A history of Christmas Day game debuts As Joel Embiid, Lonzo Ball and others make their first holiday appearances, a look back on how other stars played on Christmas

 

As it is with the NFL and Thanksgiving, the NBA is synonymous with Christmas Day. “It’s about what the fans wanna see,” says Tom Carelli, NBA senior vice president of broadcasting, “and our great storylines.”

For the past decade, the NBA has rolled out a five-game palette packed with the biggest, brightest and most talked-about names and teams. The 10 teams playing each other on Christmas Day are all playing each other on national television for the first time this season. This includes the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be playing for the 19th consecutive Christmas. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are the holiday’s main event, making them the first set of teams to play three consecutive Christmases since the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers from 2004-06. Steph Curry is out for the game because of an ankle injury.

Though Carelli has a dream gig — developing the schedule for all 30 teams and, in essence, serving as the NBA’s Santa Claus by selecting the Christmas agenda — there’s a science to devising a timeline conducive to all parties. “You want to make it so it works for the overall schedule, and team travel,” he says. “We made these games priority games. … It’s an opportunity for people to see them when a lot of people aren’t at work.”

The first Christmas Day game was played 70 years ago: an 89-75 victory for the New York Knicks over the Providence Steam Rollers. And 50 years ago, the first televised Christmas game took place when ABC aired a meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Rockets.

Every year since, sans the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the NBA has become an annual Dec. 25 tradition. The Knicks, taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in the first of five games, will be playing in their 52nd Christmas Day game. Both the Knicks and Lakers are tied with the most holiday wins, 22 apiece. And in one of the weirdest facts in all of sports, the Boston Celtics (taking on the Washington Wizards in a rematch of last year’s thrilling seven-game playoff series) will be playing their first ever Christmas game at home. Of their previous 30 holiday engagements, 28 were on the road and two were at neutral sites.

Speaking of debuts, Christmas 2017 brings its own set of holiday rookies in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball and even veteran All-Star swingman Paul George (who never played on Christmas as an Indiana Pacer). Meanwhile, stars such as New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo have to wait at least one more year. Which begs the question: How did some of the game’s all-time greats and stars of today fare on their first Christmas? Starting with the 11-time champ Bill Russell, we work our way up to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. How many do you remember?

 

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1956 vs. Philadelphia Warriors (89-82, L)

Line: 6 points, 18 rebounds

Rookies (and future Hall of Famers) Russell and teammate Tommy Heinsohn didn’t have to wait long to play on Dec. 25. Russell didn’t shoot well, going 2-for-12 from the field, but his 18 rebounds were merely a preview of the dominating titan he’d become over the next decade-plus.

 

Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers

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Christmas 1958 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-97, L)

Line: 12 points

Elgin Baylor, a rookie at the time, only mustered a dozen in his Christmas debut. The outing was an anomaly, though: Baylor finished his career averaging 27.36 points per game, the third-highest scoring average in NBA history.

 

Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors

Christmas 1959 vs. Syracuse Nationals (129-121, W)

Line: 45 points, 34 rebounds

Many of the feats Chamberlain pulled off will never be outshined. His 45-34 stat line during his rookie season on Christmas, however, isn’t one of them. Only because exactly two years later, in a one-point loss to the Knicks, Chamberlain put up even gaudier numbers with 59 points and 36 rebounds on Christmas. Yes, for those wondering, that is the season when he dropped 100 points in a game and averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds.

 

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

Christmas 1960 vs. Detroit Pistons (126-119, W)

Line: 32 points, 15 rebounds, 16 assists

Seeing as how Oscar Robertson was 0.3 assists away from averaging a triple-double during his rookie season, it should come as no surprise that Rookie Oscar actually dropped a triple-double on his first holiday work trip. “The Big O” is the first of five players to register a Christmas triple-double, and he did it four times in the 1960s alone. The other four are John Havlicek (1967), Billy Cunningham (1970), LeBron James (2010) and Russell Westbrook (2013).

 

Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1961 vs. Cincinnati Royals (141-127, W)

Line: 31 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists

In a game that featured Baylor and Robertson both going for 40 (and Robertson securing another triple-double, tacking on 12 rebounds and 17 assists), Jerry West’s first Christmas was a successful one.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks

Christmas 1971 vs. Detroit Pistons (120-118, L in OT)

Line: 38 points

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was riding high on having won his first (of six) championships earlier that year. He kept that same energy heading into the very next season, despite taking a L on his very first Dec. 25 outing.

