One year after the National Basketball League (NBA) was founded (1946) the New York Knickerbockers squared off against the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden in the first Christmas Day game. It would be the first of 48 games the Knicks would play on Christmas Day, compiling a 22-26 record over the years and playing more games on the holiday than any other team. Their 22 wins are also the most wins by any club on Christmas Day.
The NBA has scheduled games on Christmas Day every year since the inaugural contest, with the exception of 1998 when the season was shortened due to a lockout that wasn’t lifted until February.
Kobe Bryant competed in his 15th Christmas contest on Tuesday, the most by any player. Doc Rivers, current head coach of the Boston Celtics, and Phil Jackson, former coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, are the only two men that have participated in the holiday tradition as both a player and a coach.
Bernard King holds the record of the most points scored during a Christmas Day game when he dropped in 60 against the New Jersey Nets in 1984.
The games have been expanded over the years and include the most popular teams. In the 1990s the Chicago Bulls and the Knicks were always featured, in the 2000s the Celtics and Lakers were involved. The series is now up to five games, scheduled consecutively, so that there’s a game on from noon until the final game concludes, starting at 10:30EST. It’s a tradition in many households to turn the television on and watch games on and off all day, in between the normal Christmas Day festivities. The broadcast has also expanded from the regional broadcasts of the Knicks-Steamrollers and Baltimore Bullets-Chicago Stags games in 1947, to the current broadcast into 215 countries in 47 languages. Christmas Day has become a hoops fan’s dream, almost no matter when they live.
While fans have come to rely on NBA games on Christmas Day, just like many National Football League fans have come to build their Thanksgiving Day activities around the many NFL games played on that US Holiday, the players and coaches haven’t all bought into the spirit of the games. Many involved in the contests feel that they should get the day off to be with their families, since they spend so much time away from their families during the season. In 2009, Stan Van Gundy, coach of the Orlando Magic, criticized the league for schedule games on Christmas and requested that stop the policy. He went as far as saying, “I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game.” He felt that the day was best spent with family and not on the court. The NBA front office wasn’t pleased and fined the Magic. Others, such as current Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, stated in 2010, while head coach of the Knicks, that players should embrace the spirit of the games and feel “very fortunate” to be part of the Christmas Day tradition.
The 2012 Edition of the tradition included give games, starting in Brooklyn and ending in Los Angeles.
Brooklyn Nets – Boston Celtics, 76:93
The Celtics used an 18:34 second quarter to build an insurmountable lead in Brooklyn to tip off the Christmas Day five-pack of NBA contests. Rajon Rondo led Boston with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Gerald Wallace paced the Nets with 15.
Los Angeles Lakers – New York Knicks, 100:94
This game kept the court-side celebrities at the Staples Center in LA entertained all the way to the end, with the Lakers picking up a much-needed win over the Knicks. The Lakers led 51:49 at the half, but fell behind 77:78 after three. In the fourth the Lakers took control and pulled away late in the frame to take the Knicks’ 48th Christmas Day contest from them. Kobe Bryant played in his 15th Dec. 25th game, which is more than anyone has every played and he became the all-time leading scorer on Christmas Day. Bryant dropped in 34 on the day, as did the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, who also added seven rebounds to his stat totals.
Miami Heat – Oklahoma City Thunder, 103:97
The Heat and the Thunder met for the first time since the 2011 NBA Finals. The Heat’s LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the Thunder were stellar on Tuesday, leading their clubs with 29 and 33 points, respectively. Miami set the tone early, taking a 13:2 lead within two minutes of the opening tip. OKC did counter with a 2:9 run of their own, but they didn’t get a lead until mid-way through the third quarter. The Thunder tied up the score at 79 early in the fourth, but the Heat rolled off seven unanswered and never game up the lead again.
Chicago Bulls – Houston Rockets, 97:120
Chicago had never lost at home on Dec. 25th prior to their match-up with Houston, but the Rockets put an exclamation point on this win with a 23-point decision. James Harden led four Rocketmen with over 20 points when he dropped in 26. Jeremy Lin added 20 points and 11 assists for Houston. Nate Robinson had a game-high 27 for the Bulls.
Los Angeles Clippers – Denver Nuggets, 112:100
The staff at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was busy Tuesday as they hosted the Lakers at noon local time and then had to clean up and set up for the Clippers at 7:30pm. While most of the change over involves changing electronic advertising or signage, the change over also includes changing the playing court from the Laker’s hardwood to that owned by the Clippers. It was a great Christmas Day for the LA clubs, bringing home two wins on the day, with the Clippers using a 42:22 second quarter to counter the fact that the Nuggets won all three other quarters. The win extends the Clippers’ winning streak to 14, 10 of which were wins that were 12 points or more. Chris Paul scored 14 and Blake Griffin dropped in 13 to lead the Clippers, who now own the best record in the NBA at 22-6.