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A look at Bulls Christmas' past
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By Sam Smith | 12.25.2014 | 12:11 p.m. CT
It’s what the NBA likes to call its annual Christmas gift to fans, this season five holiday games, including Kobe Bryant in the United Center. It’s perhaps not the league’s most appealing schedule with some of the big name, big city teams of recent years in decline. LeBron James returns to face a stumbling Miami team and the Wizards are in New York to play a sinking Knicks team. The Thunder still under .500 are in San Antonio, where the league hopes the top Spurs players will play and the Warriors close it out Thursday night visiting the secondary Los Angeles team that’s having its own up and down start.
It is a day to see the stars, like James, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and Bryant. Though perhaps not to make many statements toward the rest of the season.
So instead of looking ahead, let’s look back.
Christmas games are nothing new for the NBA. The Bulls played one in their inaugural 1966-67 season, and one of the best in losing 133-132 to the Knicks. That was a heck of a day in the NBA when Rick Barry had 50 points for his Warriors with a win over Oscar Robertson’s Royals as Oscar scored 38. The stars have delivered for many years in the NBA on Christmas Day. Consider Wilt in 1961 with 59 points and 36 rebounds, or Bernard King in 1984 with 61 points. Here’s a look at the Bulls’ biggest Christmas Day performances:
- December 25, 1990: There have been bigger individual performances, like Michael Jordan in 1992, but perhaps no game more significant for the franchise. The Bulls had just been trounced by the champion Detroit Pistons and actually were on the verge of being broken up. That loss a week ago had Jordan saying the Pistons are “just better than we are,” and Phil Jackson calling the Christmas game one to measure the Bulls. “If we can`t produce a game against this club (Christmas Day), we`ll have to think about what we’re doing with our personnel and what we`re doing with our team,” Jackson said. It became a typical riotous affair for that era as Horace Grant, benched for Stacey King, was ejected after a blowup with Joe Dumars. Jordan’s son, Marcus, was born that morning and then Jordan scored 37 points, eight in a fight-filled fourth quarter, in a 12-point Bulls win. They don’t make Christmas like that anymore. “It was very inspiring to go out and play knowing that you've helped bring somebody into the world," Jordan said. "I figured the only way it would get better is if we went out and beat up on the Pistons. Then we did that."
- December 25, 1992: The Bulls now two-time defending champions and the class of the NBA take care of the Knicks 89-77, though not easily in a game with post season implications as the Knicks had beaten the Bulls in New York by 37 a month before. The Knicks felt this was their time after a seventh game loss to the Bulls in the previous conference semifinals. Jordan scored 42 points, though he took 34 shots in another rugged game that Jordan closed with a dunk. He also had eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block.
- December 25, 2011. Derrick Rose made the game winner, a leaping floater over Pau Gasol with 4.8 seconds left to give the Bulls the victory in what was the season opener then after the labor stoppage. Luol Deng had just made a steal of a Bryant pass. Rose led the Bulls with 22 points with a team that looked good enough and destined to win an NBA title. That dream would end in April with Rose’s anterior cruciate tear.
- December 25, 1970. The Bulls were just bursting onto the scene in the NBA with not only their first ever winning season but their first 50-win season. Bob Love scored 42 points, though the Bulls lost in an exciting matchup with the former Chicago Packers/Zephrys, now in Baltimore, and with the incomparable Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, who scored 25. “And that was an era of no three-point shots,” recalled Love, a longtime Bulls ambassador. “I shot out there all the time. That was my shot. Who knows what I could have had. It would have been 50 easy. It was great playing on Christmas back then, playing in the afternoons for the kids. Some great memories.”
- December 25, 1966. The Bulls fall a shot short in one of those classic shootouts, which were the story of the 1960s in the NBA. Each team made at least 50 field goals while Bob Boozer had 40 points. The Bulls lost 133-132 to the Knicks as Walt Bellamy scored 28 and Carver High School’s Cazzie Russell 27. The Bulls would become and remain the only expansion team ever to make the playoffs. Guy Rodgers and Jerry Sloan each had 18 points and already were considered one of the league’s top backcourts. “They told us in training camp that we were a bunch of castoffs and we should have pride enough to show those other teams they made a mistake to let us go,” Sloan told Chicago Tribune writer Bob Logan.
- December 25, 1986. The Knicks have been the Bulls’ most common Christmas Day opponent, and this one was another classic even if it ended as a Bulls shocking loss at the buzzer. Patrick Ewing tipped in a Trent Tucker miss for an 86-85 win. Jordan had 30 points, which was seven below his season average in his greatest scoring season. He also had six steals and five assists in his do everything season. He got in rebounding position ahead of Ewing on that last shot, but the ball bounced long out to Ewing for the putback in a game the NBA often lists as one of its best ever on Christmas Day.
- December 25, 1993. It was the first season after Michael Jordan’s retirement and the Bulls were supposed to collapse. But Scottie Pippen had his best season and rookie Toni Kukoc made a floater over Shaquille O’Neal with two seconds left for the 95-93 win after All-Star B.J. Armstrong penetrated and passed to Kukoc. Scott Skiles’ pass to Nick Anderson was too late as the Bulls were 17-8 on the way to 55 wins.
- December 25, 1994. Scottie Pippen had 36 points, 16 rebounds and five steals in a 107-104 overtime win over the Knicks in a Bulls season with few highlights until Jordan’s return three months later. The Bulls were now a .500 team with Horace Grant also gone. The vilified Hubert Davis, though not as much as referee Hue Hollins from a few months before, made a three pointer with .04 left to tie the game in regulation. Pippen would go on to score all the Bulls overtime points and play all 53 minutes after playing all 48 in the previous Christmas game. Ewing had 30 and Kukoc 25.
- December 25, 1997. Jordan has 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Bulls controlled the game against the division champion Heat. It would be Jordan’s last Christmas Day game in a Bulls uniform and the Bulls seventh consecutive Christmas Day win since that 1986 loss to the Knicks in Jordan’s first Christmas Day game.
- December 25, 1971. The Bulls had finally reacquired Norm Van Lier for what became the greatest team never heard of with Love, Chet Walker, Sloan and Tom Boerwinkle. They would win a franchise best 57 games, not exceeded until the first championship season in 1990-91. The Bulls beat the Portland Trailblazers 109-88 as Love had 26 and Walker 21. Love, Van Lier and Sloan were all defensive team players that season. Sidney Wicks had 24 for Portland.