 

Julius Erving, Virginia Squires and Philadelphia 76ers

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Christmas 1971 vs. Pittsburgh Condors (133-126, W) | Christmas 1976 vs. New York Knicks (105-104, W)

Line: 27 points | 16 points, 5 rebounds

Julius Erving is the only person on this list with two Christmas debuts for two different teams in two different leagues.

 

Bernard King, Utah Jazz

Christmas 1979 vs. Denver Nuggets (122-111, W)

Line: 7 points

Fun fact: Bernard King played one season with the Utah Jazz, his third year in the league. And while his 60-point classic on Christmas ’84 with the Knicks is the greatest Christmas Day performance of all time — one of only three 50-plus-point games on Christmas in league history — this was actually King’s first.

 

Larry Bird, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1980 vs. New York Knicks (117-108, W)

Line: 28 points

Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird’s teammate on the 1981 and 1984 title teams, said the following a few months ago: “When I finally knew how great Larry Bird was as a player, when I finally realized how great he was as my teammate, it was the day I walked into a black barbershop and I saw his picture on the wall.” Needless to say, it didn’t take long to understand “The Hick from French Lick” was about that action.

 

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

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Christmas 1981 vs. Phoenix Suns (104-101, W)

Line: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals

Not only was this Magic Johnson’s holiday introduction, it was also Pat Riley’s as head coach. Riley accepted the position after Paul Westhead’s firing a month earlier.

 

Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks

Christmas 1982 vs. Washington Bullets (97-91, W)

Line: 7 points, 2 blocks

Only in his rookie season, Dominique Wilkins, the man known as The Human Highlight Reel, would have far better games than this in his Hall of Fame career. Hey, it happens.

 

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) and Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)

Christmas 1984 vs. Detroit Pistons (109-108, W, Sixers)

Line: 25 points, 11 assists, 3 steals (Isiah Thomas); 8 points, 10 rebounds (Charles Barkley)

These two future Hall of Famers made their holiday introductions at the same time. Thomas was the standard of consistency and tenacity in Detroit basketball, traits that would etch him in history as one of the two best point guards to ever play (along with Magic). Sir Charles, then only a rookie, shot only 3-for-11 from the field. His first breakout Christmas Day performance came four years later. Also, long live the Pontiac Silverdome.

 

Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks

Christmas 1985 vs. Boston Celtics (113-104, W 2OT)

Line: 32 points, 11 rebounds

Pat Riley is on record saying the biggest regret of his career is losing the 1994 Finals and not getting Patrick Ewing the title he so desperately sought. We forget how truly transcendent Ewing’s game was. In so many ways, he lived up to the unreal New York hype that met him when he was selected by the Knicks as the first pick in the 1985 draft out of Georgetown. For instance, as a rookie, he led a 25-point comeback against Bird and the Celtics, who would eventually capture their third title of the decade months later.

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1986 vs. New York Knicks (86-85, L)

Line: 30 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals, 2 blocks

Michael Jordan’s first Christmas special is actually one of the holiday’s all-time great games. In a contest that went down to the wire, Ewing capped off his second consecutive Yuletide classic with a game-winning putback. Needless to say, Jordan would eventually extract revenge against the Knicks — over, and over. And over. And over again.

 

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1990 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-86, W)

Line: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals

While you-know-who carried the bulk of the offense for the Bulls with 37 points and eight rebounds, Scottie Pippen’s first Christmas would be a sign of the immediate future for him and the Bulls. After three consecutive postseason defeats at the hands of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Bulls finally exorcised their Detroit demons months later when Chicago swept Motown en route to its first of six titles in the ’90s.

 

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1992 vs. Los Angeles Clippers (103-94, W)

Line: 21 points, 12 rebounds

What was going on in America around the time David “The Admiral” Robinson played on his first Christmas? Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was the new kid on the block. And Bill Clinton was less than a month away from his first presidential inauguration.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets

Christmas 1993 vs. Phoenix Suns (111-91, L)

Line: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks

Everything came together for The Dream in the 1993-94 season. He played in his first Christmas Day game. Despite the loss, Hakeem Olajuwon stamped himself as an all-time great by winning the 1994 MVP and his first of two titles in a series that would forever link Olajuwon and O.J. Simpson.

