Christmas belongs to the NBA, which attempts to put on its biggest stars on display in one long day of usually great basketball. Injuries might be getting in the way of that this season, but there’s still plenty of star power to watch, probably adding to a series of great holiday performances from the past, with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry the most likely to get most of the headlines by the next day.
For James and Wade it’s not really a new thing to be headlining the Christmas schedule, doing quite well together on December 25, winning all three games since joining forces in 2010. For others, like James Harden, who might not even play this time because of an injury, it’s a chance to put on an even better performance than the one he had last year when the Rockets destroyed the Chicago Bulls.
Michael Jordan, 1992
Bulls, Knicks, Christmas, early 1990’s, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Pat Riley’s team. It doesn’t get better than this, in the best rivalry in the NBA back then. As customary in that rivalry, Michael Jordan simply shredded the Knicks with 42 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, delivering a Kobe-esque 15 for 34 from the field without hitting a single shot from beyond the arc. I wonder what they would be saying about this today, especially with Jordan scoring nearly half of his team’s points in a 89-77 win.
Charles Barkley & Kevin Johnson, 1993
The Phoenix Suns were looking for another trip to the NBA finals in the 1993-1994 season, seeing as how this time, there won’t be any Michael Jordan blocking the light at the end of the tunnel. Charles Barkley and Kevin Johsnon teamed up to destroy the eventual NBA champions, the Houston Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon. Barkley finished with 38 points and 18 rebounds, KJ added 36 points and 9 assists in a 111-91 win.
Scottie Pippen, 1994
Stern, even without Michael Jordan in the lineup, loved putting the Chicago Bulls in a matchup with the New York Knicks on December 25. This time it was Scottie Pippen’s turn to shine, not knowing that a few months later he’d be getting Michael Jordan back, and take a step back to the role he did better than anyone – be a sidekick. Pippen finished 36 points, 16 rebounds, 5 steals and two blocks, leading the Bulls to a surprising 107-104 overtime win.
Dwyane Wade, 2006
It was a tough season for the Miami Heat following their NBA title in 2006, heading into the Christmas game with a 12-14 record and without Shaquille O’Neal. Of the guys playing next to him on that day, only Udonis Haslem is still with the Miami Heat. On the other side? Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, with guys like Luke Walton, Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Brian Cook in the lineup.
While Bryant had one of his worst performances in recent years, scoring 16 points while going 4-17 from the field, Dwyane Wade led the Heat to a 101-85 win, scoring 40 points, adding 11 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks and 4 steals.
LeBron James, 2010
James’ first season with the Miami had a rough start to it, but by Christmas they were playing excellent basketball, coming in with a 22-9 record. The Lakers, the defending NBA champions, were doing pretty good themselves with a 21-8 record. The Miami Heat were just too good on defense, keeping the Lakers at 40.5% from the field, winning 96-80, as the big three combined for 69 points and LeBron James conjured a 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals triple double.
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, 2011
The night that opened the season a year ago, Christmas day had two players standing out. In Dallas, the NBA champions showed that they weren’t going to bother the Miami Heat for a second straight season. LeBron James finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks as the Heat dismantled the Mavs 105-94, taking it easy in the fourth quarter, allowing Dallas to come back from nearly 40 points down.
In New York, the Knicks showed a promising start to the season against the Boston Celtics, beating the team that swept them in the postseason a few months earlier 106-104. Carmelo Anthony, beginning a season as a Knick for the first time, had his moment in the sun with 37 points and 8 rebounds, overcoming a big night from Rajon Rondo, finishing with 31 points and 13 assists.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, 2012
The Los Angeles Lakers were going into Christmas time last year with a similar record to what they have now: 13-14. However, they were on the back of a four game winning streak, and they had a quite healthy Kobe Bryant to carry them against the New York Knicks with 34 points on a big 14-of-24 performance, waking up in the second half in order to overcome a pretty big night from Carmelo Anthony himself, scoring 33 points.
In recent times, you can’t have a big Christmas NBA night without LeBron James getting involved. In 2012 it was once again a pretty big game for James, as the Miami Heat were hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder in an NBA finals rematch, with plenty of focus on him and Kevin Durant. Yes, Durtant outscored James 33 to 29; however, it was another example of James doing more than Durant in other areas of the game, adding 8 rebounds and 9 assists, not to mention a key defensive play to prevent Durant from hitting a potentially game-tying shot. James gave the assist that put the Heat 3 points in front late in the game, but they also had the officials to thank, ignoring a foul by Dwyane Wade on Russell Westbrook trying to tie the game with a three.