The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past

The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past

Much like Santa, LeBron James has delivered on Xmas day.
Much like Santa, LeBron James has delivered on Xmas day.
Image: AP

Christmas Day has been a centerpiece of the NBA regular season for generations, a showcase day when everyone can gather around the television and see the best in basketball. And the best in basketball have given fans as much as Santa Claus over the years, putting forth incredible performances year in and year out.

What are the very best Christmas games of the very best players? Let’s unwrap a little history…

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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Wilt Chamberlain, 1961

Wilt Chamberlain, 1961

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: AP

While Bernard King is the Christmas scoring record holder with his 60-point game against the Nets in 1984, it was Chamberlain’s record King broke, as Wilt the Stilt scored 59 against the Knicks… in a 136-135 double-overtime loss for the Philadelphia Warriors. But it’s not just that Chamberlain scored 59 — he grabbed 36 rebounds, still the most ever for any player on Christmas.

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Oscar Robertson, 1961

Oscar Robertson, 1961

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Image: AP

In the midst of a season when he averaged a triple-double, the Big O, unsurprisingly, had one on Christmas. Not just any triple-double, though: 40 points, 17 assists, and 12 rebounds as the Cincinnati Royals also got 35 points from Wayne Embry, 28 from Jack Twyman, 127 as a team… and still lost by 14 points to the Lakers, who saw Elgin Baylor score 40 points and Jerry West tally 31.

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Tiny Archibald, 1972

Tiny Archibald, 1972

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: AP

The 18 assists that Archibald had for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings still stand as a Christmas record, Since he had 20 points, too, Archibald had a hand in 56 of the 99 points the Kings scored, and was a big reason they had five other players in double figures. It still wasn’t enough to overcome 32 points and 13 rebounds from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as Oscar Robertson also chipped in 16 points, eight assists, and five boards against his former franchise and the Bucks prevailed, 104-99. Alas we could not find a photo from that game, but here’s one from that season.

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Larry Bird, 1980

Larry Bird, 1980

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: AP

Incredibly, Bird only played three Christmas games, and two of them were duds. But in his second season in the NBA, Bird showed that he was ready to lead the Celtics back to the title they’d win in the spring of 1981, scoring 28 points with 20 rebounds in a 117-108 win over a spry Knicks team (game against the Hawks from that season, pictured) that got 30 points from Ray Williams and 23 from Micheal Ray Richardson at Madison Square Garden.

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Michael Jordan, 1992

Michael Jordan, 1992

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: Getty Images

His Airness usually clowned the Knicks in the spring, but this time, he did it on Christmas, putting on a one-man show with 42 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals in the Bulls’ 89-77 home victory. No other player in the game had more points than Rolando Blackman, who scored 17 to lead the Knicks, a 60-win team that season that still couldn’t get past the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals.

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Shaquille O’Neal, 1999

Shaquille O’Neal, 1999

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: Getty Images

The defending champion Spurs came to Los Angeles for a Christmas showdown of three of the game’s premier big men, Tim Duncan and David Robinson for San Antonio against the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal. And Shaq destroyed them, needing little help from Kobe Bryant, who shot 7-for-19 and had four turnovers. O’Neal had 32 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks, and both got the Lakers even with the Spurs and put them ahead to stay in the fourth quarter.

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Kobe Bryant, 2004

Kobe Bryant, 2004

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: Getty Images

After the departure of Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers sucked in 2004-05 and had little business being on the same floor as the Heat. But this wasn’t just about the teams, it was about Kobe against Shaq — and Kobe showed out with 42 points and six assists, dragging a team whose other starters were Lamar Odom, Jumaine Jones, Chucky Atkins, and Chris Mihm to overtime before Miami, which featured Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones, and Udonis Haslem alongside O’Neal, prevailed 104-102.

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LeBron James, 2010

LeBron James, 2010

Illustration for article titled The NBA G.O.A.T.s of Christmas past
Image: Getty Images

There have been higher-scoring King James games on Christmas, led by his 37 points in 2011. And there have been statement games, like in 2016 when LeBron scored 31 points with 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers to deny the Warriors any revenge from that June’s Finals. But LeBron’s signature Christmas game is his triple-double against the Lakers — 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists — in his first holiday extravaganza with the Heat, a 96-80 win at Staples Center, sealed, like the 2016 Finals, on a Kyrie Irving shot in the closing seconds.

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Kyrie Irving, 2018

Kyrie Irving, 2018

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Image: Getty Images

The story never much changes between the Celtics and 76ers, only the names and faces on either side. This time, it was Irving scoring 40 points, including the shot that sent the game to overtime, where Boston, naturally, finished off Philadelphia.

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Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.