 

Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Orlando Magic

Christmas 1993 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-93, L)

Line: 18 points, 5 assists (Hardaway) | 20 points, 11 rebounds (O’Neal)

Jordan was off pursuing his baseball dreams. Meanwhile, Pippen was in the midst of his finest individual season and showing that while he was, perhaps, the greatest co-pilot of all time, he could lead a team as well. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway nearly walked away victorious — until Toni Kukoc’s floater put the game on ice.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 1994 vs. Denver Nuggets (105-96, L)

Line: 16 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals (Payton) | 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks (Kemp)

The previous season, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics won 63 games and lost in five games to Nuggets. The series’ defining image is Dikembe Mutumbo’s emotional celebration in the deciding Game 5. Seven months later on Christmas Day, the Nuggets again got the best of the Sonics.

Bonus: This was also our very own Jalen Rose’s first holiday as a working man. A rookie then and future member of the All-Rookie team, Rose came off the bench with eight points and three assists.

 

Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons

Christmas 1996 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-83, L)

Line: 27 points, 8 rebounds

Individually, Grant Hill’s Christmas debut went well. But his Pistons were no match for the Bulls, led by near triple-doubles from Pippen (27-8-8) and Dennis Rodman (11-22-7). The Bulls won 69 games and their fifth title of the decade six months later.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1996 vs. Phoenix Suns (108-87, W)

Line: 0 points, 1 rebound

Kobe Bryant’s playing time fluctuated during his rookie season. Sometimes he’d start. Sometimes he’d hardly play — like 21 Christmases ago, when he only logged five minutes. He more than made up for it, as he eventually became the all-time leading Christmas scorer with 395 points.

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1999 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (99-93, L)

Line: 28 points, 9 rebounds

This was the Spurs and Lakers’ first meeting since San Antonio swept Los Angeles the summer before. The result of that postseason journey was Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich’s first title together. Mr. Consistent, who captured his first title in the strike-shortened ’98-’99 season, was as dependable as ever in his first Christmas game despite taking a loss. Current Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard was 8 years old at the time.

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers

Christmas 1999 vs. New York Knicks (101-90, W)

Line: 26 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists

Speaking of reunions, Knicks-Pacers on Dec. 25, 1999, was the first time the two had seen each other since this happened. As a member of the 1987 draft, Reggie Miller didn’t play on Christmas until a full 12 years later. It’s only right that Miller’s first Christmas win, even on an off shooting night (6 of 16 field goals), came against his best friend Spike Lee’s favorite team.

Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic

Christmas 2000 vs. Indiana Pacers (103-93, L)

Line: 43 points, 9 rebounds

An incredibly fascinating “what if” in NBA history is how differently careers would have panned out if Tim Duncan had signed with Orlando in the summer of 2000. Imagine a combo of Tracy McGrady and Timmy, both of whom hadn’t even hit their primes. Disgusting. McGrady’s time in Orlando was largely spent carrying teams on his back, but one thing’s for certain — he delivered more than Santa Claus on Christmas. In three Dec. 25 games, McGrady averaged 43.3 points.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers

Christmas 2001 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (88-82, L)

Line: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

It’s pretty crazy to realize this is the last Christmas Day game the Philadelphia Sixers had until Simmons’ and Embiid’s debuts this year. Especially when Allen Iverson still had a few good seasons (scoringwise) before leaving Philly in 2006.

 

Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors

Christmas 2001 vs. New York Knicks (102-94, L)

Line: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals

By the winter of 2001, Half Man-Half Amazing was widely accepted as one of the more must-see spectacles in all of sports. Months earlier, Vince Carter and Iverson squared off in an incredibly riveting seven-game shootout that has since gone down as one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history. Unfortunately, though, his inaugural Dec. 25 didn’t bring that same energy.

 

Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2002 vs. New Jersey Nets (117-81, L)

Line: 27 points, 6 rebounds

The truth is Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and the New Jersey Nets were The Grinch who stole Boston’s Christmas 15 years ago. They held Beantown to 32.4 percent shooting as a team. But at least The Truth did his thing.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Christmas 2003 vs. Sacramento Kings (111-103, W)

Line: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks

While we’re pretty sure he didn’t bring his patented “work plate” with him to the arena 14 years ago, our favorite German OG, Dirk Nowitzki, feasted on Chris Webber and the Kings.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2003 vs. Orlando Magic (113-101, L in OT)

Line: 34 points, 6 assists, 2 steals

Neither team was great, recordwise, but every game during LeBron James’ rookie season (much like for his entire career) was must-see TV. James’ first Christmas was an instant classic, as the young phenom battled one of the game’s best scorers in McGrady. James exhibited the all-around potential that would make him an international megastar, but he was no match that day for McGrady’s 41 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists.

