DENVER (AP) With Joel Embiid in a different city entirely, the Philadelphia 76ers got a spark from an unlikely source.
As the leading scorer in the NBA, one of the many faces of adidas and en route to perhaps his first MVP trophy, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is used to having all eyes on him. Come Thursday, though, special attention will be paid to his feet as Harden will be rocking custom-made “Free Meek” shoes. The message, of course, is a homage to rapper Meek Mill who currently sits in the State Correctional Institution in Chester, Pa., following a probation violation from a 2008 gun and drug case. Last month, the Philadelphia MC was sentenced to two-to-four years for after popping wheelies on his dirt bike and an altercation at a St. Louis airport early this year.
The decision immediately sparked outrage not only for Meek’s continuous battles with his own legal entanglement, but the disparities in the criminal justice system as a whole. Hip-hop, through names like Jay Z, Diddy, Nipsey Hussle, Rick Ross and even friend-turned-foe Drake, have come to Meek’s defense expressing their support. But it’s Meek’s draw in the sports world that has been intriguing to watch unfold. Exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick—whose protest have become the defining sports story of his generation—spoke with Meek days before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the NBA has made no secret of its affinity towards the 30 year old rapper.
Harden visited Meek in prison on Tuesday, confirming his “spirits were high” and that he hoped the MC would be home by February. If, in fact, Meek is released in time for All Star Weekend in Los Angeles (Feb. 16-18, 2018), he could thank the league personally. Throughout his career, Meek has recorded with ball players. He played an involuntary supporting role in the odd melodrama between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. And he’s name dropped countless superstars in his music from James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson—the latter of whom he saw as a role model growing up in Philly. “A.I. had the style, he had the charisma, the braids, everything,” he told Complex earlier this year. “He was doing what he wanted on the court. That’s what we live by in Philly: do whatcha want, never let the game change you to the point where you’re not even yourself.”
Praying for @meekmill and his family!!! Crazy how bad the system is SMH
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) November 7, 2017
Harden’s showing of support is only the latest in the NBA’s very vocal support of the imprisoned MC. His hometown Philadelphia 76ers have led the charge. Sixers icon Julius Erving was one of many athletes who attended a rally in the rapper’s name last month. The team’s two superstars-in-training Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons recently posted up at Jay Z’s 4:44 tour stop in Philadelphia donning “Stand With Meek Mill” t-shirts. The move wasn’t just a photo opp either. Simmons frequently makes Meek’s music part of his daily routine through his Instagram Stories. Embiid visited Meek Mill in prison—an experience he succinctly summed up as “scary”—with 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin. Yet, it’s Rubin’s relationship with Meek that is the most documented. They’re a pop culture “odd couple.”
Rubin and Meek met a few years back when both were sitting courtside at an NBA game. The billionaire owner was seated next to his daughter and Meek was with ex-girlfriend Nicki Minaj. “Once he figured out I was one of the owners of the Sixers and some other pretty big, internet companies he started asking me 1,000 business questions,” Rubin said of how their friendship sprouted. “I liked him. I would’ve had the stereotypical view, this guy is a hardcore rapper … I didn’t know who he was or what he did. But once he started telling me about his career I thought he would have an interesting business.”
Since his sentencing, Rubin has made frequent visits to visit Meek in prison. The two have largely talked legal strategy. For Rubin, Meek’s situation is personal. He considers the “Dreams & Nightmares” rapper one of his “closest 10-20 guy friends…someone I really care about.” He hoped Meek would be home for Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his family, but now the hope is that Meek can spend the bulk of 2018 in a recording booth as opposed to a jail cell.
On Dec. 25, 1976, George McGinnis made a last-second jumper to lift his Philadelphia 76ers over the New York Knicks. Bill Campbell, the Sixers’ announcer, proclaimed a festive benediction, “Merry Christmas, everybody.”
This day, the 76ers and the Knicks will battle anew, in a noon tipoff, the first of five NBA games that will wrap around the holiday and put a bow on top. The Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles will play the NFL season’s last Monday Night Football game, too. But NBA basketball will dominate the holiday’s pro sports menu.
In the future cultural historians will divine how Christmas became a holiday festooned with NBA basketball.
