From Bill Russell to Russell Westbrook NBA stars have always shined bright on Christmas Day. Since the NBA‘s inaugural season the league has delighted round ball fans on all but one December 25th. The game has seen tremendous growth since those 1950s contests featuring the likes of Bob Pettit and Bob Cousy, yet while the performers have changed the performances have remained spectacular.
Whether you are a casual onlooker partaking in the mastery of Tracy McGrady’s 46 point game, or a diehard New York Knicks’ fanatic basking in the gift of a 60 point explosion by Knicks’ legend Bernard King. The slate of Christmas' games never disappoints. Each game seems to offer something different yet fascinating for every fan. King was a native New Yorker when he set the Garden ablaze with his scoring onslaught. Equally as impressive, he and McGrady managed to post such gaudy numbers without hitting one three-pointer. The only reason the N.Y. forward’s feat does not make the list is his incomparable efforts were for not as the Knicks lost 120 – 114.
Oscar Robertson was another gift that kept giving every time his Cincinnati Royals touched the hardwood on Christmas Day. The guard notched one of his patented triple-doubles in a 141 – 127 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The 40 point, 17 assist and 12 rebound present to fans proved to be underwhelming as the Lakers won each quarter on their way to the victory. Then there was the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain, who snatched a record 36 rebounds, to go along with 59 points in a 136 – 135 loss to the New York Knicks. Chamberlain’s rebounding record, King’s scoring record and Robertson’s triple-double did not translate into a win, and as we all know you play to win the game.
Victories are what differentiate effort from accomplishment, and allow the performance to stand the test of time. There have been countless remarkable scoring and rebounding feats throughout the years, but individual numbers unattached to victories are as depressing as empty boxes under the Christmas tree. A great performance accompanied by an even greater victory is the story within the headlines of this countdown.
11) Russell Westbrook (2016): 31 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, a steal & a block
As a unit OKC placed four players in double figures (including Russ), due largely to the lead guards creativity. The point controlled the contest with a game high in points (31) and assists (15) leaving no doubt he was up for the challenge of leading the Thunder.
10) Jerry West (1963): 47 points
No NBA scoring list is complete without “the Logo” making an appearance at some point. In this instance Jerry West makes an appearance at number 10. The Los Angeles Laker legend arrived in New York City to take on Bob Boozer and the New York Knicks. The eastern conference opponent took the floor with a 9 – 27 record but were equipped to stop West. At least through three quarters.
Los Angeles trailed throughout the game before a 41 point fourth quarter to take the lead, and win the game. West was the catalyst of the comeback finishing up with 47 points. This was not the last time the guard scorched a club on December 25th, just two seasons later the NBA icon scored 44 points in a win at home.
9) Tracy McGrady (2003): 41 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, three steals & one block
The future met the present in Orlando on this Christmas Day, as LeBron James and Tracy McGrady squared off. Outside of James v. McGrady there was little else worth watching as the two squads combined for a 16 – 41 record. James had just 28 games of NBA experience, but played like a grizzled veteran scoring 34 points, as he led Ira Newble, Kedrick Brown and the rest of his band of underwhelming men to overtime.
A 19 point first quarter by McGrady was capped off by six points and three assists in the extra period. The Magic star finished the event with 41 points and Orlando grabbed the win 113 – 101. The slender forward later admitted James coming to town and the game being on Christmas Day gave him added motivation.
8) Brandon Roy (2009): 41 points, six rebounds, four assists, & a steal
Injuries and frankly playing in the city of Portland have allowed the NBA world to forget just how majestic of a basketball player Brandon Roy was. The former Washington Huskie was an explosive scorer who mastered the mid-range jump shot. On this evening Roy curved up Carmelo Anthony ,Chauncey Billups and the rest of the Denver Nuggets for 41 points after an exhilarating 16 point second quarter.
The Blazers entered the fourth quarter trailing 76 – 74, despite Roy’s marksmanship. The guard scored 10 of the team’s next 19 points as Portland served its division foe a 107 – 96 loss. The 6’6 former Huskie never played on Christmas Day again, leaving many fans wondering what could have been if injuries did not derail his career.
7) Oscar Robertson (1960): 32 points, 16 assists, 15 rebounds & (1963): 37 points, 16 assists & 15 rebounds
It is only fitting that the game’s first multi-dimensional star have more than one entry on this list. As basketball fans we will never truly appreciate just how much of a basketball virtuoso Oscar Robertson was. History can be kind, and in some cases too kind, to some of the game’s previous warriors. However, in the case of Robertson his-story has not done justice to his foray into the game. It is almost befitting on a day designated for giving “the Big O” gave us two wonderful gifts. On two separate days and three years apart Robertson did simply what Robertson does.
Christmas landed on a Sunday in 1960 and the point guard started the week off with a 126 – 119 victory. The Royals led at halftime 60 – 52 and continued to roll, as Robertson led all scorers with 32 points. Jack Twyman and four other Royals registered double-doubles in the victory. The 1963 contest pitted Cliff Hagan, Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks (currently the Atlanta Hawks) against Oscar, Wayne Embry and crew. The NBA legend scored a game high 37 in leading the Royals to a 113 – 107 victory.
