Best NBA Performers on Thanksgiving

Turkey Dunk 560x280Thanksgiving Day has always been reserved for stuffed turkey, sweet potatoes, and NFL football. Since the early 1900’s, professional football has been played on Thanksgiving Day. But at the same time, there was another sport competing along side the NFL, it was the NBA.

Although not every season, the NBA has been playing on Thanksgiving since 1949, during its inaugural season. They featured five NBA games that day; Fort Wayne Pistons vs Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Warriors vs New York Knicks, Tri-Cities Blackhawks vs Sheboygan Red Skins, Syracuse Nationals vs Anderson Packers, and St.Louis Bombers vs Baltimore Bullets.

Of course, most of those teams have either moved, changed, or shut down since 1949, but it paved the road for the NBA to join the NFL on Thanksgiving Day. As with the games, came the performances, and there were many worth mentioning. Prior to 1994, the box scores were points scored and not much else which makes a lot of the earlier performances strictly about the scoring. Here are some of the best performances and performers on Thanksgiving Day.

Honorable: Al Horford & Josh Smith

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This list is full of NBA players that have performed quite well during their Thanksgiving Day games but the performances by Al Horford and Josh Smith during their 2010 matchup against the Washington Wizards is something worth recognizing as they combined for one incredible showing.

Thanksgiving Gameday Stat Lines

  • Al Horford – 15 points (6-11, 55%), 13 Rebounds, 2 Blocks, 1 Steal
  • Josh Smith – 20 points (8-14, 57%), 14 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 2 Blocks, 2 Steals

20. Jeff Mullins

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Scoring over 40 points is impressive for any game of the week, but when Jeff Mullins accomplished the feat back in the late 60’s, it was even more impressive because the 3-point line was not added until ten years later. That is a lot of layups.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 1
  • Teams: Golden State Warriors (1969)
  • Total Points: 42

18. Paul Arizin

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There haven’t been many NBA stars that can say they played more than one game on Thanksgiving Day. Paul Arizin did it ten times and he was a beast at scoring, averaging over 20 points a game.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 10
  • Teams: San Francisco Warriors (1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961)
  • Total Points: 219 (21.9 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1951; 32 points in a Loss

17. Jermaine O’Neal

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Remember when Jermaine O’Neal was being considered the best player in the NBA? Those were the days of the early 00’s. It was also when he was dominating alongside Jamaal Tinsley and Ron Artest.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 4 (4-0)
  • Teams: Indiana Pacers (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005)
  • Points: 97 (24.3 ppg)
  • Rebounds: 46 (11.5 rpg)
  • Blocks: 5 (1.3 bpg)
  • Best Performance: 2002; 28 points and 18 rebounds in a Win

16. J.R. Smith

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If J.R. Smith only played in one game and his team lost, why would he even be considered for this list? Because he was not the reason for the loss, if anything, he was the reason it was not a blowout. He came off the bench and dropped 32 points, hitting 5 3’s to keep his Nuggets within an arm’s length of a win.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 1 (0-1)
  • Teams: Denver Nuggets (2008)
  • Points: 32 (13-21, 62%)
  • 3-Point Shooting: 5-9, 56%
  • Rebounds: 5
  • Assists: 4
  • Steals: 2

15. Jack Twyman

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The Cincinnati Royals eventually became known as the current Sacramento Kings. But long before then, Jack Twyman was leading the Royals in scoring as evident by his 3 Thanksgiving Day performances where he closed in on 30 points each time.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 3 (1-2)
  • Teams: Cincinnati Royals (1959, 1960, 1961)
  • Total Points: 87 (29.0 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1959; 35 points in a Win

14. Neil Johnston

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The NBA played Thanksgiving Day games almost entirely until the 80’s when they stopped trying to compete with the NFL for viewers. The Philadelphia Warriors were one of the mainstays on Thanksgiving much like the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys are for football.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 7 (3-4)
  • Teams: Philadelphia Warriors (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957)
  • Total Points: 146 (20.9 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1953; 34 points in a Loss

13. Oscar Robertson

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Oscar Robertson was an amazing basketball star and some of his numbers remain untouchable even to this day. Like in 1961 when he averaged a Triple-Double for an entire season. (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg)

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 5 (2-3)
  • Teams: Cincinnati Royals (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963) Milwaukee Bucks (1973)
  • Total Points: 129 (25.8 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1963; 38 points in a Win

12. Rik Smits

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The Indiana Pacers were the Thanksgiving darlings of the NBA during the 90’s and again in the 00’s. Rik Smits was one of those players that always seemed to get the job done when the camera’s were rolling.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 3 (2-1)
  • Teams: Indiana Pacers (1994, 1997, 1999)
  • Points: 68 (22.7 ppg)
  • Rebounds: 16 (5.3 rpg)
  • Blocks: 1.3 (bpg)
  • Best Performance: 1994; 28 Points (12-14, 86%), 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists

11. Steve Nash

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It only took one game for Steve Nash to show off his talents before leaving Dallas for Phoenix in 2004.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 1 (0-1)
  • Teams: Dallas Mavericks (2002)
  • Points: 29 (3-PT shooting 4-7, 57%)
  • Assists: 9
  • Rebounds: 7
  • Steals: 2

10. Pete Maravich

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Pete Maravich was one of the best natural scorers the NBA has ever seen. He made it look so easy and it was hard for him to miss.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 5 (3-2)
  • Teams: Atlanta Hawks (1972, 1973), New Orleans Jazz (1976, 1977, 1978)
  • Total Points: 139 (27.8 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1976; 35 points in a Loss

9. Dale Davis

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Just like Rik Smits and Reggie Miller, Dale Davis was also a piece of the Indiana Pacers winning formula in the 90’s. He was not pretty to watch but he always seemed to get the job done.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 5 (3-2)
  • Teams: Indiana Pacers (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999)
  • Points: 81 (16.2 ppg)
  • Rebounds: 48 (9.6 rpg)
  • Steals: 9 (1.8 spg)
  • Blocks: 6 (1.2 bpg)
  • Best Performance: 1999; 21 points (10-14, 71%) and 8 rebounds in a Loss

8. Keith Van Horn

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Keith Van Horn was as close to a complete offensive player as the NBA has seen. He was able to play several positions and was solid on defense.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 1 (1-0)
  • Teams: New Jersey Nets (2001)
  • Points: 34 (12-21, 57%)
  • Rebounds: 12
  • Steals: 3
  • Blocks: 3

7. Andre Miller

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Before Andre Miller got older, he was more of a scoring PG. He could pass the ball all day long but when he had to score, the ball was going in.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 1 (1-0)
  • Teams: Los Angeles Clippers (2002)
  • Points: 42 (14-24, 58%)
  • Assists: 16
  • Rebounds: 3
  • Steals: 2

6. Bob Pettit

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Bob Pettit was so much fun to watch, we are simply glad that the NBA has archived footage of his playing days.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 9 (6-3)
  • Teams: Milwaukee Hawks (1954) St.Louis Hawks (1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963)
  • Total Points: 254 (28.2 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1958; 42 points in a Win (17 FG made)

5. Dwight Howard

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Dwight Howard was always a talented ball player. Just because he made some bad decisions, does not take away from his talent. He is huge and can rebound better than anyone else in the NBA. Did we mention is amazing vertical leap?

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 2 (2-0)
  • Teams: Orlando Magic (2008, 2009)
  • Points: 48 (24.0 ppg)
  • Rebounds: 31 (15.5 rpg)
  • Blocks: 7 (3.5 bpg)
  • Best Performance: 2009; 22 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists

4. Jamaal Tinsley

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Thanksgiving was a time for Jamaal Tinsley to absolutely shine. He not only owns the Thanksgiving Day NBA records for total assists and average assists per game, he owns the record for the first Triple Double recorded on Turkey Day.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 4 (4-0)
  • Teams: Indiana Pacers (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005)
  • Points: 63 (15.8 ppg)
  • Assists: 59 (14.8 apg) *Total & Average are Thanksgiving Day Records
  • Rebounds: 28 (7.0 rpg)
  • Steals: 8 (2.0 spg)
  • Best Performance: 2001: Triple Double (19 points, 23 assists, 11 rebounds)

3. Elgin Baylor

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If you thought Stephen Curry was amazing, you need to do your research and find out about this Elgin Baylor character.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 5 (4-1)
  • Teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1960, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1968)
  • Total Points: 161 (32.2 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1961; 40 points in a Win

2. Jason Kidd

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As a leader, Jason Kidd was one of the greatest floor managers the NBA has ever seen and he helped his teams make the NBA Finals a couple times too.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 3 (2-1)
  • Teams: New Jersey Nets (2001, 2002, 2003)
  • Points: 69 (23.0 ppg)
  • Assists: 29 (9.7 apg)
  • Rebounds: 24 (8.0 rpg)
  • Steals: 5 (1.7 spg)
  • Best Performance: 2002; Triple Double

1. Wilt Chamberlain

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The best scoring big man to ever play in the NBA. Period.

  • Thanksgiving Day Games: 8 (4-4)
  • Teams: Philadelphia Warriors (1959, 1960, 1961), San Francisco Warriors (1964), Philadelphia 76ers (1966, 1967), Los Angeles Lakers (1968, 1971)
  • Total Points: 265 (33.1 ppg)
  • Best Performance: 1964; 63 points, 27 FG made (Both Thanksgiving Day records)