After all, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which chronicle the birth of Jesus, make no obvious mention of basketball. And the season’s secular gospels — Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — don’t mention basketball, either, though both stories present people flying through the air, as many NBA players will do.
Nevertheless, NBA basketball will be as much of many families’ Christmas stories as watching holiday movie marathons will be in others.
Although NBA basketball is not rooted in the religious or secular Christmas gospels, the sport often reflects the spirit of the holiday.
When the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball struggled with his shooting, three kings, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, sought to shield the young guard from criticism. Later, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, old friends suffering through 25 years of estrangement, reconciled, just as old friends do in holiday movies, just as more real-life estranged friends and family members should this Christmas.
More important, the NBA melds player activism and league philanthropy, maintaining the spirit of Christmas giving all year.
Furthermore, basketball is an ecumenical sport, melding influences from the New York Rens of the 1920s to the Soviet National team of the 1970s. Or put another way, like jazz and hip-hop, at its best, NBA basketball influences the world and learns from the world, too.
Basketball is played in all 50 states and all around the world; it’s equally at home on the playground blacktop or on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Still, today’s NBA, like jazz and hip-hop communities, embraces being rooted in African-American style, rhythms and sensibilities, a charisma exemplified by Cab Calloway, who was born on Christmas Day, and James Brown who died on the holiday.
But when the great NBA teams come together, it’s as if all the players speak the same language: winning and entertaining.
There are some in our great country who seek to ignore the NBA’s lessons of inclusiveness: They seek to circumscribe how we mark the fall and winter holidays. They seek to make “Merry Christmas” the only magic words that open the door to a glittering holiday season.
Still, about 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. But it’s the way the country accommodates (and seeks to benefit from) Christmas and fall and winter holidays, and the people who don’t celebrate them, that helps define America’s greatness.
This day, after the last NBA basketball game has been played between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Lakers, the nation will be stuffed with turkey and hoops.
We can wish one another glad tidings. The words will taste sweet and All-American in our mouths, like apple pie or flan or baklava or ginger ice cream or kugel.
Merry Christmas, everybody. And happy holidays, too.
Hip-hop has always been a culture of many melding ingredients — The Lyricist, The DJ, The B-Boy and The Graffiti Artist — all pieces of a movement created in the ’70s. And as much as the culture has changed, so have its components. They have grown and blossomed and blurred the lines with many other genres.
Enter DJ Set Free, the Bronx, New York-born, Queens, New York- and Philly-raised DJ who was signed to the infamous Tommy Boy Records in 1997 as a member of a group named Deadly Snakes. He was also one of the label’s beat makers. One short year later, he was working for AND1 as its director of entertainment marketing. One day while watching a VHS tape of Rafer Alston playing at Rucker Park, he turned down the sound as he normally did and started mixing some records when he suddenly had an epiphany. Later that year, The And1 Mixtape Vol. 1. was released.
The groundbreaking streetball series mixing hip-hop with ostentatious displays of skill became the blueprint for future NBA players such as Jarrett Jack, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Durant and countless others. Jack remembers pooling his money with a friend to buy one of the Volumes and watching it every day after school and practicing and mimicking the moves he saw on the VHS tape. After working on six of the 10 volumes and inspiring a generation of future basketball players, the marketing executive moved on to his next creation, The Compound, a studio, incubator and creative space for his marketing firm, The Oval Co.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of “compound” is to put together (parts) so as to form a whole: Combine compound ingredients. In 2007, when Free was consulting and collaborating with companies such as EA Sports, Universal Records and Nike’s LeBron 5 and 6 sneakers, he starting calling his music studio The Compound. He also started to incorporate action figures, art and video games into his work — the methodology was to build a playground for creativity across multiple artistic genres. “Music studios are boring, nothing stimulating to look at, just plain walls, soundboards and big equipment. In photography studios, all you have are lights and white backgrounds. Why not have a place that intrigues and stimulates with art, visuals, and sounds?” he said.
