In this its 75th season, the NBA will play on Christmas Day for the 74th time since 1946. Of course, beginning in 1947, there was a televised quadruple header of super teams and superstars (COVID fingers crossed) on the secular league holiday.
In fact, it “began,” wrote Dave Kindred of The Sporting News of the league’s pioneers, “with men walking down the middle of an Iowa street, walking through the Christmas Day snow into their back pockets, walking back to their rail car for Keokuk’s trip to Chicago, where, if they were lucky, they slept on wooden benches in the domed esplanade of Union Station until a train arrived to take them thousands of miles more to New City. York “.
All these decades later, when most fans of a certain age recall all their years in the NBA on Christmas Day, one name quickly pops up: Bernard King.
“BK from BK,” as Spike Lee called it, “was just standing up and popping, posting and toasting,” recalls the legendary filmmaker and Knicks fan of Christmas Day 1984 when King pitched 60 for the Nets.
What some may not remember is that the Knicks lost the game, despite King breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s Christmas record (59 at 61).
As memorable as King’s singular individual performance is, it garnered scant coverage in a weekly publication like The Sporting News, which on its Basketball Bulletin page in the next issue gave a paragraph of coverage leading up to the Knicks’ struggles. .
“New York’s losing streak reached five games on December 29 with a 116-108 loss to Washington,” TSN wrote, “but it was not Bernard King’s fault. King scored at least 36 points in every game, including 60 in a 120-114 loss to the Nets on Christmas Day, the highest total in the NBA since David Thompson scored 73 and George Gervin scored 63 on April 9, 1978 “.
By the way, your trivia answer to surprise friends and family is that six of the eight teams in the league played on December 25, 1947:
Baltimore Bullets 87, Chicago Deer 70
New York Knicks 89, Providence Steamrollers 75
Washington Capitol 73, St. Louis Bombers 56
And as we look back on the past, here is our gift to you: five memorable stories from Christmases past, as told on the pages of The Sporting News.
Wilt Chamberlain had 36 rebounds, which is still a Christmas Day record, to go with 59 points, but his Philadelphia Warriors lost to the Knicks 136-135 in double overtime. The game was part of a December that won Chamberlain Player of the Month honors, according to The Sporting News.
NEW YORK, NY – Wilt Chamberlain, the record center for the Philadelphia Warriors, has been selected as the December winner of the Fleer NBA Player of the Month in a National Basketball Association poll of sportswriters and commentators.
The elongated star was way ahead in the voting, registering a decisive majority over Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.
Chamberlain’s game in December was highlighted by setting a new NBA single-game scoring record. He scored 78 points in a triple overtime contest against Los Angeles on December 8. The total erased a 71-point mark set by Elgin Baylor against New York last season.
The NBA Player of the Month award was presented this season by Frank H. Fleer Gum Corp. of Philadelphia.
The NBA had offered to pay for the families of the Celtics players to be at the Dec. 25 game at Madison Square Garden. One player, Kevin McHale, declined the offer in much the same way as Boston vs. New York: “How would you like your wife and kids to wake up on Christmas morning in a dirty and nasty hotel in a dirty and nasty city? “Just as well. Rookie Patrick Ewing and the Knicks rallied from 25 points to stun the Celtics in double overtime. Boston would continue to win the NBA championship, and December 25 was a turning point in the season of a Celtic star, The Sporting News later reported in naming their NBA Player of the Year.
It was Christmas Day, and it seemed fitting that such an intertwined player and team should come to the same point together.
The strange thing was that, on that day of rejoicing, no great hosannas were sung in Boston. There was concern for Larry Bird and there was disappointment in the team
It was on Christmas Day 1985 that the Celtics, having built a 58-33 lead in the third period against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, collapsed and lost in double overtime, 113-104. It was also on Christmas Day when Bird’s shooting percentage reached its ebb at 44.6 percent after he missed 19 of 27 shots. He had struggled through the playoffs last year, feeling pain in his elbow, hand and back, and those same illnesses plagued him in the formative stages this season. His aching back was particularly bothersome.
“I was in pain all the time,” he said. “It affected everything I did. I couldn’t lean or reach out in any way. I was in trouble.”
Bird was going through such a difficult time that it was generally recognized that he had no chance of winning his third consecutive Most Valuable Player award from the National Basketball Association.
But after following a regimen devised by orthopedic physical therapist Dan Dyrek, Bird’s condition gradually improved. Unsurprisingly, so did Boston. The Celtics finished 67-15, and Bird ended up shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and 89.6 percent from the free throw line, winning the league title in the latter category, becoming the third player in NBA history in finish in the top 10 in five offensive categories. Bird averaged 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.02 steals and made 42.3 percent of his three-point field goal attempts.
For his efforts, Bird was an overwhelming selection for The Sporting News Player of the Year 1985-86. Voted by 197 NBA players, Bird received 160 votes. Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks was runner-up with 12. Wilkins received six of those votes from Celtics players, who were not allowed to vote for their teammates.
In 1988, Charles Barkley had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the 76ers to a 125-110 win over Washington over Christmas and then went into the NBA to schedule games over the holidays: “I think it was very difficult for (Washington ) to travel on Christmas, “he said in The Sporting News. “They should give us Christmas day off. No one should have to play at Christmas. ”Five years later, Barkley, with the Suns, was more pragmatic at TSN.
“December is for Christmas cards, that’s it,” he says. “You win the NBA title in June. Don’t think we’re gone We remain the conference champions until someone beats us in the playoffs. “
Barkley says back-to-back wins over the Sonics in Seattle (on Dec. 23) and the Rockets in Phoenix (yes, on Christmas Day) “just show that the road to the NBA Finals will go through Phoenix.”
Even amid a player lockdown that would push the season start to February 1999, Christmas and the defending champion Bulls got their due from another Central Division team, according to the January 4, 1999 issue of TSN.
Give the Hornets ad agency some credit. He came up with a clever ad that aired last week, one that shows Hugo the Hornet pushing a broom around a darkened Charlotte Coliseum with Christmas music playing in the background. Then these words scroll across the bottom of the screen: “Look on the bright side. … It’s December and we’re still tied with Chicago. “
The Lakers hadn’t reached the NBA Finals since 1991 and hadn’t won a championship since 1988, but The Sporting News’ NBA Insider Dave D’Alessandro wrote in the first issue after Christmas that he saw something on a team. of the Lakers that not only would he win his first title since ’88, but he would also win three in a row. It’s like Dave D has an epiphany.
We thought the Lakers would still be consumed with growing pains at this point, but there they were on Christmas Day, beating the Spurs at home and with the best record in the NBA (23-5) and scaring everyone’s bejeebers. those who know. It was especially impressive because Kobe Bryant really hasn’t come close to reaching full maturity.
Make no mistake, Kobe has been on the brink of brilliance since his return (from a broken wrist), as reflected by LA’s record with him back (11-1 through Saturday). And for anyone wondering if he could blend seamlessly with Shaquille O’Neal and Glen Rice, that 4-0 sweep through Atlanta, Minnesota, Toronto and Boston was a fair testing ground.
But despite Shaq’s dominance, and he’s the MVP favorite right now, you’ll want to keep an eye on Kobe. Although we have all been captivated by the great hybrids emerging in the league: Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, et al. We have almost forgotten how special Bryant is and have overlooked his potential to add new dimensions to his game. …
Kobe is the one to watch. He is the difference between a talented team that routinely dies in May and one that can be a team for all ages.
“The better I do it, the better we do it, the better we’ll be in key situations during the contest,” says Bryant. “I’m going to get better at that, there’s no question.”