Christmas Day and the NBA — two things that go together like ham and mashed potatoes.

The tradition of playing games on Dec. 25 dates back to the 1940s, with the first televised Christmas Day game featuring the Providence Steamrollers, of all teams, playing against the New York Knicks in 1947. The nightcap, by the way, featured the Baltimore Bullets and the Chicago Stags. It was a different time, for sure.

Former Kansas Jayhawk Wilt Chamberlain set a Christmas Day record in 1961, grabbing 36 rebounds against the New York Knicks. Like most of Chamberlain's records, by the way, that mark still stands.

But Christmas Day games truly became a tradition in the 1980s and 1990s during the peak of the league's popularity, with some memorable matchups and big performances creating great memories for NBA fans as they digested their holiday meals.

Hall of Fame forward Bernard King set the Knicks' single-game scoring record on Christmas 1984 when he dropped 60 points against the New Jersey Nets. The previous record was 57.

 

In 1986, Patrick Ewing hit a buzzer beater to top Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls 86-85 in another superbly memorable Christmas Day matchup. The Bulls got their revenge in 1993, though, with Scottie Pippen posting 36 points and 13 rebounds as the Bulls beat the Knicks 107-104 in overtime.

The tradition hit a high point in the 2000s following Shaquille O'Neal's departure from the Los Angeles Lakers, when his Miami Heat faced Kobe Bryant and his other former teammates three years in a row during their infamous feud. The games drew huge television ratings and were promoted for seemingly weeks on end — the first game was even referenced in an episode of the hit TV show "Scrubs" — like a heavy-weight title tilt.

Kobe vs. Shaq. Ali vs. Frazier. Stuffing vs. Cranberry Sauce.

But Kobe and Shaq weren't the only marquee Christmas Day performers during the 2000s. In 2003, a rookie by the name of LeBron James went toe-to-toe with Tracy McGrady in his prime. LeBron scored 34 points, but McGrady put up an impressive 41 as his Orlando Magic beat the Cavs 113-101. Even more impressively, McGrady posted 46 points the year before on Christmas Day against the Pistons.

One of the most unusual NBA Christmas Days came in 2011, when the first game of the season was played on Dec. 25 because of an NBA lockout. That game was a matchup between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. That game also saw huge TV ratings.

Over the years, big games and rivalries have become expected on Christmas Day, with this year's docket of games featuring Kevin Durant's Golden State Warriors taking on LeBron and the Los Angeles Lakers (7 p.m., simulcast on ABC and ESPN), Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers going toe-to-toe with their arch rival Boston Celtics (4:30 p.m., ABC) and Houston's James Harden facing his former team, Oklahoma City (2 p.m., ABC).

Throw in a matchup of potential playoff contenders in Portland and Utah (9:30 p.m., ESPN) and a matchup of hated rivals in Milwaukee and New York (11 a.m., ESPN) and there's certainly plenty to watch for this Christmas.

Basketball is the gift that just keeps on giving.