Highest-Scoring Christmas Performances in NBA history

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By Henry L. Liao

I may not have much material wealth to give away but the gift of love that I have inherited from God Almighty is what I am sharing with friends and foes that I have crossed paths with in my nearly seven decades of earthly existence.

From A to Z, Merry CHRISTmas to all!

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Bernard King: The only player in NBA history to collect 60 points on Christmas Day.
Bernard King: The only player in NBA history to collect 60 points on Christmas Day.

Some of the most prolific individual scoring performances in National Basketball Association history have come on Christmas Day.

On three occasions in the past, a player was able to chalk up 50 points or more in a December 25 contest, including one who netted a 60.

Bernard King, a 6-7 forward with the New York Knicks, owns the all-time NBA mark for the highest-scoring Christmas Day game. King collected 60 points – 40 of them in the first half – in a December 25, 1984 outing against the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets, the Knicks’ rivals across the Hudson River.

It went for naught as New Jersey outlasted New York, 120-114, to disappoint a mammoth crowd at the (current) Madison Square Garden.

Towering Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors hauls down a rebound against Boston as the Celtics' John Havlicek looks on.
Towering Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors hauls down a rebound against Boston as the Celtics’ John Havlicek looks on.

King, who was the runaway NBA scoring titlist during the 1984-85 wars at 32.9 ppg (Boston’s Larry Bird was a far second at 28.7 ppg), finished with a career-high 60 points on 19-for-30 field shooting and went 22-for-26 from the free-throw line. He did not hoist a single three-point attempt.

The legendary Wilt Chamberlain has the second-highest Christmas Day shootfest. In 1961, the 7-1 Chamberlain poured in 59 markers and grabbed 36 rebounds for the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors in a heartbreaking 136-135 double-overtime loss to the Knicks at the old Madison Square Garden.

Rick Barry: One of only three men in NBA annals to score at least 50 points on Christmas Day.
Rick Barry: One of only three men in NBA annals to score at least 50 points on Christmas Day.

As an NBA rookie, “The Big Dipper” was already a dominant figure as he went off for 45 points and 34 boards in the Warriors’ 129-121 win over the Syracuse National in his first-ever Christmas game in 1959.

On Christmas Day in 1966, Rick Barry, another future Hall of Famer from the Warriors – who by the time had relocated to San Francisco – tossed in 50 points, six rebounds, and four assists during a 124-112 triumph over the Cincinnati Royals, the forerunners of the Sacramento Kings. The 6-7 forward went to the charity stripes 13 times and made 12 of his underhand throws. Note that the three-point shot was still 13 years away from being implemented in the NBA. The New Jersey-born Barry went on to capture the NBA scoring crown with a 35.6-point clip during the 1966-67 campaign as a sophomore pro and helped guide San Francisco to the NBA Finals, where it lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, now bannered by Chamberlain, in six games.

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Jerry West: "Mr. Clutch" has the fourth-highest score in NBA Christmas games
Jerry West: “Mr. Clutch” has the fourth-highest score in NBA Christmas games

Jerry West, whose silhouette is embodied in the NBA logo, was just three points short of reaching the 50-point plateau during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1963 Christmas Day match against the Knicks. West, a 6-2 guard, torched the Knicks for 47 markers in a 134-126 victory by the Lakers, going 19-for-30 from the field. “Mr. Clutch” also drilled in 44 points against the Detroit Pistons on Christmas in 1965.

Three other players tallied 45 points in a Christmas Day assignment.

At 43.3 ppg, Tracy McGrady owns the NBA's highest career scoring average in Christnas games.
At 43.3 ppg, Tracy McGrady owns the NBA’s highest career scoring average in Christnas games.

Tracy McGrady, a one-time Manila visitor (2000) in an Adidas promotional tour, produced 46 points, six boards and three steals in the Orlando Magic’s 104-99 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons during the 2002 Christmas Day edition. T-Mac owns three of the top 20 scoring performances on Christmas and averaged a league-best 43.3 points in those Yuletide games – easily outdistancing West’s 32.2 ppg.

Three other players tallied 45 points in a Christmas Day assignment.

Chamberlain, then with the Philadelphia Warriors, accomplished the feat against the Syracuse Nationals (the predecessors of the Philadelphia 7ers) in 1959. Boston’s Tom Heinsohn duplicated the trick against the same Nationals in 1961. Dominique Wilkins, a one-time NBA scoring champion, scored 45 points for the Atlanta Hawks in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers in 1987.

Henry Liao
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