The Compound was originally located in Southwest Philadelphia, but three years later, Free and his wife Liza decided that a relocation to New York was the best choice for their growing endeavor. They choose the South Bronx as The Compound’s new home. Free believed it was symbolic to bring his studio and his interpretation of the genre’s evolution and growth to the birthplace of hip-hop. Walking into The Compound is like a Hypebeast’s dream come true: a wall full of Kaws toys, along with the KAWS x Air Jordan 4 sneakers, basketball jerseys signed by Allen Iverson, Shumpert, John Starks and an Akai MPC 3000 production center signed by The Alchemist, 88-Keys, Prince Paul, DJ Green Lantern and others, are just a few of the gems you see at first glance.
One of the oldest sayings in hip-hop is that “rappers want to be ballers and ballers want to be rappers.” Ask Free his most memorable memory in The Compound and he’ll say, “Hands down, it was one night when Brooklyn rapper Sandman, Yasiin Bey [Mos Def] and Iman Shumpert and me were just hanging out. I was playing with some beats and a cypher broke out. First Sandman went in the booth and dropped a hot verse. Not to be outdone, Yasiin Bey went next and set fire to the mic. Next then went Shumpert, and no one expected much, and he proved everyone wrong. He went on to hold his own with two veteran lyricists and earn their respect on the mic.”
When asked about his next big thing, Free just grinned and said that 2018 is the 20th anniversary of the AND1 mixtapes and something game-changing is in the works.
Here at The Undefeated, we spent a trying 2017 attempting to cover the world through your eyes. We had the Colin Kaepernick saga on lock, the NFL protests covered. We learned from Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng that “the biggest misconception is people thinking Muslims are terrorists.” We reveled at Whitley Gilbert’s wardrobe and watched Tarik Cohen shine at North Carolina A&T before he was a rookie standout with the Chicago Bears. We showed you chic street style at Afropunk, brought back Drumline and demonstrated that love knows no color. 2017 was a tough year, but TU brought it to you, warts and all.
Hey, 2017, we’d hate to miss you but love to watch you leave.
The Undefeated 44 most influential black Americans in history A collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.
- 50 Greatest Black Athletes – The people spoke, and the results sparked some serious debate.
- UNC vs. Villanova: 13.5 seconds oral history – “Jenkins, for the championship!”
- Drumline oral history – “In order for me to get the additional $5 million, I had to create a white character.”
- New Edition oral history – “That’s when I said, ‘I don’t know why Johnny’s here.’ ”
- The NFL’s racial divide – “I have a chip on my shoulder at all times. I’m constantly trying to prove myself.”
- The NBA rookie style quiz – Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.
- CulturePlay 50 – From Cardi B to Samuel L. Jackson (and 48 more), we throw odd questions to the talented and famous every week.
- Seahawks’ Michael Bennett is an activist disguised as a football player – “Every day, a white quarterback throws the ball to a black receiver, but when it comes to Black Lives Matter issues, they won’t step up and be like, ‘There is an issue.’ ”
- Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life – “It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up. And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty.”
- The gentrification of college hoops – Most athletic scholarships are going to middle-class kids with college-educated parents, not to kids from poor families who need a scholarship to get anywhere close to a university campus.
- Frank Dowsing, Mississippi State’s first black football player, is almost unknown today – A state struggles to remember a racial pioneer — is it partly because of his sexuality?
- Deconstructing J.R. Smith – “He still teaches me so much stuff that I don’t know. His horizons are so broad and he’s so well-rounded in so many areas that I still learn so much from him when it comes to basketball or life in general or fatherhood.”
- How Colin Kaepernick became a cause for activists and civil rights group – “He’s a modern-day Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali all in one.”
- Nick Blakely came so close to playing Division I football – then tragedy struck – “I’m not much of a traveler, but I would sure love to go to heaven one day.”
- Chargers’ Brandon Mebane: ‘You could just tell they didn’t want us there.’ – “They were probably surprised that we were African-Americans, and they bought into all the negative stereotypes.”
- Being Muslim in the NBA – “The biggest misconception was people thinking Muslims are terrorists. That’s the way they see me nowadays.”
- The Marsalis brothers jazzed up a basketball conversation with Thunder coach Billy Donovan and GM Sam Presti –“In a jazz band, it’s very similar to basketball because you can have musicians who can really play their instrument really well. But they don’t have an understanding of what their function is to make the group succeed.”
- Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry carries brother’s memory into second NBA season – “It was evident from the very beginning that that wasn’t DeAndre’s brother. That was DeAndre’s best friend.”
- Best NBA throwbacks of all time – The very best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams
- Are we entering the end times for the NFL? – Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players
- Why Floyd Mayweather can still box after beating women – “I don’t support men putting their hands on women. … I believe he put his hands on you once, he gonna do it again. And again and again and again and after.”
- Derrick Rose hates fame but still hopes to be an NBA champion – “I picked the profession I’m in, so there’s no way I could whine about it.”
- The NBA’s 50 greatest players list: The remix – “You know, those guys were all sons of b—-es to deal with on the court. I can’t believe you took some of them off.”
- Lonzo Ball wouldn’t make the NBA All-Rookie team the way he’s playing now – If the vote for the NBA All-Rookie first team were taken today, Ball might not be on it. Indeed, Ball has not been the best rookie on his team.
Whitley’s World “You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”
- The color of love – Dirk Nowitzki opens up on his interracial marriage
- Jamie Foxx is the best to ever do it – Foxx — not Will Smith, not Dave Chappelle, not even Beyoncé — is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such.
- Jay-Z is dead – Love, betrayal, shame, survival: Jay-Z hits the ball out of the park with intensely personal album
- The night Biggie was murdered – We catch up with a few of the 1996–97 Los Angeles Lakers — Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Van Exel and Corie Blount — as well as L.A.’s own Baron Davis and Marcellus Wiley to discuss what it was like living in Los Angeles at the time of Biggie Smalls’ murder.
- Dave Chappelle’s ‘Juke Joint’ – An impromptu Chance the Rapper set, and a Snapchat-free zone made it a golden ticket
- A veteran black police officer teaches police how not to kill people – “I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”
- Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer – “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people.”
- Serena Williams, with or without a baby, has always been a ‘real woman’ – For as long as she’s been in the public eye, Williams has been asserting her femininity because for just as long, it’s been under attack.
- If you truly knew what the N-word meant to our ancestors, you’d NEVER use it – The decision for black people to include it in their vocabulary, nonetheless, remains personal, and I reject the criticism of black folk who continue to wield it.
- The message to NFL players: Dance for us, but don’t kneel – You can Milly Rock, Juju on that Beat or fake play pingpong in the end zone. But we can’t abide you kneeling on the sidelines. Dance to your heart’s content, but you best not raise a fist in protest.
- The NFL protests got white people to argue with white people – I credit the NFL protests for nudging this sort of healthy intraracial dialogue among white folk.
Alabama State Honey Beez bring positive plus-size attitude to HBCU dance scene “Where one of us lacks, the other one will pick up. We’re plus-size girls and we still go through bullying in college. But we’re more confident now, so it’s not as bad. But we have a real sisterhood, and this is our home away from home. The Honey Beez took me all the way out of my shell, and I love it.”
- Caylin Newton with Jay Walker: A convo with two Howard QBs – There’s a Bison stampede going on in Washington, D.C., and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s little brother is the main reason.
- For Tarik Cohen, his NFL dream has begun – “I’m going to get there. I’m telling you, I’m going to play.”
- We got the beat: HBCU Band Rankings, Undefeated style – Bands strive to put on their best performance every game, just like the football team.
- Female presidents are playing critical roles in the survival of HBCUs – “I was the bearer of bad news, but I provided the vision and strategy to move forward,” said Cynthia Warrick. “Some people even thanked me for being so transparent.”
NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”
- Ray Allen talks about his passion for teaching others about the Holocaust – “For many years, it was almost like our country wouldn’t accept the bad things it did to black people. The oppression, the racism, just all the negative issues that we’ve dealt with as people, we’re still recovering.”
- Troy Mullins is long drive golf champion but she’s striving for the LPGA – “Black athletes and having to be the best in their sport just to be recognized, just to be out there. There’s something about us having to be No. 1 to be put in the spotlight, that we can’t be too mediocre. I’m working really hard to do my best in this sport. It’s tough.”
