Football is to Thanksgiving as basketball is to Christmas. Shortly after unwrapping gifts and enjoying a meal prepared by a loved one, there is nothing better than sitting back and watching the best ballplayers in the world do what they do best. Over the years, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and several other NBA legends have delivered some of our best Christmas day memories. With Luka Doncic and Steph Curry taking the court, this year promises to be no different. Celebrating the special basketball holiday, let's look back at some of the Christmas basketball moments in recent memory.
New York Knicks Defeat The Philadelphia Warriors, 136-135 (1961)
The legacy of playing basketball on Christmas dates back to the 1950s. In 1961, Wilt Chamberlin cemented the NBA's place on the holiday with a show-stopping performance. While his Philadelphia Warriors came up one point shy of victory, he put up an astounding stat line of 59 points and 36 rebounds. His performance would stand as the highest-scoring outing until Bernard King put up 60 points in 1984.
Milwaukee Bucks Defeat The Kansas City-Omaha Kings, 104-99 (1972)
Describing Nate "Tiny" Archibald's performance on Christmas in 1972 as "impressive" would be an understatement. At 24 years old, the Kansas City-Omaha Kings point guard set the single-game assists record with 18. Adding on, he grabbed a rebound and put up 20 points, but it was all for not. The Kings would fall by five points to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks.
New Jersey Nets Defeat The New York Knicks, 120-114 (1984)
Twenty-three years after Wilt Chamberlin put up 60 points against the Knicks, Bernard King took things a step forward. Donning the orange and blue, King put up a record-high 60 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Similar to many other memorable Christmas performances, he put up these big numbers in a loss. The Knicks fell to Michael Ray Richardson and the Nets in a six-point defeat.
New York Knicks Defeat Chicago Bulls, 86-85 (1986)
A year after putting together an incredible Christmas performance against the Celtics, Knicks Center Patrick Ewing had one of the best games of his career against Michael Jordan and the Bulls. In 1986, Patrick Ewing put up 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds opposite of Michael Jordan's 30-point outing. Ewing emerged victorious as he hit a game-winning floater in Madison Square Garden as the world watched.
Orlando Magic Defeat The Houston Rockets, 92-90 (1995)
Today, it is the norm to see last year's NBA Finals participants on the court for a Christmas rematch. However, that was not always the case. In 1995, the NBA hosted its first Christmas NBA Finals rematch. Meeting in the paint possession after possession, Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon went at it. O'Neal put up 22 points and 18 rebounds while the Rockets legend grabbed 12 rebounds and scored 30 points. In the end, O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and company eeked out a two-point victory over the defending NBA Champions.
Orlando Magic Defeat The Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-101 (2003)
Before LeBron James traveled out to Los Angeles to claim his fourth NBA Championship, he was a baby-faced rookie making his Christmas debut in the NBA. Squaring off against Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, James was put to the test as he proved possession by possession that he was worth the hype. James ended the game with 34 points, six assists, two rebounds, two steals and one block. However, his Cleveland Cavaliers fell to McGrady and the Magic by 12 points in overtime as McGrady poured in 41 points and 11 assists.
Miami Heat Defeat The Los Angeles Lakers, 104-102 (2004)
In one of the most highly-anticipated Christmas showdowns, the Miami Heat battled the Los Angeles Lakers. Shortly after Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant butted heads in Los Angeles, the two NBA legends took the court to prove the other wrong. Over the course of four quarters, the two performed on the league's biggest regular-season stage as they exchanged stares and words not suited for family television. Bryant poured in 42 points and doled out six assists, but was overcome by O'Neal's 24 points and the play of Dwyane Wade.
Miami Heat Defeat The Los Angeles Lakers, 96-80 (2010)
With the impact of "The Decision" weighing on LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the "Big Three" headed out to Los Angeles to take on Kobe Bryant and the defending NBA Champions. After putting up a disappointing performance against the Boston Celtics on opening day, LeBron James showed the world why he will be remembered as an all-time great. Scoring 27 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and distributing 10 assists, he became one of four players to record a triple-double on Christmas. Assisted by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James was able to earn a 96-80 victory in Staples Center.
Chicago Bulls Defeat The Los Angeles Lakers, 88-87 (2011)
For children born after 2000, it may be hard to explain just how special Derrick Rose was. With an athletic and powerful style of play, he took the league by storm in 2011. Averaging 24 points, four rebounds and seven assists, he earned the league's 2010-2011 MVP Award. Looking to repeat as league MVP, he got off to a fantastic start on the league's biggest regular-season stage. On December 25, 2011, Rose put on a show that included 22 points, a game winning-shot and a warm embrace with the late Kobe Bryant. Months later, his career trajectory was thrown off when he tore his ACL in the NBA Playoffs. While his career may not have become what fans hoped it would be, his 2011 Christmas performance will live on forever.
Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Golden State Warriors, 109-108 (2016)
Rounding out the list, Kyrie Irving's performance against the Golden State Warriors cannot be forgotten. After a historic NBA Finals comeback by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Durant's move to Oakland, the Warriors and Cavs took the court for a major showdown. For four quarters, fans watched upwards of five NBA Hall of Fame players race up and down the court in a tight contest. However, the Warriors began to build a 14-point lead as the third quarter came to a close. Similar to the 2016 NBA Finals, Cleveland pulled off a major comeback and capped off a big win with an Irving three-pointer as the clock ticked down to zero.