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Best NBA Christmas Day performances of all time

Christmas Day games are a key NBA tradition, with marquee matchups drawing plenty of attention.

Starring on Christmas Day is often a rite of passage for many stars, who can become household names with one stellar festive display. 

Below is a look back at the five highest-scoring Christmas Day displays in 76 years of basketball history on December 25.

Tracy McGrady (2002)

46 points (14-26 FG)

Tracy McGrady started life in the NBA coming straight from high school and being known as Vince Carter’s cousin, but he carved out his own place in history with seven All-Star appearances and seven All-NBA selections. 

McGrady became a box office player with the Orlando Magic, where he produced one of the most dominant Christmas Day displays. 

In a 2002 clash with the Detroit Pistons, McGrady racked up an impressive 46 points in the Magic’s 104-99 victory. Even more incredibly, McGrady didn’t score a single three-point attempt on the way to that tally. 

McGrady holds another place in the NBA’s Christmas folklore, as he has the best points-per-game average of any player in history on the big day. 

He played three Christmas Day games in his career, scoring 40 points or more in all of them, averaging 43.3 points per game on December 25.

Jerry West (1963)

47 points (19-30 FG)

You don’t become the NBA’s logo without a dominant display or two, with West dropping one of the standout Christmas Day games back in 1963. 

His Los Angeles Lakers met the New York Knicks on Christmas Day 1963, where he dropped 47 points. Doing that a full 16 years before the NBA introduced the three-point line says a lot, as does West’s overall record in Christmas games.

Across six Christmas appearances, he averaged 32.2 points per game. He scored 44 points against the Detroit Pistons in 1965, making him one of only two men to have two of the top 10 highest-scoring Christmas Day performances. 

Rick Barry (1966)

50 points (19-35 FG)

In the 1966 clash between the San Francisco Warriors and the Cincinnati Kings, Rick Barry overtook West's Christmas record with a 50-point haul. It was only the second time in NBA history that a player had dropped 50 points on Christmas Day.

Barry’s Warriors won the clash 124-112 and his display added to an incredible basketball career. He broke records in college, the ABA and the NBA. Before 2022, he was the only man in NBA history to post 50 points in a Game 7, so this display was clearly far from a one-off on the biggest stages.

Barry accounted for 19 of the Warriors’ 47 made baskets in the win, and an argument could be made that his display was more impressive than the next man up.

Wilt Chamberlain (1961)

59 points, 36 rebounds

It’s hard to find an NBA list which doesn’t feature Wilt Chamberlain, the only man in history to post a 100-point game. He set the scoring record for Christmas Day in 1961.

Chamberlain had broken the league’s single-game scoring record just weeks earlier by posting 78 points against the LA Lakers. His Philadelphia Warriors side visited the Knicks that Christmas and his 59 points was a then-record in the growing league.

The one asterisk on the display is that it did include two periods of overtime in what was ultimately a 136-135 loss for the Warriors. 

Chamberlain may have tasted defeat that day, but he did enough to recapture the Christmas Day scoring record. His 45-point performance against Syracuse in 1959 had been the record, but Tom Heinsohn matched that in 1961. 

However, that storming display against the Knicks stood out for 23 years - until a Knick stepped up.

Bernard King (1984)

60 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists

The league’s current highest-scoring Christmas Day performance came in 1984, when Bernard King scored 60 points for the New York Knicks. In almost 40 years, no one has come close to matching that tally on December 25.

King’s Knicks met his former team, the New Jersey Nets, on Christmas Day. He was drafted by them in 1977 back when they were the New York Nets. Two years later, he came back to haunt his former team.

King’s 60-point haul came in a season where he ended up leading the league with 32.9 points per game. However, like Chamberlain before him, he also tasted defeat despite a big showing. 

The Nets had the last laugh in a 120-114 win, but it’s King’s record which this generation’s superstars are chasing this Christmas Day.

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