Suns re-sign forward Kelly Oubre Jr.
There are many ways to look at Drake taking home the award for best supporting actor in a (postseason) drama. The great majority of which are true.
Are his courtside antics grating? Sure. Are they corny? Hilariously, yes. Was massaging Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s shoulders awkward? Yes, but it likely doesn’t even rank in the top 20 most cringeworthy moments of Drake’s career. Love and despise him, because people do both, his moment with Nurse was a quintessential “Drake going full Drake” moment.
Drake has long been a master at media manipulation and always understands where the camera is. The past week was nothing more than an affirmation. Has he officially taken the mantle as Spike Lee’s heir to most polarizing courtside celebrity? Yes. Drake is the NBA’s most recognizable overzealous superfan.
The Canadian rapper is back in the news for his imprint on the 2019 Eastern Conference finals. First, he helped Gucci Mane live up to his rhymes from “Both” — “I got so many felonies I might can’t never go to Canada/ But Drake said he gon’ pull some strings so let me check my calendar” — as the 1017 Brick Squad impresario, wearing a Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey, took in Game 3 on the wood at Scotiabank Arena. Their 2016 collaboration, not so ironically, was certified three times platinum this week. Then he mocked, taunted and laughed at the Milwaukee Bucks superstar for missing free throws and waved goodbye. On Tuesday during Game 4, he gave Nurse that eye-opening in-game massage, which ignited a firestorm of debates over etiquette and conduct. Drake’s now public enemy No. 1 in the Cream City for simply being, well, Drake. The superfan who acts just like a superfan, only he’s one of the most recognizable people in the world.
The entire shtick is equal parts objectively annoying (to the other team and his critics) and artistically hilarious. It was no surprise to see the series take a turn for the petty Thursday night in Milwaukee. Mallory Edens, the daughter of Bucks’ owner Wes Edens, was seated courtside next to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wearing a Pusha T t-shirt. The nod to the Virginia MC was a flashback to a year ago when Drake found himself behind the eight ball for the first time in his career with a heated and highly personal beef with Pusha that involved Drake’s son, a rumored adidas deal gone awry and a picture of Drake in blackface. Eden’s wardrobe was a solid response — the franchise’s best rebuttal so far — that was diluted by the Bucks’ 105-99 defeat, which put them one loss away from elimination.
“There’s certainly no place for fans — or whatever Drake is for the Raptors — on the court,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said on a Wednesday conference call. “There’s boundaries and lines for a reason.”
Antetokounmpo’s former European agent carried the same energy. “Imagine a gig & an athlete on VIP seats, right next to the band, stands upon the stage just to show off during the entire game, knowing cameras are on him, occasionally even massaging the singer,” Georgios Dimitropoulos, a senior executive at Octagon, said in a since-deleted tweet. “Security & him both allow it. Never seen anything as disrespectful as this before …”
Drake responded via Instagram through a series of emojis and a live broadcast that showed him liking a comment in support of his actions. And following Toronto’s Game 5 victory, Drake took to his Instagram Stories to poke fun at Budenholzer and the younger Edens, telling the latter, “All is far in war and war and trust me I’ll still get you tickets to OVO Fest.” Anyone familiar with Drake and how he moves understands this is all part of the blueprint. Just as he remained strategically silent about Kanye West’s demands that he dispel rumors of an affair with Kim Kardashian last year, Drake didn’t directly address Budenholzer’s or Dimitropoulos’ comments, allowing the pendulum of media momentum to stay in his court. For now, at least.
There are three undeniably important days in the Raptors’ 24 seasons. The first was June 24, 1998, when the team traded No. 4 pick Antawn Jamison to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the fifth pick, Vince Carter. The second came 20 years later when the Raptors traded Toronto favorite DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard on July 18, 2018. And the third was Sept. 30, 2013, when the Raptors named hometown kid turned superstar rapper Aubrey Drake Graham as their global ambassador. If it sounds ridiculously foolish, it’s only trumped by how ridiculously accurate the job title has since become.