- Nazr Mohammed isn’t retired, just prepared for his next phase in life – “At the end of the day, knowing that you’re in a position that you can help others and you can give and the smiles that you put on people’s faces and the happiness that you bring to others — it makes me feel good.”
Leon Bridges sings his rendition of the national anthem The critically acclaimed soul singer explores the themes of the anthem, creating a beautiful rendition that feels like both a hymn and a benediction
- Eagles’ Torrey Smith on fatherhood and his dancing, Instagram-famous sons – The best thing about being a father, he says, is the responsibility he’s taken on to mold two little boys into “great young men.”
- Santana Moss on CTE fears – “I’m not ready to go.”
- Draft profile: De’Aaron Fox and his love for video games – “I really stay away from basketball games.”
- Dwyane Wade’s All-Star spades party – “My earliest memory of playing spades probably goes back to playing with my brothers, my dad, my stepmom, just sitting at the kitchen table, as a family, and they’re talking all kinds of junk.”
- NOLA Gotta Shine: Inside Jordan Brand’s space at All-Star Weekend – NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans was the place to see and be seen, and there’s no better place for sneakerheads than the Jordan Brand pop-up shop.
- The business behind Echo Fox, Rick Fox’s esports team – Vision Venture Partners Team, the private equity firm behind Echo Fox, is quietly reshaping esports.
- From ‘Moana’ to ‘Hamilton’ to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ winner: The rise of Jordan Fisher – Get a peek into a day in the life of this rising star.
Inside Afropunk “They’re just the ‘standard of beauty’ and here you can be what you want and THAT’S beauty.”
- Fred Whitfield and the Black Cowboys of Rodeo – The cowboy is an iconic American figure and in popular mythology almost always a white one.
- Star Wright and the Philadelphia Phantomz make a place for hard-hitting women – “We’re trying to say that women can do anything.”
- Howard Homecoming – in GIFs – It was lit
- At the Celebration Bowl, the drum majors led the way – For both Grambling and N.C. A&T, it was all about preparation, practice and precision.
The Plug It’s the debut of The Plug, hosted by Chiney Ogwumike, Kayla Johnson, Justin Tinsley and Tesfaye Negussie. In episode 1, the crew dives into current events, discuss LaVar Ball’s latest news, NFL social activism and more. Plus, hip-hop icons Jadakiss and Fabolous join.
- All Day – The Undefeated Podcast: Clinton Yates spent a day in New York profiling various parts of the culture, when news broke that a legend had died. After spending the morning with the creators of Jopwell, a startup helping students of color in the tech industry, the the afternoon with Nike for a new shoe release, he ends up in Queens to talk with a family friend and musician about the life and influence of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
- America’s Black History Museum: 9/20/16 – Jill Hudson, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 86th Emmy Awards. Plus, Mike Wise discusses his story about Joe Paterno.
- Morning Roast – The gang is all together, talking national anthem protests, possible NFL players strike, potential renaming of Yawkey Way and latest Bachelor in Paradise drama.
- The Morning Roast & Live at NABJ – Clinton Yates is in for Bomani, and in hour three he is joined by Marc Spears and Myron Medcalf to discuss all the happenings at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
- Rhoden Fellows: HBCU 468: 5/11/17 – Stephen A. Smith praised Isaiah Thomas’ compelling effort in the playoffs and explained Kevin Durant’s impact on Golden State. He also talked about attending a historically black university.
- O.J.: Made in America: 6/11/16 – Domonique Foxworth is joined by guests Jason Reid, Raina Kelley, Ezra Edelman, Sarah Spain and Carl Douglas as they take a look at O.J.: Made in America.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Line: 7 points, 2 blocks
Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) and Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Line: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
“That was what one person could do for another, fix him up — sew up the problem, make him all right again. …”— Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, explaining why she wants to be a physician.
My mother died on the 12th of December, 1977: early onset dementia. She was 53. Bit by bit, she lost herself. Toward the end, she didn’t know who I was. She called me “that man.” And I didn’t know who I was either. All my life, I’d been Ruth Rivers’ son, a card-carrying mama’s boy. But to my mother, I was just some strange man who wouldn’t let her run out of the house and into the street to who knows where.
