Ok, first things first.
WHAT IS A TRIPLE-DOUBLE?
There are conflicting opinions as to the origin of the term “triple-double”.
The concept is relatively recent, as it was only introduced in the 1979/80 season. Some suggest that former Los Angeles Lakers public relations director Bruce Jolesch coined the phrase in order to highlight the versatility of Magic Johnson and add some razzmatazz to the world of stats. Others maintain that it was Philadelphia 76ers media man Harvey Pollack who came up with the idea.
Whatever its origin, a triple-double is recorded when, in the course of a single game, a player accumulates double-digit numbers in three of the five major statistical categories.
Rebounds (TRB – for total rebounds)
Due to the nature of play, it is much more common for a triple-double to be achieved on the first three of those stats. There have certainly been occasions when a player makes 10 or more blocks or steals. But not many…
FIRST TRIPLE-DOUBLE IN LEAGUE HISTORY
Andy Phillip of the Philadelphia Warriors
December 14th, 1950
Andy Phillip took the league’s first-ever triple-double almost 30 years before the concept was even thought up.
Stats and figures updated:
October 29th, 2022
For the purposes of this article, we will only reference triple-doubles achieved during regular season NBA games.
MOST TRIPLE-DOUBLES IN NBA HISTORY
1) RUSSELL WESTBROOK – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 194
Born – November 12th, 1988 – Long Beach, California
Measurements – 6’3” (1.9m) – 200lb (90kg)
NBA debut – October 29th, 2008
Position – Point guard
Teams – Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers
Career length – 14 years (ongoing)
Games played – 1,024
Total points – 23,329
Rebounds – 7,561
Assists – 8,624
Steals – 1,705
Blocks – 313
At the time of updating, Westbrook has achieved the quite staggering feat of being number 1 for triple-doubles for six straight seasons. 2016/'17 was his most prolific season with 42. But he almost reached that level again in the 2020/'21 season. Quite simply a machine when it comes to this aspect of the game.
He surpassed Oscar Robertson who completed his whole career (1960-1974) before the combined stat was ever recognized and recorded. The pair are streets ahead of the rest with 5th-placed LeBron James having almost half as many as Russell Westbrook.
From the start of the 2016/17 season, until the end of the 2018/19 season, there were 352 recorded triple-doubles in the whole of the NBA.
Russell Westbrook was single-handedly responsible for 28.69% of them…
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2) OSCAR ROBERTSON – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 181
Born – November 24th, 1938 (age 83) – Charlotte, Tennessee
Measurements – 6’5” (1.96m) – 205lb (92kg)
NBA debut – October 19th, 1960
Position – Point guard
Teams – Cincinnati Royals, Milwaukee Bucks
Career length – 14 years
Hall of Fame induction – 1980
Games played – 1,040
Total points – 26,710
Rebounds – 7,804
Assists – 9,887
Steals – 77
Blocks – 4
Oscar Robertson is second on the list of NBA career regular-season triple-doubles. He was the first to average a triple-double over an entire season but only managed the feat once. As we have seen, Westbrook did so on 4 separate occasions.
3) MAGIC JOHNSON – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 138
Born – August 14th, 1959 (age 62) – Lansing, Michigan
Measurements – 6’9” (2.06m) – 215lb (97kg)
NBA debut – October 12th, 1979
Position – Point guard, shooting guard, power forward
Teams – Los Angeles Lakers
Career length – 13 years
Hall of Fame induction – 2002 & “Dream Team” – 2010
Games played – 906
Total points – 17,707
Rebounds – 6,559
Assists – 10,141
Steals – 1,724
Blocks – 374
As mentioned, the triple-double became an officially recorded statistic in the National Basketball Association during the 1979/80 season. The number of triple-doubles rose significantly during the reign of Magic Johnson, who single-handedly added 138 across his 13 years in the league. From 1979/80 to 1990/91, the NBA recorded a total of 543 triple-doubles. That equates to just over 45 per season. Magic Johnson was individually responsible for over 25% of them! After his retirement (1991), the number saw a noticeable decline.
5 x NBA champion. 3 x NBA Finals MVP. 3 x NBA MVP. 12 X NBA All-Star. 9 x All NBA First Team. 4 x NBA Assists leader. 2 x NBA Steals leader.