Despite a season of adverse player-fan interactions, many of which had racial undertones, Drake’s courtside antics do little to affect the league or the Raptors negatively. He didn’t violate any sort of NBA policy for his interaction with Nurse. And judging by its past actions, the league isn’t giving Drake a hometown pass.
In 2014, the Raptors were fined $25,000 after Drake made what the league considered a public recruiting pitch to Kevin Durant, who attended his OVO Festival in Toronto. Last year, both the NBA and the Raptors warned Drake about his behavior after a verbal confrontation with then-Cleveland Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins.
Drake vs. the Bucks is yet another twist in Drake’s interest in sports. The games and the athletes who play them are frequent muses in his music. And being recognized in a Drake song is pop culture gold. “I made it, I made it,” said Stephen Curry, quoting Draymond Green’s excitement over being name-dropped in Drake’s “Summer Sixteen.” “ ‘First All-Star Game and I got into a Drake song.’ ”
The flip side is that the internet will never let Drake live down his air ball — while in the layup line! — during Kentucky’s 2014 Big Blue Madness. Then there’s the Drake curse, which has allegedly affected the likes of Serena Williams, Conor McGregor, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the aforementioned Kentucky and others. Some New York Giants fans blamed him in part for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s mercurial moods. As coincidence collided with fate, Drake sat courtside at Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals when Kyrie Irving and LeBron James each went for 41 points — and kick-started the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. But the hex was so deep even Drake believed in the energy as he wore Philadelphia 76ers shorts during Toronto’s Game 7 instant-classic victory earlier this month.
Like Lee, Drake is no stranger to the rush of vitriol against him. He’s also no stranger to inserting himself on to the NBA’s biggest stages. This marks the fourth consecutive postseason where Drake has become a subplot — others might say “antagonist” — during the playoffs. While taunting both Irving and James via, yes, Instagram in 2016, Drake watched his Raptors fall in six games — with James giving Drake an earful in the process. A year later, James not only again led the Cavaliers to victory over the Raptors in the playoffs, he offered to buy Drake margaritas after the game to soften the sting. In 2018, the tide temporarily shifted in Drake’s favor as he trolled John Wall and Kelly Oubre Jr. during Toronto’s first-round series victory over the Washington Wizards. This year, he taunted 76ers superstar center Joel Embiid, mimicking his airplane gesture in this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
All of the taunts, gestures and boisterous sideline dances could come back to haunt Drake should the Raptors fail to win either Game 6 or 7. And a new crop of Drake memes and GIFs will populate the internet. But understanding that Drake isn’t just a famous fanatic is part of the calculus in understanding why he acts the way he does. For starters, Drake’s not just a fan. “Been flowin’ stupid since Vince Carter was on some through the legs, arm in the hoop s—,” he reflected on “Weston Road Flows.” “I got a club in the Raptors arena,” he barked on his “30 for 30 Freestyle,” “Championship celebrations during regular seasons. F— all that rap-to-pay-your-bill s—,” he waxed on the Grammy-nominated “0 to 100/The Catch Up,” “I’m on some Raptors pay my bill s—.” This is a business investment.
His $7,000-per-year, invitation-only Sher Club (named after his maternal grandparents) sits inside Scotiabank Arena. Both Drake and the Raptors are donating millions of dollars to modernize local basketball courts and to Canada Basketball. Part of his “I’m Upset” video, which has nearly 100 million YouTube views, was filmed at center court of Scotiabank. Canada’s The Sports Network said Drake “is one of several factors responsible for legitimizing the organization in the eyes of the league’s primary demographic and many of its players.” Of those players, DeRozan said it was Drake who played the role of amateur therapist and helped him through the shock of being traded. “Just to hear the words that come from him being the person that he is in this world, especially in Toronto,” DeRozan said. And then there’s his overall economic impact on the city. A 2018 Vice News Tonight report concluded Drake is worth $440 million annually to Toronto’s economy, 5% of the city’s $8.8 billion tourism industry, because “he’s helped to rebrand the city. He’s kind of made himself the same as Toronto.”