Tuesday, I’ll reflect upon her proud and resilient life. Tuesday, I’ll look back at Mom’s death and the misery that led up to it. Tuesday, I’ll remember the time that, in a soft and beseeching voice, I told my mother that even if she didn’t know who I was, I loved her just the same. And Mom reached out and kissed my hand, giving me the strength to face another day.
But Tuesday, I’ll also think of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1976-78 seasons. Led by future Hall of Fame forwards Julius (Dr. J) Erving and George McGinnis, the 76ers presented a dazzling group of players but a flawed team plagued by spotty outside shooting and defense. Consequently, the constellation of Philly stars was dimmed by playoff losses both years, including in the 1977 NBA Finals to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Still, I was riveted by every moment.
At home, I watched or listened to all their games. I read all the 76er stories in all the Philly newspapers. And sometimes, when I could steal away, I went to the games in person, a crucial respite from going through life holding my breath.
Rooting for that team in those two NBA seasons helped me get through the months that led up to my mother’s death and the months that followed it.
Tuesday, I’ll think of Patti LaBelle, and how, for a few hours in 1977, I placed my mother’s troubles and my anguish on the stage at Philly’s Academy of Music, when Patti sang “You are My Friend” and I swooped and soared with her majestic vocal.
Many people are bolstered by friends, family and faith in bad times. But for others, it’s the entertainers and athletes who help us survive challenging times.
Forty years ago, Patti and the 76ers helped pull me through. Today, everyone from Beyoncé to the Houston Rockets help salve the wounds of countless others.
The nation’s great athletes and entertainers earn a lot of money, at least for a time. But they enrich our society in ways that can go far beyond wins and losses, hit recordings and sold-out arenas.
Sometimes, the right play in the big game or the right note in the big concert stops people living besieged lives from slipping into darkness.
Sometimes, the athletes and entertainers, Dr. J to Patti LaBelle, fix us up, make things right again, if only for a thrilling moment.
If only we could find the words to tell our stars how much they can mean to us. If only they knew.
In 2007, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts conducted a self-exam of her breast after reporting on a friend who had died of cancer.
“It all started a few weeks ago,” she wrote in an email that was shared with the world. “We had gotten the news that our dear colleague and friend Joel Siegel had passed away and we began preparing for our special tribute show for him. I did a piece about Joel’s courageous battle with cancer, reporting on the way my friend had lived his life and been such a successful advocate for the importance of early cancer screenings.”
She found a lump.
Roberts had a biopsy, then surgery, and by January 2008 she’d gone through eight chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation. She later learned she had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is “a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as preleukemia,” Roberts said in a new message posted on the ABC News website.
In 2012, she received a bone marrow transplant from her sister.
Now she has teamed up with the online human health and wellness publication WebMD to help tell stories of early detection, support and bravery. Advanced Breast Cancer: Courage, Comfort and Care with Robin Roberts, a five-part video series, was released in August. The series tells the stories of women with advanced breast cancer, “plus the families and friends who provide encouragement and support, and includes insights from medical experts leading the charge to combat the disease,” WebMD announced.
She introduces Felicia Johnson, a Philadelphia woman and two-time cancer survivor who said the disease also attacked her maternal grandmother, her sister and her first cousin. Including Johnson, 11 women over three generations in her family have been diagnosed with cancer.
“It seems like our list just goes on and on,” Johnson says in the episode.
“Felicia’s connection to breast cancer is not unusual,” Roberts reports. “Death rates from breast cancer are higher in the African-American community, and research shows that African-American women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently.”
Roberts also introduces Lisa Newman, a surgical oncologist and director of the Breast Oncology Program for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Newman says many black women are not getting preventive treatment, so she spends a lot of her time advocating for early detection.
“Every opportunity to get the message out to African-American women regarding breast cancer screening and early detection is critical,” Newman says.
“We completed several series for WebMD on a variety of health subjects, but this series represented a chance for us to take a deep look at the many facets of breast cancer treatment and survivorship,” Roberts told Essence in August.
“From personal experience with the disease, I know there’s a lot of fear associated with breast cancer, especially when a patient is first diagnosed and when the disease has already reached an advanced stage — I also felt the series could help people learn how to better cope with the fear and anxiety, and offer them hope for their future.”