In the 1961-62 NBA season, only his second as a pro, 23-year-old Cincinnati Royals guard Oscar Robertson set a record that ranks as one of the greatest individual achievements in basketball or any other sport, and which may never be surpassed. See the media coverage here.
At a time when there was no 3-point shot, The Big O averaged a triple-double for that entire season: 30.8 points per game, 11.4 assists per game and 12.5 rebounds per game. More than half his games (41 of 79) were triple-doubles, the single-season record. He scored 40 or more points four times and topped 15 assists and 15 rebounds in seven games. (For his 61-62 game by game stats, click here.)
Now, in the 2016-17 season, a challenge to The Big O's 55 year old single season records has finally arisen in the person of Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, who is presently on pace to average a triple-double and possibly to break The Big O's single-season record of 41 triple-double games. As of March 22, Westbrook had 35 triple-doubles in 71 games, good for 2nd place ahead of Wilt Chamberlain on the single-season list, and 72 total, ranking him 5th on the career list.
Other players with prolific triple-double numbers are Houston's James Harden (19) and Cleveland's LeBron James (8), and the NBA itself has already set a single-season record for triple-double games (90) with 10 games remaining for most teams.
Robertson's 41 triple-double games is the single-season record, followed by Westbrook (35), Chamberlain (31) and Robertson twice, with 26 in two different seasons.
In 1961-62, the NBA had only nine teams. The following will give you an idea of the Hall of Fame level of competition against which Robertson and his teammates (Jack Twyman, Wayne Embry, Bob Boozer, Adrian Smith, Arlen Bockhorn) played night after night as he compiled this record:
In the process of averaging a triple-double, The Big O also became the only guard in NBA history ever to lead his team in rebounding, and the only player ever to total 900 assists and 900 rebounds in the same season.
Over his first five years, the 6-5, 210-pound Robertson cumulatively averaged a triple-double: 30.3 points per game, 10.6 assists per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. In each of those five seasons, he had more triple-double games than the rest of the NBA combined. Over six years, his cumulative averages were 30.4 ppg, 10.7 apg, 9.95 rpg, and for seven years, 30.4 ppg, 10.7 apg, 9.4 rpg.
Robertson is the NBA's alltime career leader in triple-doubles, 181 to Magic Johnson's 138. They along with Jason Kidd (107) are the only players to top 100. Wilt Chamberlain is 4th with 78, followed by Westbrook (72), Larry Bird (59), LeBron James (52), Fat Lever (43), Bob Cousy (33) and John Havlicek (31). The numbers for Westbrook and James are as of March 22.
Over his NBA career, The Big O accounted for almost as many points through assists (19,774) as he did through scoring (26,710). His career averages: 25.7 ppg, 9.5 apg, 7.5 rpg. His record of 9887 career assists stood for 17 years until broken by Magic Johnson and later by John Stockton. He led the league in assists six times and free throw percentage twice. In 1967-68, he became the first player to lead the NBA in scoring average (29.2) and assists average (9.7) in the same season.
To have a shot at a triple-double, you need to spend a lot of time on the floor -- and, along with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain from that era, The Big O was an iron man in terms of minutes
played. With the Royals, he averaged 43.9 minutes per game, and for his 14-year career, 42.1 minutes per game. In nine of those seasons, he played over 3000 minutes.
Another measure of The Big O's impact was his teams' winning percentage. In his triple-double season, he also led the Royals to their first playoff appearance in four years and their first winning season (43-37) in six years, a 221% turnaround from 19 wins in each of the two seasons prior to Robertson's arrival.
In his 41 triple-double games, the Royals won 29 for a .707 percentage. Of his 181 career triple-double games, his teams won 131 for a .724 winning percentage. In his first seven years, the Royals won .545 of their games and .522 over his ten years. In his four years at Milwaukee, the Bucks won 248 of 328 games for a .756 percentage, averaging 62 wins per season. In 1970-71, their NBA championship season, the Bucks were 66-16 in the regular season and 12-2 in the playoffs.
Last updated: 03/23/2017.
Our thanks to Neil Munro, Matthew Shuh, Tim Frank, Tim Kuck and Elias Sports Bureau for helping us to compile the statistics cited on this page.