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The NBA on MLK Day: History and records


During Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2023, and beyond, the NBA will honor Dr. King’s pursuit of racial, social, and economic justice.

On Monday, Jan. 16, the NBA will continue its tradition of using the game of basketball to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with various activities on and off the court to promote unity, togetherness and equality.

The NBA has played games on MLK Day every year since the holiday was first observed in 1986 – with the only exception being the 1998-99 season, which did not begin until Feb. 5, after the holiday had passed. In total, there have been 358 NBA games played on MLK Day, with another nine games set for 2023.

Below is a look at some of the standout games, individual performances, and records from MLK Day games throughout NBA history.


Most Points Scored (Player)

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE POINTS FGM 3PM FTM
Damian Lillard POR vs. GSW 1/20/20 61 17 11 16
Kemba Walker CHA vs. UTA 1/18/16 52 16 6 14
Gilbert Arenas WAS vs. UTA 1/15/07 51 14 7 16
Devin Booker PHX @ SAS 1/17/22 48 18 5 7
Blake Griffin LAC vs. IND 1/17/11 47 19 0 9
Michael Jordan CHI @ WAS 1/15/96 46 16 3 11
James Harden HOU vs. IND 1/19/15 45 12 7 14
Dominique Wilkins ATL @ NYK 1/18/88 45 16 0 13

Portland’s Damian Lillard holds the record for the most points ever scored on MLK Day as he scored a career-best 61 points in the Blazers’ 129-124 overtime win over the Warriors in 2020. In total, there have 21 40-plus point games on MLK Day, two with 50-plus games, but Lillard is the only one to reach 60 on the holiday. You can read more about Lillard’s masterpiece and more standout performances in MLK Day lore here.

1/20/2020: Lillard’s record-setting effort


Most Points Scored (Team)

TEAM MATCH UP DATE POINTS OPP POINTS
Golden State Warriors GSW vs. SEA 1/16/89 146 117
Indiana Pacers IND vs. GSW 1/15/90 144 105
LA Clippers LAC vs. HOU 1/18/16 140 132
LA Clippers LAC vs. IND 1/17/22 139 133
Boston Celtics BOS vs. LAL 1/20/20 139 107

While the Warriors hold the mark for the most points scored by any team on MLK Day, the LA Clippers were part of the two highest-scoring games – combined points scored by both teams – with 272 points being scored in their wins in 2016 and 2022.


Most Games Played (Team)

TEAM GAMES
New York Knicks 36
Los Angeles Lakers 32
Philadelphia 76ers 32
Atlanta Hawks 31
Washington Wizards 31

The NBA has played on MLK Day in 36 of the 37 years since the holiday was first observed in 1986 (missing only the 1998-99 season), and the New York Knicks have been on the schedule all 36 of those years. That streak will continue in 2023 as the Knicks host the Raptors (3 ET, League Pass), which will mark their 34th time hosting an MLK Day game.

Two cities with significant meaning in King’s legacy are Atlanta (31 games) and Memphis (20 games) as they mark King’s birthplace and hometown (Atlanta) and the site of his assassination in 1968 (Memphis). Both the Hawks and Grizzlies have extensive celebrations planned to honor King this holiday weekend and both teams will be featured in the TNT doubleheader on Monday.

With the exceptions of 1998 and 2017, the Hawks have hosted a game on MLK Day every season since 1994. With the exceptions of 2002 and 2017, the Grizzlies have hosted a game on MLK Day every season since relocating to Memphis.


Highest Winning Percentage (Team): 

TEAM GAMES WINS LOSSES WIN PCT
Golden State Warriors 29 20 9 0.690
Atlanta Hawks 31 21 10 0.677
Portland Trail Blazers 17 11 6 0.647
New York Knicks 36 23 13 0.639
Los Angeles Lakers 32 19 13 0.594
Oklahoma City Thunder 22 13 9 0.591
Denver Nuggets 17 10 7 0.588
New Orleans Pelicans 17 10 7 0.588
Boston Celtics 24 14 10 0.583
San Antonio Spurs 21 11 10 0.524
Utah Jazz 21 11 10 0.524
Minnesota Timberwolves 25 13 12 0.520
Washington Wizards 31 16 15 0.516
Chicago Bulls 29 14 15 0.483
Brooklyn Nets 25 12 13 0.480
Dallas Mavericks 19 9 10 0.474
Los Angeles Clippers 26 12 14 0.462
Phoenix Suns 20 9 11 0.450
Indiana Pacers 25 11 14 0.440
Philadelphia 76ers 32 14 18 0.438
Miami Heat 16 7 9 0.438
Milwaukee Bucks 23 10 13 0.435
Cleveland Cavaliers 19 8 11 0.421
Charlotte Hornets 24 10 14 0.417
Houston Rockets 29 12 17 0.414
Sacramento Kings 20 8 12 0.400
Detroit Pistons 28 11 17 0.393
Orlando Magic 18 7 11 0.389
Toronto Raptors 18 7 11 0.389
Memphis Grizzlies 22 7 15 0.318

Note: these are franchise records that include previous locations for certain teams, such as Seattle (OKC), Vancouver (Memphis) and New Jersey (Brooklyn).

