In the 1961-62 NBA season, only his second as a pro, 23-year-old Cincinnati Royals guard Oscar Robertson set two records that rank as one of the greatest individual achievements in basketball or any other sport.
At a time when there was no 3-point shot, The Big O became the first player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season: 30.8 points per game, 11.4 assists per game and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Of his 79 games, 41 were triple-doubles, the single-season record for 55 years. 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. For media coverage, click here.)
Now, Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook has surpassed The Big O's single-season record for triple-double games with his 42nd of the 2016-17 season on April 9 at Denver, the Thunder's 80th game of the season. That brought his total to 79 for his career, moving him into the 4th spot ahead of Wilt Chamberlain on the career list.
On April 7th, Westbrook had clinched a triple-double average for the entire season to tie The Big O's achievement in that category. As of April 9, Westbrook's averages were 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists. He also leads the NBA in scoring by a comfortable margin.
Other players with prolific triple-double numbers are Houston's James Harden (21) and Cleveland's LeBron James (13), and the NBA itself has already set a single-season record for triple-double games (114), not counting any games remaining through April 12.
Robertson is the NBA's all-time career leader in triple-doubles, 181 to Magic Johnson's 138. They along with Jason Kidd (107) are the only players to top 100. Then come Westbrook (79), Chamberlain (78), Larry Bird (59), LeBron James (55), Fat Lever (43), Bob Cousy (33) and John Havlicek (31). The numbers for Westbrook and James are as of April 9.In single-season triple-double games, Westbrook now leads with 42, followed by Robertson (41), Chamberlain (31), Robertson (26) twice, Robertson (22), Chamberlain (22), Harden (21), Robertson (20), and Magic Johnson (18).
Over his first six years, the 6-5, 210-pound Robertson cumulatively averaged a triple-double: 30.4 points per game, 10.7 assists per game and 10 rebounds per game. In each of his first five seasons, he had more triple-double games than the rest of the NBA combined. For seven years, his cumulative averages were 30.4 ppg, 10.7 apg and 9.4 rpg. For those seven years cumulatively, he also had more triple-double games than the rest of the NBA combined.
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 his records:
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 — another record now tied by Westbrook this season — and the only player ever to total 900 assists and 900 rebounds 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: 04/10/2017.
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.