Out and out legend.
4) JASON KIDD – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 107
Born – March 23rd, 1973 (age 49) – San Fransisco, California
Measurements – 6’4” (1.93m) – 205lb (92kg)
NBA debut – November 5th, 1992
Position – Point guard, shooting guard
Teams – Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets, New York Knickerbockers
Career length – 19 years
Hall of Fame induction – 2018
Games played – 1,391
Total points – 17,529
Rebounds – 8,725
Assists – 12,091
Steals – 2,684
Blocks – 450
Jason Kidd takes 4th place on the list of most triple-doubles in NBA history. 1999/00 was the season that saw him come closest to the elusive triple-double average across the whole season but it was not to be. He averaged 14.3 points, and 10.1 assists but could only get to 7.2 rebounds. Another Hall of Fame player that performed at the highest level consistently. In Kidd’s case, for 19 straight seasons in the NBA.
5) LEBRON JAMES – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 105
Born – December 30th, 1984 (age 37) – Akron, Ohio
Measurements – 6’9” (2.06m) – 250lb (113kg)
NBA debut – October 29th 2003
Position – Small forward, power forward, point guard, shooting guard
Teams – Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
Career length – 19 years (ongoing)
Games played – 1,366
Total points – 37,163
Rebounds – 10,250
Assists – 10,076
Steals – 2,140
Blocks – 1,045
The ever-present, constantly amazing LeBron James appears at 5th on our list. James may, as yet, only have 105 triple-double performances but appears to be far from ready to give up the game. His stats are amazingly solid and consistent. He has the most points of any player here. He trails Jason Kidd in steals but has far and away the most blocks. More than double Kidd in fact.
LeBron James blows the field away in the number of rebounds and is right up there with the best in assists. Remarkable.
He looks certain to top the lists in some other stats before his career ends, but not this one. Although there is only one active player above him (Westbrook), there is virtually no chance that he will catch and overtake him. Especially when we think that Westbrook is the younger man by 4 years.
6) WILT CHAMBERLAIN – TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 78
Born – August 21st, 1936. Died October 12th, 1999 (aged 63) – RIP – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Measurements – 7’1” (2.16m) – 275lb (124kg)
NBA debut – October 24th, 1959
Position – Center
Teams – Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Career length – 14 years
Hall of Fame induction – 1979
Games played – 1,045
Total points – 31,419
Rebounds – 23,924
Assists – 4,643
In the days when steals and blocks were not even recorded yet, Wilt Chamberlain created all kinds of other NBA records and statistical anomalies. Averaging over 30 points per game across an entire 14-year career is nothing short of miraculous. LeBron James comes reasonably close with 27+ but the others here are nowhere near that level.
Wilt Chamberlain was a ground-breaking player in any number of ways. Making 6th place on the list of most triple-doubles in NBA history is just another feather in his cap. It pales into insignificance if we compare it with the prejudiced society and sporting culture he had to battle against to be given the chance to even show his skills in the first place.
7) NIKOLA JOKIĆ – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 78
Born – February 19th, 1995 (age 27) – Sombor, Serbia
Measurements – 6’11” (2.11m) – 284lb (128kg)
NBA debut – October 28th, 2015
Position – Center
Teams – Denver Nuggets
Career length – 7 years (ongoing)
Games played – 532
Total points – 10,476
Rebounds – 5,510
Assists – 3,328
Steals – 635
Blocks – 377
It has taken Nikola Jokić just 6 full seasons to make his way to 7th position in the all-time greats list for triple-doubles. For comparison purposes, it took LeBron James three times that long to gain only 29 more. Jokić is still only 27 and averages 12.67 triple-doubles per season. The list leader, Russell Westbrook, averages 13.86. As Westbrook eventually retires and Jokić presumably plays on, it will be interesting to see if the latter can up his percentage and overtake the leader, or simply play longer. Time will tell.
