The NBA and Christmas Day go together like apple pie and Chevrolet, don’t they? Okay, so that jingle from the ’70s was actually linked to baseball and we sincerely apologize for the rhyming to open things up but you get the point here. For decades now, the league has held games on Christmas Day to showcase the best NBA players and teams and this year is no different. Big-name stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, and Luka Doncic will be featured on the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule this year.
Now. all of these guys, along with many others on the Christmas Day slate, have the ability to put up big numbers but it would take quite a bit for any of them to break the NBA single-game scoring record for December 25 as someone would need to put up 61 to break Bernard King’s Christmas Day record, a mark the Hall of Famer has held for 36 years now.
King is one of three players to have scored at least 50 points on Christmas so let’s take a quick look back on those performances.
Bernard King scored 60 points for the Knicks on Christmas Day in 1984 and they still lost
Still six months away from drafting Patrick Ewing when they took the court on Christmas Day in 1984, the New York Knicks really only had one true scoring threat during the ’84-’85 season but it was certainly a nice one to have.
Bernard King was in the midst of his second consecutive All-Star season in the Big Apple and on the way to his first and only scoring title when the Knicks matched up with the New Jersey Nets on December 25, 1984, and the future Hall of Famer lit up the team that drafted him that night at Madison Square Garden.
King scored an NBA Christmas Day record 60 points, shooting 19-for-30 from the floor and 22-for-26 from the foul line. But seeing as how he didn’t get much help on the scoring front, the Knicks lost the game, 120-114. Only two other Knicks scored in double figures that night — Rory Sparrow and Pat Cummings each chipped in 13 — while the Nets had four players in double figures, three of whom scored 24 or more.
Michael Ray Richardson led the way for New Jersey with 36 while Mike Gminski added 27. Kelvin Ransey threw in 24 points off the bench and Buck Williams chipped in with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Wilt Chamberlain held the previous NBA Christmas scoring record with 59 points, which also came in a loss
Prior to Bernard King’s 60-point outburst on Christmas Day in 1984, the previous NBA scoring record on December 25 belonged to Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the most dominant big man the game of basketball has ever known. And his then-record game occurred in what many consider to be the most dominant single season in NBA history, that being the 1961-1962 season in which Wilt averaged an NBA record 50.4 points per game with the Philadelphia Warriors.
One of the games that helped Chamberlain achieve that record was the Warriors’ Christmas Day matchup in 1961 with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden (the 100-point game a few months later didn’t hurt either). Wilt played all 58 minutes of the double-overtime thriller, shooting 23-for-44 from the floor and 13-for-22 from the foul line for 59 points. But just as Bernard King’s 60 came in a losing effort, Wilt’s 59 weren’t good enough either as the Warriors fell to the Knicks, 136-135.
Rick Barry was the second NBA player to score 50 on December 25
Five years after Wilt Chamberlain became the first to score 50 or more in a Christmas Day NBA game, Rick Barry became the second to hit the half-century mark but his performance actually came in a winning effort.
In his second season with the Warriors, who’d moved to San Francisco, Barry lit up Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals on December 25, 1966, although the “Big O” had a solid game himself with 38 points. But Barry was just a little bit better as he shot 19-for-35 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the charity stripe to hit 50 on the number in the Warriors’ 124-112 victory.
Just as Bernard King and Wilt Chamberlain did in the seasons in which they had their phenomenal Christmas games, Rick Barry went on to win the scoring title, averaging 35.6 points per game.
Stats and scores courtesy of Basketball Reference