You’ve got to love those NBA games when the player knows he’s one stat away from a triple-double, and he’s passing repeatedly to try and get the assist, fighting his teammates for the rebound, or taking every shot, praying the coach doesn’t yank him.
Players may talk all they like about how they only want a[nother] championship, but we all know they love the stats. Who wouldn’t? It’s the recorded proof that they, as players, have a impact on the game they love.
For those of you who took the time to read this article that don’t know what a triple-double is, (I commend your thirst for knowledge) it is when a player has double-digits in three of these five categories: points scored, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Generally it’s the first three, points, assists, rebounds, as they are the easiest in which to compile big numbers.
The most basic question that follows this is simple: Why is this so important? It is, after all, an arbitrary achievement point. Magic Johnson, Lebron and Jason Kidd all averaged between 7 and 9 ‘near’ triple doubles (missing by one stat) each season they played. Even though it is just a sexy sports number people like me can point at, the truth is a triple-double represents an effort in which a player made his entire team better. Let’s put it this way, you don’t see many NBA journeymen or up-and-comers churning out triple-doubles all the time (excepting Rajon Rondo).
I implore the everyman to go play a 48 minute pick-up game with a few friends and try to score at least 10 points, 10 assists and pull down 10 rebounds. You’ll probably need an oxygen tank on hand. And for players to do this against the toughest basketball competition in the world, well, you get my point.
Probably the most key part of this stat that all big-time triple-doubler’s share is an uncanny knack for passing the ball. Trying to amass 10 assists if you aren’t a naturally gifted passer will often lead to you having double digits in the ugly stat column: turnovers. Those people don’t experience long NBA careers. Unsurprisingly, everyone on this list is either a point guard or a forward. Also not a shock, many of the players on this list either are or will be part of the NBA Hall of Fame.
10. Michael Jordan — 28 Triple Doubles
Gasp! MJ is tenth on this list? Perhaps it may come as a surprise, but one of the greatest players of all time wasn’t as much of a stat-churning machine as our glorious image of him might assume. He did, however, win ceaselessly, and bring six Larry O’Brien’s home to Chicago. His list of accolades and achievements is so long it almost looks a list of all the awards possible for a player to win. His career stats though, were 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.3 APG, hence his low triple-double numbers. 30 points per game over one’s career is just bonkers, though. MJ’s total salary from the NBA was $90,235,000. Just add a few bazillion on top of that from endorsement deals.
9. Grant Hill — 29 Triple Doubles
Yeah, that’s right. Grant Hill made this list, above Jordan. This may come as a shock to some, but Grant Hill was a great player who never was able to fully tap his potential due to injuries in his last 12 seasons in the NBA. Despite being a forward, he often took a ‘point-forward’ role, where he would be another distributor besides the point guard as well as creating plays on his own. He recently retired in June of 2013, solidifying his stats and his place on this list for now. Despite never winning an NBA title, Hill left his mark as a key player for many teams, taking the Pheonix Suns to the western conference finals in 2010. He also won a gold medal with team USA in Atlanta 1996 olympics. Hill averaged 16.7 PPG, 6 RPG, and 4.1 APG, and made $142,854,650 in contracts over the course of his career.
8. John Havlicek — 30 Triple Doubles
John Havlicek is probably most famous for playing alongside Bill Russell, having the nickname “Hondo”, and winning a measly 8 championships. No, that’s not a typo, he played 16 seasons in the NBA from 1962-1978 all for the Boston Celtics, and half of the time he won a championship. What a career. With teammate Bill Russell pulling down a staggering 22 rebounds per game on average, Havlicek had the best gift a player could ask for: more possessions. Not to take away from Havlicek himself, who is not only in the Hall of Fame, but has appeared several times as the 17th best basketball player of all time. Yep, if you look far enough back in the annals of NBA history you’ll be surprised to see all the incredible things that went down. Hondo averaged 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 4.8 APG. While contracts weren’t as public as they are now, the average NBA salary in 1965 was $13,000. So no, he didn’t make millions like they do nowadays. Darn basketball kids and their millions of dollars they don’t know what to do with.
7. LeBron James — 36 Triple Doubles
Oh hey, it’s an active player! Not only that, but the only active player on this list (two retired this year). Thus, he leads all active players in triple-doubles. He needs no introduction, King James is still the all-time leading scorer for Cleveland Cavaliers with 15,251 pts, averaging 27.8 PPG, 7 RPG and 7 APG in his first seven years. Right out of St. Vincent-St. Mary high school in Akron Ohio, LeBron was a dominant NBA player from the very first game he strode out onto the court, where he scored 25 points against the Kings (funny bit of foreshadowing there, given his future nickname). He scored his first triple-double on January 19th, 2005 against the Trail Blazers, 27 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds. Given that he’s just now in the prime of his career and seems to be impervious to injury, I have the feeling there’s many more to come before he’s finished. The most impressive thing about LeBron is not his size or his athletic dominance, but the fact that his deftness as the ball carrier, as a passer, and as a defensive player all seem to be on par with his scoring prowess. He truly is a once-in-a-generation player. James currently averages 27.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 6.9 APG, and has already made $129,155,913 in NBA salary alone.