While the New York Knicks have the most wins of any team in MLK Day history (23), it is the Golden State Warriors that hold the highest win percentage on the holiday as they have gone 20-9 in 29 games on MLK Day. The Warriors will look to build on that mark on Monday when they visit the Wizards (3 ET, League Pass).


Most Rebounds (Player):

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE REB OREB DREB PTS
Dwight Howard HOU @ LAC 1/18/16 26 10 16 36
Erick Dampier GSW vs. UTA 1/19/04 24 10 14 18
Michael Cage LAC vs. DAL 1/18/88 23 7 16 7
Jusuf Nurkic POR @ ORL 1/17/22 22 4 18 21
Tristan Thompson CLE vs. NYK 1/20/20 22 10 12 13
Dikembe Mutombo ATL vs. NJN 1/15/01 22 5 17 11
Hassan Whiteside POR vs. GSW 1/20/20 21 6 15 17
Anderson Varejao CLE vs. DAL 1/20/14 21 4 17 18
Joakim Noah CHI vs. LAL 1/20/14 21 7 14 17
DeAndre Jordan LAC @ DET 1/20/14 21 9 12 16
Donyell Marshall UTA vs. HOU 1/15/01 21 7 14 26
Moses Malone ATL @ WAS 1/16/89 21 10 11 20
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL @ WAS 1/15/18 20 7 13 27
Greg Monroe DET @ ATL 1/19/15 20 6 14 16
LaMarcus Aldridge POR @ HOU 1/20/14 20 8 12 27
Zach Randolph MEM vs. NOP 1/20/14 20 10 10 23

There have been 16 games in which a player grabbed 20 or more rebounds on MLK Day, with Dwight Howard holding the record with a 26-rebound performance for Houston in 2016. In addition to his 26 rebounds, Howard added 36 points, four assists, one steal and one block in a loss to the LA Clippers.

Howard’s performance was one of seven 20-20 games recorded in MLK Day history, with the others belonging to Jusuf Nurkic, Donyell Marshall, Moses Malone, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph.


Most Assists (Player):

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE AST PTS REB
Mark Jackson DEN vs. NJN 1/20/97 22 21 7
John Stockton UTA @ IND 1/16/95 19 15 2
Magic Johnson LAL vs. HOU 1/16/89 18 17 13
Magic Johnson LAL vs. HOU 1/18/88 17 39 5
Jason Kidd DAL @ BOS 1/18/10 17 13 4
Ish Smith PHI @ NYK 1/18/16 16 16 7
Chauncey Billups DET vs. BOS 1/16/06 16 13 3
Micheal Williams MIN vs. LAC 1/18/93 16 20 3
Muggsy Bogues CHH @ PHX 1/15/90 16 5 1

Only 88 times in NBA history has a player finished with at least 20 assists and 20 points in the same game; Mark Jackson is the only player to do so on MLK Day as he finished with 22 assists, 21 points, seven rebounds and just two turnovers in a Knicks win over the Nuggets in 1997.

The list above shows the nine instances in which a player dished out more than 15 assists on MLK Day. Magic Johnson is the only player with more than one such game, and is the only player to post a 20-assist triple-double on MLK Day, when he finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 18 dimes on Jan. 16, 1989.


Most Steals (Player):

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE STL PTS REB AST BLK
Kyrie Irving BOS vs. MIA 1/21/19 8 26 3 10 1
Micheal Williams MIN vs. LAC 1/18/93 7 20 3 16 0
Tom Chambers SEA vs. IND 1/18/88 7 27 9 6 1
Scottie Pippen CHI vs. PHI 1/17/94 7 20 7 6 0

Only four players have recorded more than six steals on MLK Day, a group led by Kyrie Irving, who swiped a career-best eight steals to go with 26 points and 10 assists to lead Boston to a 107-99 win over Miami in 2019.


