness also had eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in the grind-it-out affair.
People forget how worn down MJ was at this point in his career. He was taking on all challengers as he site atop the NBA’s throne as a back-to-back champion, and he was the biggest name in sports as the signature athlete of Nike and Jordan Brand’s hundred-million dollar empire that would only grow in the ensuing years.
With MJ retiring that summer to go try his hand at minor-league baseball, his Christmas Day performance against the Knicks is a reminder of just how competitive he was even after logging so many minutes over the two previous seasons. It was also one of the last regular season performances we’d get of MJ on a national stage before his first retirement and historic comeback.