6. Lafayette Lever — 43 Triple Doubles
Who??? Is probably the first thing many of you will think when you see Lafayette Lever. More commonly known as ‘Fat Lever’ (an unfortunate nickname), Lafayette was a dominant point guard during much of the 80’s, and was also a ferocious rebounder despite only measuring 6 feet, 3 inches. Lafayette neither won an NBA title nor will he ever reside in the Hall of Fame, but he nevertheless climbed to #6 on our triple-double list as a well-rounded NBA asset. With 13.9 PPG, 6.2 APG and 6 RPG, Fat Lever has the 2nd lowest PPG on this list. (You NBA junkies will probably be able to guess who the lowest scorer is). Fat Lever made somewhere around $8.5 million over the course of his NBA contracts.
5. Larry Bird — 59 Triple Doubles
This world-famous forward who also played his entire storied career with the Celtics took down 3 NBA titles. His is a career which, to some may have ended a bit earlier than it should have given his prowess, but chronic back injuries lead him to retire in 1992 after 13 seasons. Despite that, our #5 triple-doubler not only racked up 59 such games, but is also one of only six players in NBA history to achieve the elite 50-40-90 season. That is, shoot 50% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 90% free throws in a season. He accomplished it twice(!) from 1986-87 and 1987-88. The dude is a veritable stat machine, as he averaged over his career 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG and 6.3 APG. Yeah, you read that correctly. He averaged a double-double per game over his career. Insert slow clap here. Not only that, but he is the only person in NBA history to win MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. Maybe Larry never found out there are things in life that aren’t basketball. Jokes aside, this NBA demigod made $16,270,00 from 1985-1993, having made an undisclosed amount for the first five years of his career.
4. Wilt Chamberlain — 78 Triple Doubles
Probably the most amazing fact about Wilt Chamberlain‘s 78 career triple doubles, is the fact that Blocks weren’t a recorded stat during Wilt’s career. He was such a prolific shot blocker, standing at 7 feet, 1 inch tall, and supposedly had double-digit blocks a number of times in his career. Knowing that, the reality is that Wilt most likely had far more triple doubles than we can account for. Unfortunately, that knowledge sullies the order of this list somewhat, but regardless, at least Wilt is in the upper echelon where he belongs. No one will argue he is quite possibly the most dominant player in NBA history. His most famous achievement, for better or worse was his historic 100-point game, a 169-147 win for his Philadelphia warriors. Another career double-doubler, Wilt averaged an absolutely absurd 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, and 4.4 APG. Despite his ridiculous stats, Wilt won only 2 NBA titles over his 14 year career. A different time, indeed.
3. Jason Kidd — 107 Triple Doubles
Well, we’ve reached triple digit triple doubles. It’s just getting crazy now. If you guessed Jason Kidd when I previously asked who was the lowest PPG scorer on this list, then you were correct! A point guard for the ages and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd averaged 12.6 PPG, 8.7 APG, and 6.3 RPG. He averaged nearly nine assists per game, and might be the best pure passer on this list if it weren’t for the assist prowess of our top two (patience, padawan). An old school point guard at heart, Kidd was mired in a shooting slump at the end of his career with the Knicks, and famously said: “I didn’t come in this league as a scorer, and it doesn’t look I’m going to leave as a scorer.” Jason finally reached the promised land, winning a championship with Dirk Nowitski and the Mavericks in 2011, after not being able to win the big one with his beloved Nets. He made $187,675,468 in NBA contracts over his 19 year career.
2. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. — 138 Triple Doubles
Magic Johnson might actually know magic. That’s possibly the only explanation for his ridiculous passing skills that were the cornerstone of his triple-double production. This first overall pick in 1979 settled in to the Lakers organization and never looked back. He brought L.A. five championship banners, and could probably fill a storage unit with accolades and memorabilia. He had an ferocious rivalry with Larry Bird and the Celtics, the marquee matchup of their era. He received his ‘Magic’ nickname in Everett High School when he scored a triple double of 36 pts 18 rebounds and 16 assists. His phenomenal performances continued at a young age, as he won his first championship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers his rookie year. He is the only NBA player to ever win an NBA finals MVP Award as a rookie. Another career double-doubler, Magic has 19.5 PPG, 11.2 APG and 7.2 RPG. From 1986-94 he made $18,042,860, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to money made from outside contracts.
1. Oscar Robertson — 181 Triple Doubles
How does one possibly accrue 181 career triple doubles? Oh, all you have to do is average a triple double FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON. In 1961-62 ‘The Big O’ averaged 30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG. Just let that soak in for a moment. I don’t think it’s farfetched to claim this will probably never happen again in history. This 1961 rookie-of-the-year was not only a whirlwind on the court but a force to be reckoned with off the court as well. He was a prominent figure in NBA history, fighting for civil rights and to create better pay for players moving forward. A point guard/shooting guard, the Big O is the only guard in history to average 10+ rebounds per game, and the absurd number of triple doubles he’s accrued is a testament to his versatility on the court. He played for 14 years for the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 25.7 PPG, 9.5 APG and 7.5 RPG. He only won one championship in 1971 for the Bucks. Given that he spent the first ten years playing for a franchise that no longer exists (they eventually became the Sacramento Kings), one would be hard pressed to hold that against him.