None of this excuses anything Drake does from his courtside seat. But it gives some insight as to why. He acts the way he does because he’s fully aware of the weight his name holds in the city. He’s involved with the Raptors’ growth both financially and culturally. And he’s now part of the theater that the Eastern Conference finals have become because it’s no longer just about basketball. For some, there’s genuine joy in seeing Drake double down on his antics. For others, there’s pure disdain as they impatiently await his emotional downfall. But everyone feels some type of way. That’s a cultural moment. Drake’s got the sports world in their feelings.
The Toronto Raptors are up 2-0 in their first round series against the Washington Wizards. And in those two games, Drake has finagled himself into the series’ storylines. Prior to Game 1, he engaged in Instagram comment warfare with John Wall. Exhibit A:
John Wall is ready for playoff Drake in the 6⃣ today… pic.twitter.com/zzPMG6DnZz
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) April 14, 2018
This led to the “God’s Plan” rapper taunting Wall from the sideline during last night’s Game 2. Exhibit B:
"John, you're getting bodied by 20 tonight."
Drake & John Wall trash talking during the Raptors GM2 win over the Wizards. pic.twitter.com/zZU4GV7f6t
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) April 18, 2018
During the same game, Drake and third year forward Kelly Oubre crossed paths as the cameras caught the former calling the latter “a bum.” Exhibit C
Drake just called Kelly Oubre Jr. a bum as he ran by pic.twitter.com/8b9MLJ0mpU
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 18, 2018
Leave it to social media to recover an old Oubre tweet from 2011 where the Wizard star said the rapper had no swag—which was deleted almost immediately following Tuesday night’s game. Oubre downplayed the incident, saying the two were jawing back and forth all game. Exhibit D:
Kelly Oubre Jr. heard Drake call him a "bum" during Game 2. "That’s my guy though. I see him in the summer time… we pretty much run the streets of LA together, on the A-list tip, not in the hood way. He is a great rapper.” pic.twitter.com/WWPchLCJAl
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) April 18, 2018
The trash talk compounds to a fascinating subplot in the playoffs that highlights court side celebrities involving themselves in the game—most recently evidenced by Dwyane Wade and comedian Kevin Hart in Game 2 of the Sixers/Heat series. But the dynamic isn’t new — the league’s greatest athlete-celebrity rivalry was Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. But let’s focus on Drake for a second. Whether you deem him a fair weather fan or not, there’s no denying his love for the NBA. There’s also no denying everything he does is with a purpose. Drake is either rap’s savviest director, an evil marketing genius or a lovechild of the two. Look no further than last week’s Atlanta episode appropriately titled “Champagne Papi.,” which even served as part of the rollout for his newest anthem “Nice For What”—which, this week, supplanted his previous No. 1 in “God’s Plan” for the top song in the country. And on Monday, he announced the title for his highly anticipated new album—Scorpion dropping in June. All the pieces matter.
His hometown Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. A potential second round matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sits on the horizon pending both advance. And his album could very well drop dead square in the middle of the NBA Finals. From Fortnite to hit TV shows, Drake has firmly entrenched himself in several culturally relevant conversations. The NBA playoffs are just his latest muse.
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.
J.R. Smith threw on a crisp T-shirt, tied up his do-rag and slid a beanie on his head. This was after a 106-99 road win on Sunday over the Washington Wizards in which LeBron James made a bold style statement via a special pair of his Nike LeBron 15 “EQUALITY” sneakers. Yet Smith reflected on his most important style moment from the week: The one that broke the internet — much like when Smith decided to go shirtless everywhere after his Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals.
On Dec. 14, in a highly anticipated matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers and their rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, Smith took the hardwood at The Q donning one of the latest creations from the billion-dollar streetwear brand Supreme. On his left arm, the shooting guard rocked a Dri-Fit Nike shooting sleeve featuring the timeless Jerry West-silhouetted NBA logo and, more prominently, the iconic slanted Supreme script.