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

Christmas 2004 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (104-102, W in OT)

Line: 29 points, 10 assists

As you can see, Dwyane Wade’s first Christmas was fruitful and he played a significant part in the win. Yet, even the young superstar played a supporting role to the game’s unavoidable storyline — O’Neal’s first game back in Los Angeles since he and Bryant’s very ugly and public divorce in the summer of 2004. Wade, though, is the all-time leader in Christmas Day wins with 10 and is set to make his 13th holiday work outing, tying him for second-most ever behind Bryant’s 16.

 

Kevin Durant, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 2007 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (89-79, L)

Line: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks

It was supposed to be a holiday matchup between the top two picks in the 2007 NBA draft: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. But Oden’s season-ending knee surgery three months earlier derailed those plans. Unfortunately, the theme would go on to define the two selections for the remainder of their careers — Oden as one of basketball’s greatest “what ifs” and Durant as one of the game’s greatest, period.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2008 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (92-83, L)

Line: 22 points, 9 assists (Garnett); 14 points, 3 assists (Allen)

In their first meeting since Boston’s 2008 title, capped off with the Celtics’ 39-point destruction in Game 6, the two storied franchises resumed their rivalry nine Dec. 25s ago. The Lakers’ win was Phil Jackson’s 1,000th. But even more fascinating, after more than a decade in the league for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Christmas 2008 was both The Big Ticket and Jesus Shuttlesworth’s first.

 

Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) and Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)

Christmas 2008 (88-68, Magic W)

Line: 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks (Howard); 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists (Paul)

CP3 and D12 earned gold medals months earlier in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics as members of the “Redeem Team.” But neither young superstar exactly made the grandest impression on his first Christmas. Don’t expect a similar outing from Paul this year, though.

 

Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets

Christmas 2009 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (107-96, L)

Line: 32 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Carmelo Anthony in a Nuggets uniform feels like a distant memory. His near double-double on Christmas would’ve been enough for a Denver win had it not been for Brandon Roy’s 41. ‘Melo is averaging 33.2 points in five Christmas games, the highest among all players who have played in four or more games on Dec. 25.

Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

Christmas 2010 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (96-80, W)

Line: 24 points, 13 rebounds

Bosh never played on Christmas while playing in Drake’s hometown. That quickly changed once he joined the Miami Heat. Bosh’s grown man double-double seven years ago helped lead the charge on the “Big Three’s” first Dec. 25 extravaganza. His other two superstar brothers put in work as well: Wade with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists and James with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

Christmas 2010 vs. Denver Nuggets (114-106, W)

Line: 19 points, 4 assists, 3 steals (Westbrook); 21 points (Harden)

Now is time for the occasional reminder that the Oklahoma City Thunder had three of the current top 10 players in the world on their team at one point. Two of them are MVPs — and James Harden could very well complete the trifecta this season. Oh, and Durant went for 44 in this game, in case you’re wondering.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Christmas 2010 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (109-102, W)

Line: 4 points (2 of 15 field goals, 0-for-5 on 3s), 11 assists

Despite this horrible day at the office, it’s safe to say that Stephen Curry guy turned out halfway decent at this professional basketball thing. A year later, his fellow “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson, made his Christmas debut in a 105-86 opening-night loss (due to the shortened season) against the Clippers. Thompson had seven points off the bench.

 

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2014 vs. Miami Heat (101-91, L)

Line: 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists

It still feels weird to refer to Kyrie Irving as “the former Cav.” But that’s exactly what he was three years ago when the new-look Cavaliers traveled to Miami for James’ first trip back to South Beach since returning to Cleveland.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

Christmas 2014 vs. New York Knicks (102-91, W)

Line: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists

Sure, the Knicks were absolutely pathetic headed into this game with a record of 5-26. But that doesn’t mean John Wall’s Christmas debut was any less nasty to watch.

 

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 2013 vs. Houston Rockets (111-98, L)

Line: 13 points, 7 rebounds

This has absolutely nothing to do anything, but the Leonardo DiCaprio classic The Wolf of Wall Street also hit theaters this same day. So that’s a perfectly good excuse if you happened to miss Kawhi Leonard’s first Christmas.