Most Blocks (Player):

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE BLK PTS REB AST STL
Shaquille O’Neal ORL @ PHL 1/18/93 8 38 16 3 2
Patrick Ewing NYK vs. CHI 1/15/90 8 33 12 5 1
Theo Ratliff PHI vs. SAC 1/19/98 8 7 13 1 1
Josh Smith ATL vs. BOS 1/15/07 7 18 4 3 5
Elton Brand LAC vs. UTA 1/16/06 7 35 14 4 2
Shaquille O’Neal LAL vs. ORL 1/19/98 7 35 15 3 1
Andris Biedrins GSW vs. CHI 1/18/10 7 9 19 1 1
Wayne Cooper DEN vs. SAC 1/16/89 7 8 12 0 1
Bismack Biyombo CHA vs. HOU 1/21/13 7 2 9 0 1
Al Horford ATL vs. SAC 1/17/11 7 23 9 6 0
Rony Seikaly MIA @ WAS 1/15/90 7 18 11 1 0

It’s our first MLK leaderboard with a tie at the top as Shaquille O’Neal (1993), Patrick Ewing (1990) and Theo Ratliff (1998) each posted an eight-block game on the holiday. Shaq absolutely stuffed the stat sheet in his MLK debut during his rookie season in Orlando, finishing with 38 points, 16 rebounds, eight blocks, three assists and two steals in a 124-118 overtime loss to Philadelphia.


Most 3-Pointers Made (Player):

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE 3PM 3PA 3P% PTS MIN
Damian Lillard POR vs. GSW 1/20/20 11 20 55 61 45
Klay Thompson GSW @ LAL 1/21/19 10 11 90.9 44 27
JJ Redick LAC vs. HOU 1/18/16 9 12 75 40 39
Bryn Forbes SAS @ PHX 1/20/20 8 11 72.7 24 33

Lillard splashed an MLK record 11 3-pointers in 20 attempts on his way to an MLK record 61 points in a 129-124 overtime win over Golden State. While there are 19 players that have made at least seven 3-pointers in an MLK Day game, only four players above have posted more than seven triples.

While Lillard has the most 3s made, Klay Thompson has the most scoring 3-point performance the holiday has seen as he made 10 3-pointers in just 11 attempts on his way to a 44-point game in just 27 minutes on the court in a 130-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.


Triple-Doubles: 

PLAYER MATCH UP DATE MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK
Luka Doncic DAL vs. OKC 1/17/22 39 20 11 12 3 3
Jimmy Butler MIA vs. TOR 1/17/22 36 19 10 10 1 0
Aaron Gordon ORL @ NYK 1/18/21 36 18 17 10 0 2
Ben Simmons PHI @ BKN 1/20/20 42 34 12 12 5 2
Russell Westbrook HOU vs. OKC 1/20/20 38 32 11 12 2 0
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL vs. CHI 1/20/20 31 28 14 10 1 1
Luka Doncic DAL @ MIL 1/21/19 33 18 11 10 1 1
Draymond Green GSW vs. CLE 1/16/17 35 11 13 11 1 5
Nicolas Batum POR vs. WAS 1/21/13 41 12 10 11 3 2
Boris Diaw CHA @ PHI 1/17/11 40 25 11 11 1 2
Derrick Rose CHI @ MEM 1/17/11 40 22 10 12 1 1
Kobe Bryant LAL vs. VAN 1/15/01 46 26 11 11 2 2
Antoine Walker BOS @ MIN 1/15/01 43 20 12 12 2 0
Darrell Walker WAS vs. ORL 1/21/91 39 10 15 13 0 0
Mark Price CLE vs. SAN 1/15/90 40 25 11 12 1 0
Mark Jackson NYK vs. SAN 1/16/89 40 24 10 12 1 0
Magic Johnson LAL vs. HOU 1/16/89 42 17 13 18 0 0
Nate McMillan SEA vs. IND 1/18/88 39 16 11 15 4 0
Mark Jackson NYK vs. ATL 1/18/88 43 11 10 13 1 0

There have been 19 triple-doubles recorded on MLK Day, with Mark Jackson and Luka Doncic being the only players with multiple triple-doubles on the holiday. Ben Simmons (34) has the most points scored in an MLK Day triple-double, while Russell Westbrook (32) recorded the only other 30+ point triple-double on MLK Day. Giannis Antetokounmpo holds the mark for the fewest minutes played (31) in an MLK Day triple-double.

Tune in on Monday for the NBA’s 9-game slate to see who makes history in 2023 as the league honors Dr. King.



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