Ever since the New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers in 1947, the public has been enamored with basketball on Christmas day. Other than a lockout-shortened 1988 season, the NBA’s Christmas slate has featured some of the best players and teams in the league.
As a result, throughout its history, we’ve gotten a myriad of top-tier talent on the holiday. These are the top 10 performances on Christmas Day.
10. Bill Russell – 1965
Bill Russell is one of the best centers in NBA history. In the 1965-66 season, the 6-foot-10 Russell averaged 12.9 points and 22.8 rebounds per game. But on the Boston Celtics Christmas day matchup against the Baltimore Bullets, Russell took his game to the next level.
In a 113-99 victory for Boston, Russell would score 16 points and grab an incredible 34 rebounds.
9. Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald – 1972
Tiny Archibald is one of the most under-appreciated players in NBA history. In 1972, Archibald was simply on another level from the rest of the league. The last person to lead the NBA in both scoring and assists for a season was Archibald in ’72 when he averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists per game.
If it weren’t for the 104-99 loss that Archibald’s Cincinnati Royals suffered to the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, Archibald’s performance would likely be higher on this list.
Nonetheless, Archibald dissected the Bucks defense to a tune of 20 points and a Christmas Day-record 18 assists.
8. Kobe Bryant – 2004
Another performance that would get more credit if his team would have won, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant put on a show on Christmas Day in 2004.
Facing off against the Miami Heat and his old teammate Shaquille O’neal, Bryant dropped 42 points in a 104-102 overtime loss. Bryant also added six assists and three rebounds but his 12-30 shooting from the field holds this performance back from true greatness.
7. Kyrie Irving – 2018
The first game since acquiring Jimmy Butler, the Philadelphia 76ers were pitted up against Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics.
With 20 seconds left, Irving would hit a shot to send the game to overtime where the Celtics would dominate and go on to win 121-114.
Irving ended the game with 40 points on 17-33 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists.
6. Kevin Durant – 2010
At the time, Durant was a budding superstar in the league. He showed that ability on Christmas against the Denver Nuggets.
Durant would score 21 of his 44 points in the third quarter and also added seven rebounds and four assists. Most impressive is the fact that Durant shot 70 percent from the field. (14-20)
5. Scottie Pippen – 1994
With Michael Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen made it his mission to lead the Chicago Bulls. That’s exactly what he did on Christmas day in 1994.
Other than scoring 36 points and grabbing 16 rebounds and dishing three assists, Pippen was a menace on defense grabbing five steals and blocking two shots.
The Bulls would end up beating the Knicks 107-104 in overtime.
4. Rick Barry -1966
The king of the underhanded free throw, Barry was as lethal of a scorer as they come back in the day. In only his second season in the league, Barry dropped 50 points on a Christmas Day win against Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals.
3. Tracy McGrady – 2003
LeBron James’ Christmas debut was spoiled by the Orlando Magic and Tracy McGrady. In a 12-point overtime victory, T-Mac dropped 41 points on 15-29 shooting, dished 11 assists and grabbed eight rebounds and three steals.
2. Bernard King – 1984
King scored a Christmas-record 60 points in 1984. The Knicks star hit 22 of his 26 free throws and also added seven rebounds and four assists.
Despite the legendary performance, the Knicks would fall 120-114 to the New Jersey Nets.
1. Wilt Chamberlain – 1961
No one dominated their era more than Wilt. At only 25 years old, the 7-foot-1 center scored 59 points and grabbed an insane 36 rebounds. Like King, Chamberlain’s monster performance wasn’t enough to get the win as his Philadelphia Warriors fell in double overtime to the New York Knicks.
Regardless, it’s crazy to think about how dominate Chamberlain was and it’s unlikely we ever see a Christmas Day game like this ever again.