 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Christmas 2015 vs. Miami Heat (94-88, L in OT)

Line: 29 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks

Anthony Davis did most of his damage in the first half with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Both teams barely shot 40 percent for the game, but it was Bosh and Wade, the remaining two of Miami’s “Big Three,” who’d ultimately leave a lump of coal in Davis’ Christmas stocking.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Christmas 2016 vs. Boston Celtics (119-114, L)

Line: 22 points, 12 rebounds

With Anthony in Oklahoma City now, the stage is set for Kristaps Porzingis to cement his New York legacy more on Christmas as the main attraction in a city full of them.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Christmas 2016 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (112-100, L)

Line: 26 points, 8 rebounds (Towns); 23 points, 3 rebounds

The year 2017 marks the second consecutive year the Wolves work on Christmas, this time traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. While both of the team’s young stars played well in last year’s loss, the addition of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler may just change the result this time around.

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Kyrie Irving: “I’m glad you play basketball instead of serve as head of NASA” Astrophysicist is pop culture’s ultimate superfan

Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to talk. Loves it. When you ask the New York native and director of the Hayden Planetarium a question, his voice lights up. Whether it’s about science or popular culture, Tyson is eager to educate, often offering more than you even asked for.

The fourth season of National Geographic’s StarTalk, his hit late-night talk show (née podcast) that features the likes of Bill Clinton and Terry Crews, premieres Oct. 15. “I care deeply about what role pop culture plays in hearts, minds and souls,” said DeGrasse. StarTalk mixes science with comedy with interesting conversation for a show both entertaining and educational — but most importantly, accessible. “I can start where you are, what you bring to the table, and I just add to that,” he said. “I think that’s part of the successful recipe of StarTalk.”

What’s a bad habit that you have?

I’m always aware of bad habits, so I’ve probably gotten rid of it already. I have an unrealistic attraction to kettle chips. The crunchier chips, [fried] in peanut oil, no shortage of salt — is that a flaw? Is it a bad habit, or is it just a habit? The real question is, if anyone has a bad habit, why haven’t they done anything about it yet if they are self-aware it is bad? I used to twirl my hair when I was a kid, but then I stopped. I notice when other people are twirling their hair, it’s interesting. I empathize with them.

“Dwayne Johnson. I used to have a body that kind of resembled his body.”

Kyrie Irving once said that the world is flat, although he later admitted to (supposedly) trolling. What would you say to him about this?

We live in a free country, where you can think and feel what you want, provided it doesn’t violate someone else’s freedoms. I greatly value that. So to Kyrie Irving I would say, ‘I’m glad you play basketball instead of serve as head of NASA.’ It’s a reminder there are jobs for people who have no idea what science is or how and why it works. And in his case, basketball is serving him well. The problem comes about if you are not scientifically literate, hold nonscientific views and rise to power over legislation and laws that would then affect us all. That’s the recipe for social and cultural disaster.

What’s the last museum you visited? Do you find yourself going to museums often?

I very much enjoy museums. The last museum I went to that was not local in New York City … it was an art museum in Sydney, Australia. There was a whole section that had aboriginal art, not only of Australians but also some from the Maori tribes of New Zealand.

“I have an unrealistic attraction to kettle chips. The crunchier chips, fried in peanut oil, no shortage of salt — is that a flaw?”

What is your favorite social media spot?

Lately, I have to say Twitter because of the value I derive from it. I have these random thoughts every day, and Twitter is a means by which I share these thoughts with the public. And in an instant, I get to see people’s reactions. Were they offended? Did they laugh? Did they misinterpret it? Did they overinterpret it? So I get a neurosynaptic snapshot of how people react to thoughts that I have. And this deeply informs public talks that I give. It’s my way to get inside people’s heads without violating their space.

People go to your Twitter feed to learn, so it’s nice to hear that you enjoy learning from your followers.

It’s not like I’m Professor Neil on Twitter. I tweet about a lot of really random things. People say, ‘Why don’t you give us the latest news?’ I’m not a news source. If I don’t think about that news today, you ain’t getting a tweet about it. I don’t start the day saying, ‘What am I going to tweet today? Let me think something up.’ No, it’s random. … You just happen to be eavesdropping in my brain. Before the end of the month I’ll be engaging in my Instagram account. I’ve yet to post to it. I deeply value photographic arts. It’ll mostly be artsy things, more artsy than purely educational. Then I write my own little caption about it.

So no pictures of your dinner?

If the dinner evokes some cosmic thought, yes, you’ll get a picture of my dinner. Otherwise, no.

If you could be any athlete, dead or alive, who would you be?