6) Moses Malone (1986): 28 points, 21 rebounds, five blocks, & three steals
After leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1983 title the 76ers decided to trade all world center Moses Malone for what amounted to nonsense in Cliff Robinson and cap space relief in Jeff Ruland. Team owner Harold Katz felt trading one of the league’s highest paid players in Malone for a cat with chronic knee and shoulder issues made the Sixers “a younger faster team”. In actuality it made Philly a much less expensive team and that was the number one goal for Katz, allegedly.
Nevertheless, the three time league MVP got a chance to exact revenge on this Christmas Day. The contest was Malone’s first game against the division foe and the center destroyed his former club. The one-time 76er single-handily outrebounded Philly’s starting frontcourt 21-to-19 and tied with the Sixers’ Robinson for a game high 28. As if Moses’ board work was not emphatic enough the big man added five blocked shots and three steals for good measure. Ruland did not play in the Christmas Day game, and only managed five games in the 1986 season.
5) Kevin Durant (2010): 44 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals & two blocks
What started as another Christmas Day contest against two division foes turned into a Kevin Durant shooting exposé. The forward shot 6-for-8 in the third quarter, including 3-for-3 from the arc, en-route to a 21 point quarter. Durant almost outscored the entire Denver Nuggets team (26 – 21), and finished up with 44 points.
Former Thunder teammate James Harden and Durant were the only OKC players to shoot well, going a combined 20-for-31 from the field, KD provided additional punch from three shooting 4-for-7. Oklahoma City won the game 114 – 106, yet the story was Durant’s explosive third quarter. Harden later summed up the shooting by saying “When Durant is in such a shooting zone,……….We don't need anything else," Harden said. "Give him the ball and get out of the way."
4) Dominique Wilkins (1987): 45 points, nine rebounds & three assists
Being dubbed “the Human Highlight Film” can be both the gift and the curse. There are times where a highlight can mislead people into believing your game is voided of the necessary facets to win. However, Dominique Wilkins left little doubt this was not the case Christmas night in Philadelphia. “The Human Highlight Film” lived up to his namesake and solidified his dope-ness by notching 45 points against Charles Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers. Thus showing the world he was more than a mere dunker.
The forward made 17 field goals, outscored and outrebounded Philadelphia’s star 45 – 22 & nine boards to seven in the 106 – 100 win. The next night Nique gave the New York Knicks 37 just to confirm he was nice and for the season crossed the 40 point plateau 13 times.
3) Rick Barry (1966): 50 points & six rebounds
“Love Conquers All, Even Rick Sometimes” was the headline three days prior to the San Francisco Warriors arriving into town on Christmas night, and three days prior to Rick Barry choosing hate over love in the form of hanging 50 on the Cincinnati Royals in a 124 – 112 win. Most are aware that Barry dropped 50 that faithful evening, which still stands today as the most points scored in a Christmas Day win. Yet, few ever discuss the story below that headline.
Just 57 days earlier Barry came into the Queen City and gave Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas work. To the tune of 57 points, his season’s high. A few weeks later the Royals traveled to San Fran to play the Warriors in back-to-back games, with a Los Angeles Lakers game sandwiched in between. Cincinnati split those two contests, but managed to “hold” the Warriors forward to 36 and 33 respectfully. The man credited for Barry’s struggles that night was a forward named Bob “Bean” Love, hence the headline that began this passage.
A funny tidbit to that record breaking night was Barry was not slated to play. A severely sprained ankle ligament was expected to sideline him, but once the fierce competitor caught wind of Bob Love’s carnation to defensive stopper he undoubtedly decided it was go time. A second tidbit of note is Love credited the Warriors legend with getting him cut from the Royals in 1965. The future Chicago Bulls all-star was cut after an exhibition encounter with Barry. Love was quoted as saying “after he scored 22 points in a quarter on me they let me go, this was before anyone knew what he could do.”
2) Bill Russell (1958): 32 points & 33 rebounds
There is no rebounding record where Bill Russell is not ranked first or second. Yet when it comes to scoring, now that is a completely different animal. Getting buckets was not the 11-time champion’s strong suit, but winning was. High scoring individual conquests when it came to Russell were replaced by gaudy rebounding numbers and ring acquisitions. 1958 became the foundation for both accomplishments.
Regarded as the greatest rebounder in NBA history, the icon showed why pulling down 33 rebounds in a 129 – 120 win. The player many believed to be offensively challenged added 32 points for good measure, proving there was nothing the he was incapable of doing.
1) Wilt Chamberlain (1959): 45 points, 34 rebounds & zero fouls
Despite popular perception Wilt Chamberlain did play against multiple seven footers, and did so in an era where jailhouse rules were accepted and encouraged. AS A ROOKIE Chamberlain recorded 34 rebounds, a record at the time, in a 140 – 136 win against the Syracuse Nationals. AS A ROOKIE………..MEANING LIKE FIRST TIME EVER…………Wilt went on to shatter that record by grabbing 55 boards just 11 months later. The Warrior’s center was a force many in the mostly flat-footed league had never encountered.
The feat in itself was remarkable, but when one adds context it becomes ungodly. “The Big Musty” dominated the paint while playing against an all-star in Red Kerr and two Hall of Famers in George Yardley and Dolph Schayes. As a rookie by the way. Not to be outdone the Philly native poured in 45 points and showed the Nationals a scoring touch usually reserved for guards. The center redefined the game and exhibited a flare that has yet to be duplicated.