Behind the Numbers: LeBron James' chase for triple-double supremacy
LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan... when it comes to compiling triple-doubles.
Having already surpassed His Airness on the list of the all-time triple-double leaders, James is on his way to reaching rare air in the annals of the NBA. On this list, James is chasing the likes of Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, three of the most well-rounded players to ever play the game.
It's no surprise that James is in the same discussion as some of the greatest ball distributors in the league's history. Since he entered the professional ranks, the 6-foot-8 forward has always been compared more with Magic than Michael in terms of his playing style. In the Oct. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins relayed an anecdote about James when he was only nine years old playing organized ball at the Summit Lake Community Center in southwest Akron. LeBron's only directive on the court was to score, and get Sonny, a seven-year-old with shaky hands, open looks. Even then, at nine years old, LeBron's unique skill of incorporating his teammates was being honed.
On Monday, James thought he was one step closer to climbing the triple-double ladder in a 118-111 win over the Pelicans when his stat line initially read 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, signaling the 49th triple-double of his 11-year career. However, the NBA league office announced Tuesday that they had rescinded one rebound and one assist, leaving James with single digits in the assist column. Even still, with 48 triple-doubles so far in his career (including both the regular season and playoffs) James is ahead of some of the best to ever play the game.
At the moment, LeBron is ranked at No. 6 on the all-time list (see Figure 2). It's important to note that he's only one of two active players listed in the top 15—with injury-prone Rajon Rondo sitting at No. 10 with 30—leaving James really only battling history, himself and no one else.
It's taken James 1,006 games to accomplish the feat of 48 triple-doubles, averaging out to 4.4 triple-doubles per season. The all-time leader in the category, Robertson, notched his 189th in a total of 1,126 games, averaging out to 13.5 per season. Kidd hit 118 in 2,940 games (average of 5.6 per season), with Magic securing the second spot on the list with 168 in 1,096 games, an average of 12.9 per season. Following James’ current pattern, it would take him another 30 seasons to surpass Robertson, which is pretty unlikely. Overtaking Chamberlain on the list is the most likely outcome, as LeBron would need to continue his average for only another 6-7 seasons, which would place the Cavaliers forward at No. 4 on the all-time list.
The story that a triple-double tells is that of the impact a player has on each facet of the game. Whether it's by putting up points, rebounds and assists or any combination of the five categories, a player like LeBron is pronouncing his enormous impact on the game of basketball with the feat. Registering a triple-double quite literally means accumulating a double-digit number in three of the five basic individual categories in a game. Such statistics as the quadruple-double and quintuple-double do exist, but only a quadruple-double has ever actually been achieved in the NBA. A similar statistic is the five-by-five, which requires the accumulation of at least a total of five points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, which has only been accomplished by Hakeem Olajuwon, Andrei Kirilenko and most recently, Nicolas Batum.
Fun Facts: Triple-doubles in NBA history
- LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double when he put up 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a January 19, 2005 game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
- Wilt Chamberlain had 31 triple-doubles in the 1967-68 season, including nine games in a row between March 8-20.
- There’s something called the double-triple-double where a player has to register at least 20 of any three statistics. Wilt Chamberlain is the only player to have accomplished this in a game against the Detroit Pistons on February 2, 1968, when Chamberlain put up 22 points, 25 rebounds, and 21 assists.
Note: The NBA only began recording blocked shots during the '73-74 season, leaving many of Chamberlain's statistics incomplete. All stats and information in this story are courtesy of basketball-reference.com, NBA.com, ESPN.com and the SI archives.