I think about Jesse Owens often. I think about Jackie Robinson often. Simply because of how great they were at what they did, how honed they were in their performance and the fact that their existence meant more than their performance. In other words, the whole was greater than the sum of their parts: great athlete, at an important time, doing an important thing, having an influence on people in a positive direction.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I was a little bit starstruck when I interviewed Jeremy Irons. There are movies he’s been in where I just — how can you be this good in that role? How is that even possible? And just to shake his hand and interview him for StarTalk, that meant a lot to me. And here’s one you won’t expect. I’ve never met him, but I’d be delighted to. I’ve got him on my short list: Dwayne Johnson. I used to have a body that kind of resembled his body. He’s beefier in the last two years than he was about 10 years ago, when he was actually wrestling. He beefed up extra for the Fast and the Furious series, so not in that state, but in an earlier state, of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. When I looked like that, no one was interviewing me in the newspapers. No one was asking to publish my books. So he’s a modern reminder of a lost chapter of my life.

When you were wrestling in high school, did you want to become a pro wrestler?

No. No, no, no. No! You want to talk about physics — physics in pro wrestling is what allows things to look like they hurt when they don’t. But it’s the laws of physics exploited to fool you, rather than exploited to win.

What sport do you most enjoy watching, from a purely physical standpoint?

I like many. And there is physics in all sports, so I don’t rank them in this way. In fact, StarTalk because of the success of our shows where we cover sports, we spun off an entire branch called Playing With Science. It’s all the ways science has touched sports. We talk about famous catches, famous hits. We do talk about concussions. We brought in a neuroscientist to talk about [concussions] from football. We talk about NASCAR and the technology involved with that. We talk about the physics of driving around a track. There’s a lot of fun physics in essentially everything, you know why? Because there’s physics in everything.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Allen Iverson suspended one game for missing a game and other news of the week The Week That Was July 31-Aug. 4

Monday 07.31.17

New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, drafted to a team that went 5-11 last season, told an audience “if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.” Teammate Morris Claiborne, not to be outdone, said he too would “die out there on that football field.” Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, on the other hand, “ain’t dying for this s—.” The Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback who is not Colin Kaepernick. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, trying so hard to encourage star forward LeBron James stay with the team, was approved to build a jail complex in Detroit. President Donald Trump tweeted “No WH chaos.” Six hours later, recently hired White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is not dead, lost his job. Multiple White House officials, or “the best people,” were tricked into responding to emails from a British prankster. Twelve inmates broke out of an Alabama prison using peanut butter. University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for making YouTube videos.

Tuesday 08.01.17

Guests at a New York City hotel won’t stop having sex up against their room windows; “Guys are together, girls and girls are together. They don’t even pull the shades down,” one resident said. A congressional staffer instructed a group of interns to not leak a meeting with White House adviser Jared Kushner; it was immediately leaked. Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan said eccentric helicopter dad LaVar Ball couldn’t “beat me if I was one-legged.” Ball, keeping his name in the news, said Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski “can’t hang with me back in my heyday.” “Marijuana moms” is a cute new name for mothers who like to smoke weed; meanwhile, the government still wants to arrest certain people for marijuana use. NASA is hiring a person to protect Earth from aliens. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Kaepernick, who hasn’t publicly spoken in months, should not talk openly about his social activism if he wants another job. Recently retired NBA player Kobe Bryant is getting thick. Two planes designated to be the new Air Force 1 were originally scheduled to be sold to a Russian airline. Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, known for hits like “I want to f—ing kill all the leakers,” invested almost half a million into an anti-bullying musical. Trump called the White House “a real dump.”

Wednesday 08.02.17

NBA Hall of Famer and BIG3 player-coach Allen Iverson, who has played in just half of his team’s games, averaging 9.1 minutes and two points per game, has been suspended one game by the league for missing a recent game. The Ravens are interested in another quarterback not named Kaepernick. Former second overall NBA draft pick Darko Milicic punched a horse in the face. The NFL released a video defining acceptable (simulating sleep) and unacceptable (twerking, pelvic thrusts) celebrations for the upcoming season. California Highway Patrol officers responded to reports of a kangaroo on an interstate highway; it was a raccoon. A 10-year-old boy named Frank, who admires Trump’s “business background,” offered to mow the lawn of the White House … for free.

Thursday 08.03.17

Trump told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den”; Trump lost New Hampshire. Dukes of Hazzard actor Tom Wopat was arrested for allegedly peeling the sunburned skin off the arm of a woman and putting his finger between the butt cheeks of another woman; in response to the allegations, Wopat responded “F— them all.” A third person was arrested in Kentucky for allegedly digging up the grave of one of the suspect’s grandmother in search of valuables; “He should have known better because he was there in the funeral and he knew she didn’t have much to start with,” a relative said.

