In 1947, the National Basketball Association played the first ever Christmas Day game, pitting the New York Knicks against the Providence Steamrollers. New York won the game and the NBA never looked back, scheduling games on every Christmas Day since then, with the exception of the 1998 holiday season when the league was in the midst of a lockout.
Since then, no franchise has been more synonymous with Christmas Day than the Knicks. The league has made a concerted effort to put its marquee teams and brightest stars in these primetime games, and the orange and blue uniforms have graced those games 50 times, including the inaugural game.
Fast-forward to Christmas Day 2015, and Knicks fans will get the greatest gift of all — a reprieve from watching their woeful team struggle in a game where they’d likely be outmatched, as they aren’t on the five-game Christmas Day slate. After a 17-win season, the marquee team with the big star in Carmelo Anthony will have to spend time with their families for the holiday this season.
Not being scheduled for Christmas snaps a streak of six consecutive years the Knicks had a game that day, five of which were played in Madison Square Garden. Over the 50 all-time Christmas Day contests, the Knicks enjoyed the luxuries of home for 42 of them.
In 1984, Bernard King put on a historic Christmas show, scoring 60 points in front of the home crowd, albeit in a loss to their rival Nets. That was a career high for one of the greatest scorers in team history, a game that notably turned the corner for the NBA in terms of how the league looked at the holiday matchups as a showcase for the league.
Patrick Ewing had two such memorable games to start his career. On Christmas 1985, Ewing saw his Knicks fall behind by 25 points before rumbling back to a victory. Ewing had 32 points and 11 rebounds during that comeback. The following year, the Knicks beat the Bulls on the back of 28 points and 17 rebounds from Ewing, including a last-second jump shot to squeeze out the 86-85 victory. With the 2011-2012 season delayed due to the lockout, the season started on December 25, with the Celtics traveling to Madison Square Garden to tip off the season against the Knicks.
There’s no faith that more of that magic is in the Knicks’ near future. It’s very clear that the NBA is trying to have as many rolls of the dice as possible that they’ll have another classic moment. This year we’ll have a matchup of the Los Angeles teams, a rematch of the NBA Finals, a showcase for Anthony Davis, a triumphant (hopeful) return to health for Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, and a Spurs-Rockets contest to round out the slate.
The Knicks never stood a chance in that schedule. Their best hope would’ve been to replace the Heat as fodder for Davis, but logic stands that at least a healthy Heat team will make it competitive.
All this after an offseason that drew relatively rave reviews from us here at Today’s Fastbreak. For all the uproar, Anthony Beers remains optimistic about the selection of Kristaps Porzingis and sees the overall effectiveness of the moves since the season ended. Joey Wagner lauded the way the team rebuilt the frontcourt with Robin Lopez and Kyle O’Quinn. Kelly Scaletta made the case that they’re heading in the right direction.
I haven’t had many nice things to say about the Knicks the past two years, particularly during the Phil Jackson era, but at the very least I was happy they didn’t lock into overpaying anyone just because they had money to spend. It might be a minor victory, but with only 17 last season, any victory is notable.
Of course, to the schedule makers, the Knicks didn’t do enough to push them into contention in the East. They played six straight Christmas games, and I promise you they weren’t a potential powerhouse in all six of those seasons.
With those 50 Christmas games under their belt — that’s nine more than the second-place Lakers, and 50 more than the Hornets, Grizzlies and Timberwolves combined — it doesn’t take much hope to get them a marquee matchup on the biggest day of the NBA’s regular season. A bounce-back season and some quick developments from their first-round pick could put them back into the rotation for 2016.