“I thought the sleeve was dope,” Smith said Sunday night. “Obviously, Supreme is an amazing brand, but the fact that they did a collaboration with Nike and the league? It felt like a no-brainer for me.” The shooting sleeve was released in two colors, black and red, online and in the brand’s flagship stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles; London; and Paris on Dec. 7 (and two days later in Japan).
If JR Smith wasn't already the coolest player in the NBA, he is now because he's wearing a Supreme shooting sleeve pic.twitter.com/RBiWb5viCp
— Jack Morrissey (@jack_morrissey3) December 15, 2017
While wearing the sleeve, Smith surpassed Chauncey Billups on the NBA’s all-time list for most made 3-pointers. For the lovable player nicknamed “Swish,” it was a fitting accomplishment — and one done with a whole lotta swag. The Supreme accessory, which Smith says a friend of his brother’s copped for him in New York and dropped off before the game, served as the perfect complement to Cleveland’s black alternate “Statement” jerseys, designed by Nike, the official apparel provider of the NBA.
“It looked dope and matched our uniforms,” Smith said after the Cavs beat the Lakers 121-112. While Smith ran up and down the floor, folks reacted in real time on Twitter to the streetwear-meets-hoops moment — through eyes emojis, predictions the guard would go for “a smooth 50 points” and declarations that what he wore on his arm made the night an “instant classic.” Even King James posted a photo of his teammate in the sleeve on Instagram with the caption “Swag on ’em then @teamswish .”
“That’s what it was made for,” Smith said in D.C. of the frenzy.
Yet Smith wasn’t the first player to break out the Supreme sleeve on the court. He actually rode the wave of the man colloquially known as “Wave Papi,” aka third-year Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. Two days before the Cavs played the Lakers, the Wizards faced the Brooklyn Nets, and Oubre played the first two quarters of the game with the red version of the sleeve on his right leg.
A team trainer told him to switch it at halftime. Technically, the sleeve violates the uniform policy outlined in Article XXXVII, Section 2, Paragraph A of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which reads, “During any NBA game or practice, including warm-up periods and going to and from the locker room to the playing floor, a player shall wear only the Uniform as supplied by his Team. For purposes of the preceding sentence only, ‘Uniform’ means all clothing and other items (such as kneepads, wristbands and headbands, but not including Sneakers) worn by a player during an NBA game or practice. ‘Sneakers’ means athletic shoes of the type worn by players while playing an NBA game.”
an important moment in nba history pic.twitter.com/usc5zOjSRj
— Abe Schwadron (@abe_squad) December 13, 2017
Although his team made him take it off, Oubre found somewhat of a loophole in the NBA’s rules by wearing an item also branded by the league and its uniform supplier. Supreme has a long history of collaborating with Nike, including a reported upcoming line of jerseys.
“It had the NBA logo on it, has a Nike sign on it. The NBA is sponsored by Nike, it’s just Supreme, so I don’t really know what’s the quarrel,” Oubre said after the Wizards ended up falling 103-98 to the Nets. “They shouldn’t have sold it to me or they shouldn’t have dropped it if we can’t wear it. And it has the NBA logo on it, because I play in the NBA, right? I should be able to wear anything that has the logo of what I represent.”
While this season in the NBA marks the first year that team jerseys feature sponsor patches, Oubre’s and Smith’s accessory decisions represent a different type of promotion. It’s branding on their own terms. A way to put on for a company that’s symbolic of both the culture and the arms race of style that takes place every night across the league, in the tunnels of arenas and at news conference podiums through pre- and postgame outfits.
“It’s just something wavy, honestly,” Oubre said of the sleeve. “I don’t know if it’s too wavy for [the league], but honestly I had fun.”
Oubre and Smith have yet to be fined for overstepping the uniform boundaries, so the question most certainly on every hypebeast’s mind is: Will the sleeve return?
“Probably not,” Smith said. “It draws too much attention to me. … It takes away from my team.”
Sadly, there’s a chance we might not see the sleeve on an NBA court again, whether for fear of a fine or the hesitancy to jack the trend’s two earliest adopters. Regardless, for two nights, Oubre and Smith brought some Supreme swag to the court — and it was absolutely glorious.