In “boy, he about to do it” news, special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury for his investigation into Russian interference in the last year’s presidential election. A New Jersey man, possibly an eggplant emoji kind of guy, was kicked out of a showing of The Emoji Movie for pleasuring himself in the back row of the theater. A London pub, aptly named the Cock Tavern, banned the use of profanity; a patron responded to the restriction: “That’s bulls—.” The Secret Service, charged with protecting Trump and his family, was evicted from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Gov. Jim Justice (D-West Virginia) will switch to the Republican Party; the state party’s Twitter account said Justice “would be the worst thing to happen to WV” before last year’s election and called him “low-energy” and “Sad!” an hour before news broke of the party change.

Friday 08.04.17

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who unearthed the Monica Lewinsky affair while investigating former President Bill Clinton for something else, in response to the Russia investigation, said, “we don’t want investigators or prosecutors to go on a fishing expedition.” Former President Barack Obama was blamed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the “culture of leaking” currently ravaging the Trump administration. Los Angeles Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the architect of the Austin Rivers trade, was fired from and kept his job at the same time. Former welterweight champion Amir Khan, playing himself, accused his wife in a series of early morning tweets of cheating on him with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua; Khan’s wife, Faryal Makhdoom Khan, responded by calling her husband a cheater, a 30-year-old baby, and accused him of sleeping with a prostitute in Dubai. Joshua responded to both set of tweets with a video snippet of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” music video and a message that “I like my women BBW [Big Beautiful Women].”

Greg Marius married hoops and hip-hop to revive the Rucker summer league His Entertainers Basketball Classic in Harlem changed the streetball game

Something felt different as I came up the stairs from the 155th Street subway station in Harlem that Monday in 2001. Beneath the midafternoon July sun, the line outside Holcombe Rucker Park stretched down the block behind blue police sawhorse barriers. The crowd was mostly teens and grown men, dipped in standard summer street attire: icy white T-shirts, do-rags, cornrows, baggy jeans and shorts, fitted baseball caps. Security guards in bright orange Rocawear shirts patted down everyone seeking a seat. No weapons, no cameras. Those were the house rules at the world’s most famous streetball tournament, the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC).

It was the EBC’s 20th anniversary season, and I had been spending four nights a week roaming the sidelines for a magazine partnership with Greg Marius, the EBC’s founder/commissioner. I knew that Marius, who died of cancer last week at age 59, loved putting on a show for his native Harlem — and that the former rapper yearned to have an impact beyond his neighborhood. The smile on Marius’ wide, brown face when he advised me to get to the park early meant this day would be truly special.

I noticed that the first two teams warming up were not part of the regular rotation. There were no city legends such as Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston, Adrian “Whole Lotta Game” Walton, Larry “Bone Collector” Williams, Kareem “Best Kept Secret” Reid, or Malloy “Future” Neysmith. Also absent were NBA stars from that summer such as Ron Artest, Mark Jackson, Cuttino Mobley, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson. The teams on the court were young, with more white players than usual. They looked out of place. This was Uptown, where local celebrities Al Cisco and Keith Slob did the Harlem Shake. Where famed announcers Hannibal, Boobie Smooth, and the duo of Duke Tango and Al Cash rocked the mic. The crowd came out to see their local heroes. Who were these schoolboys?

Suddenly, a convoy of black vehicles pulled into a restricted area near the handball courts, bringing the game to a sudden halt. Murmurs ran through the metal bleachers. Police and the Secret Service spread through the park. In walked former President Bill Clinton, who had recently opened an office on 125th Street. A collective gasp echoed through the crowd.

Clinton, just a few months out of office, made his way into the VIP section flanked by then-NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver. NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury, a Brooklynite and EBC legend, joined the trio. Marius stood next to the scorer’s table, wearing his Cheshire cat smile as if it were just another day at the park. Like Biggie Smalls said, you never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.

All because of Marius’ signature blend of hoops, hip-hop and Harlem hustle.

The son of a community activist mother and hospital chemist father, Marius was raised in a brownstone in the revered Strivers’ Row neighborhood. His first act was as Greg G, a rapper in the early ’80s group the Disco Four. Recording in the early days of rap on wax, the Disco Four were true ghetto superstars. Marius co-wrote singles such as “Move to the Groove” and “Do It, Do It” on Enjoy Records and “We’re at the Party” on Profile. His writing credits continued as a part of Rooftop Records, which was the early home of artists such as Kool Moe Dee and a young Harlem prodigy named Teddy Riley.