8) JAMES HARDEN – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 69
Born – August 26th, 1989 (age 32) – Los Angeles, California
Measurements – 6’5” (1.96m) – 220lb (99kg)
NBA debut – October 28th, 2009
Position – Shooting guard, point guard
Teams – Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers
Career length – 13 years (ongoing)
Games played – 947
Total points – 23,602
Rebounds – 5,335
Assists – 6,445
Steals – 1,454
Blocks – 516
Ten times consecutive NBA All-Star, James Harden has been described as one of the best-ever scorers in professional basketball. He has been selected for the All-NBA Team 7 times. 6 of them were on the First Team.
Named on the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team in this landmark season is yet another accolade he has collected on the way. James Harden has collected 68 triple-doubles thus far and is certain to rack up a few more in the remaining year of his illustrious career.
9) LARRY BIRD – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 59
Born – December 7th, 1956 (age 65) – West Baden, Indiana
Measurements – 6’9” (2.06m) – 220lb (99kg)
NBA debut – October 12th, 1979
Position – Small forward, power forward
Teams – Boston Celtics
Career length – 13 years
Hall of Fame induction – 1998 & “Dream Team” – 2010
Games played – 897
Total points – 21,791
Rebounds – 8,974
Assists – 5,695
Steals – 1,556
Blocks – 755
Larry Bird was one of the first players to take advantage of the newly-introduced 3-point line in professional basketball. He played out a fascinating career going up against his great rival, Magic Johnson. It is not exaggerating to say that the pair changed the face and the fortunes of the NBA forever.
Check out our in-depth article – ‘Ripping Rivalries – Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird’ for a superb look at the true story of the 2 NBA giants.
Bird grabbed himself a respectable 59 triple-doubles in the course of his game-changing time on the court and finds himself 9th on the list. When we consider that he has easily the fewest number of games under his belt (897) that achievement becomes all the more impressive.
Olympic gold medallist. Larry Bird had an exemplary post-playing career in coaching and, to this day, remains the only person in NBA history to be named all of the following:
Rookie of the year
Most valuable player
NBA Finals MVP
Coach of the year
Executive of the year
To say that is impressive doesn’t quite cut it somehow
10) LUKA DONČIĆ – CAREER TRIPLE-DOUBLES – 47
Born – February 28th, 1999 (age 23) – Ljubljana, Slovenia
Measurements – 6’7” (2.01m) – 230lb (104kg)
NBA debut – October 17th, 2018
Position – Points guard, shooting guard
Teams – Dallas Mavericks
Career length – 4 years (ongoing)
Total points – 7,107
Rebounds – 2,294
Assists – 2,139
Steals – 286
Blocks – 114
The final spot on our top ten of most triple-doubles in all of NBA history goes to Luka Dončić. Having only played 3 seasons of, what we hope will be a long and illustrious career, it is quite incredible to find him already in the 10th spot. Averaging more triple-doubles per season than anyone else listed here, if he continues unabated then we can expect to see a record-breaking effort in a few short years. At this pace, if his career lasts as long as Russell Westbrook’s (14 years) then we can expect him to have over 200 triple-doubles on the record.
Dončić was selected unanimously for the NBA All-Rookie First Team and was also voted Rookie of the Year in 2018/19. The next season saw him selected for the All-NBA First Team proper and his first NBA All-Star game. A lot can happen in the course of an NBA career but Luka Dončić is clearly one to watch very closely.
MOST POST-SEASON TRIPLE-DOUBLES
Magic Johnson has the most NBA career postseason triple-double performances with 30.
He is one ahead of LeBron James with 29.
A number of current and former NBA scouts gave us an idea of what their life is like behind-the-scenes. Click here to read about The Life of an NBA Scout - In Their Own Words.
WHO RECORDED THE FIRST ‘PERFECT’ TRIPLE-DOUBLE?
The first perfect triple-double (no missed shots. No missed free throws) in NBA history was performed by Wes Unseld on March 20th, 1970
There are statistical categories that reveal a lot about a player’s skills and attributes in any NBA game. It is for the individual fan to decide how much weight they ascribe to each. One thing is for certain, however. If a statistic is as difficult to achieve as triple doubles are then they surely indicate that we are dealing with players who are operating in the upper echelons of their sport. This is especially true if they are able to maintain those figures across an entire season in the NBA.
Whatever the future brings in terms of more and more triple-doubles, the fact that the only player in NBA history to achieve that feat more than once is Russell Westbrook speaks volumes for his quality.