by Rob Joyce
For seven decades NBA games on Christmas Day have been a tradition, with an opportunity for the league’s best teams and players to shine on a national spotlight. The 2017 edition was no different, with the Warriors and Cavaliers going down to the wire (did Kevin Durant foul LeBron James?) and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder outlasting James Harden and the Rockets, among other games.
Individually, the performance of the day arguably went to… Enes Kanter? In a loss to the 76ers the Knicks’ big man went off for 31 points and 22 rebounds, becoming the fourth player ever with a 30-20 game on Christmas Day. The other three are Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bob Lanier. In fact, he’s the first player since Moses Malone in 1980 with a 20-20 Christmas. It was a remarkable performance, but it doesn’t quite crack our list of the best games on Dec. 25 in NBA history:
5) Bill Russell, 1965:
A very typical Russell-esque game, the legend was the third-leading scorer on the Celtics against the Baltimore Bullets. The Hall of Famer had 16 points, compared to Don Nelson’s 21 and John Havlicek’s 18, but the big man added 34 rebounds and, of course, the greatest winner of all-time came out on top 113-99.
4) Nate Archibald, 1972:
On the losing side of things, Archibald was a one-man show for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. Tiny had a team-high 20 points and 18 assists, the latter of which is a Christmas Day record. Unfortunately his team ran into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Bucks, losing 104-99.
3) Bernard King, 1984:
The Knicks lost to the Nets 120-114, but it wasn’t because of King. The Hall of Famer set a record that still stands today with 60 points on 19-of-30 shooting, going 22-of-26 from the free throw line.
2) Rick Barry, 1966:
Players have scored more than Barry’s 50 points on Christmas, but none of those people can say they did so in a winning effort. The Hall of Famer put forth one of his six 50-point efforts of the season as his San Francisco Warriors toppled the Cincinnati Royals 124-112, outdueling Oscar Robertson (38 points) in the process.
1) Wilt Chamberlain, 1961:
It was a different era of basketball, obviously, so it’s likely that Chamberlain’s absurd stat-line against the Knicks is never topped: 59 points and 36 rebounds in a double overtime loss. On the year the legend averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game.