Entertainer’s Basketball Classic CEO Greg Marius attends the Launch of the new Reebok Question Mid EBC & A5 with Cam’ron and Jadakiss at Rucker Park on August 4, 2016 in New York City.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Reebok

Marius also was a hooper. About 6-foot-5 and solidly built, Marius said he was on the team at St. John’s University during his time as a student there. The EBC was born when the Disco Four, live on the airwaves of WHBI during the legendary Mr. Magic’s radio show, challenged the rival Crash Crew to a game.

The EBC followed a trail blazed by Holcombe Rucker, a city parks worker who invented the concept of summer youth basketball leagues in 1946. Holcombe Rucker’s men’s tournament drew world-class talent to various NYC parks from the ’50s through the ’70s, then fell into decline. In 1987, Marius moved his EBC to a court that the city had recently named Rucker Park, in the shadow of the Polo Grounds housing projects at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue. Those early years were lean for Marius and his partner, a street dude known only as Gusto, who used to run Harlem’s legendary Rooftop nightclub. EBC went nearly 10 years with no sponsors, surviving on loans and skimpy entry fees. Long before YouTube highlights, Marius and Gusto sold VHS tapes from their Entertainers Store on 153rd Street.

Then the rap industry blew up in the 1990s, and EBC began landing five-figure team sponsorships from record labels such as Cold Chillin’, Def Jam and Uptown. Having your name on a Rucker squad bestowed clout in a rap industry that was often synonymous with the streets. And no one can gloss over the fact that EBC exploded along with the crack game. For all of the mainstream polish that would come in later years, the tournament has always been a place for drug dealers and stickup kids — and their rap game cousins — to floss. Yet Marius and Gusto kept it safe, as one of the tournament’s missions was to provide a haven for local youths during the hot summer months.

As the ’90s progressed, rappers went from doing shows at clubs to selling out stadium tours. Yesterday’s street dude was remixed as a hip-hop entrepreneur. Everybody seemed to have a record label and/or clothing line. Marius, meanwhile, had EBC at Rucker Park. Making it magical every summer was his full-time job. Each year, the tournament kept getting better and names kept getting bigger. Vince Carter. Allen Iverson. Kobe Bryant. His EBC helped record companies break new artists and records. Corporations realized that his tournament was the key to breaking into the coveted urban marketplace. That street/corporate balance was the power of the EBC.

I met Marius as he was cracking the mainstream in a major way. In the winter of 2000, my partner Jesse Washington, now a senior writer for The Undefeated, and I sat down with Marius at Londel’s restaurant and pitched him a magazine that would document all things related to his tournament. This is before the internet explosion, back when two-way pagers were cutting-edge tech. Think about it, we told him: EBC the Magazine.

Marius silently looked at a picture of himself on the inside cover of the prototype we had made. I could see him calculating the angles. Marius knew the streets had never seen anything like this. He enjoyed making his next move even better than the last one. This could be a power move for both his brand and himself.

Still, Marius was often leery of outsiders, myself included, who approached him with bright ideas on how to partner up and turn a profit. If he didn’t know you, or couldn’t associate you with someone he knew from around the way, then you weren’t in his scope. Marius had to be a wily individual to survive the sharks in the streets all those years. Harlem was his world, yet he yearned for what he had built to be recognized on a bigger stage. Other city tournaments were on the come up, poaching his players and crowds, wooing his sponsors. But none of those other tournaments had a magazine.

Interacting with Marius over the summer of 2001, I came to view him as a hard character to truly peg. At his core he was a good dude, raised by good parents in a good neighborhood. This background stood in stark contrast to the shadowy characters and cutthroat street environments that surrounded his adult life. Doing business with Marius was tricky. Because he was getting checks from so many different places, I never knew when his other hustles would bump up against our magazine. “Hype it up, but keep it separate” is one of his most memorable quotes to me.

The Rucker Park court stayed hot that summer. After Clinton stopped by, Shaquille O’Neal made a cameo after winning the NBA title. Street legends and NBA stars mixed it up game after game. I even found my way onto a team in the women’s division thanks to rapper and EBC team owner Fat Joe. My game wasn’t at its peak, but I managed to knock down a couple of jumpers, grab some steals and rebounds, and even earned the nickname “The Editor,” aka “The Magazine,” from announcer Al Cash.

With Marius at the helm, the EBC not only stayed relevant for 30 years but also revived the Rucker name and spread it across the globe. Marius was able to navigate among the illest of street dudes and still receive Secret Service clearance to host a president in Harlem. Greg’s Harlem.

The basketball world will always know the Rucker. Harlem will never forget Greg Marius.