It’s one of the more coveted single-game achievements in basketball.
It’s the hallmark of a great player, one who influences the game on multiple levels.
So who’s had the most triple-doubles in NBA history?
Let’s find out…
Well, first we need to explain why the entire concept of an all-time triple doubles leaderboard is broken. But then we’ll get to the list. Feel free to skip ahead if you just want the official stats.
Massive Problems With the Data
Any time we discuss all-time records in the NBA, we have to acknowledge the flaws in the data. Today, the NBA runs a tight ship, gathering, refining and distributing data reliably, and efficiently.
That was not always the case.
In fact, NBA record keeping didn’t really hit it’s stride until the 90’s (computers obviously helped). So we don’t actually know all of the triple-doubles in history. And we’re probably missing a lot of them.
Now, most of the data is actually there, and accesible. Points data has always been reliable. You can’t have a real game without reliable score keeping. So even the first official NBA box score contains reliable points data, broken down by player.
Assists were also recorded in the early days. The very earliest box scores don’t include assists, but we do have some spotty assist data emerging from the first BAA season. The definition of an assist has probably shifted a bit over the years, but we do have data way back to those early days.
Rebounds took a few years. They were first officially recorded in 1950, partly spurred by the absorption of the NBL (who were already recording rebounds at the time).
The addition of the rebound to the NBA box score enabled the recording of the first official NBA triple-doubles during that first post-merger NBA season.
That’s 3 of the 5 stats accounted for in the triple-double. Enough to make way for the first retroactive official triple-double in history, but it’s only 3/5ths of the picture.
Blocks and steals are the wrench in the works of the official NBA triple-double stats. Blocks and steals stats were not officially logged until 1973. Without that data, we’re dismissing nearly 25 years of triple-doubles on blocks and steals.
At first glance, it’s easy to just dismiss that data. Blocks and steals triple-doubles are rare in today’s game. There have been fewer than 30 NBA games where 10 or more steals went to a single player since 1973. There have been around 160 games with 10 or more blocks from a single player during that time.
Fewer games back then, measured over the course of half the amount of time. We can’t be missing more than 20-30 triple-doubles at the most, right? And that’s spread across a bunch of different players. No way that’s enough to impact the triple-double leaderboard, right?
Well, it’s not that simple. There were 2 players (at least), who played their entire careers before blocks were officially recorded, who were blocking at rates that are unheard of in today’s game. Those players are Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
There’s a strong possibility that, if we were able to get ahold of blocks stats for Bill and Wilt, they would fly up the all-time triple-doubles list.
In fact, some amateur statisticians awhile back managed to assemble a small portion of game data, and it’s amazing. Collecting block stats from old game film, and newspaper box scores, on about 200 games, they were able to show that both Bill and Wilt were nailing blocks-based triple-doubles at rates you would never expect to see.
If you want the details, I’ve done a more complete analysis on the data.
The Official 10 Players With the Most Triple-Doubles in NBA History
So the historical stats that would really complete this list have long been lost to time, but here’s the official record of the most triple-doublingest players ever.
Of course, 50% of this list are still active in the NBA, so it is constantly changing.
1. Russell Westbrook (198)
Russell Westbrook has logged 199 regular season triple-doubles and 12 playoff triple-doubles to sit at 211 total career triple-doubles. In his 16th season in the NBA, he’s averaging around 13 triple-doubles a season.
Judging by more recent performances, you’d be forgiven for your surprise at seeing Westbrook top this list. But Westbrook was a very reliable triple-double printer in his earlier years with OKC and the Wizards.
He averaged a triple-double from 2016 to 2021 and took the top spot from Oscar Robertson in May of 2021. His pace fell off dramatically with the Lakers.
But he’s looking pretty good with the Clippers, so 2024 may be his season of redemption, and a welcome opportunity to stretch his lead on Jokić a little.
2. Oscar Robertson (181)
The Big ‘O’ played his entire career before the triple-double was even invented. In fact, the final 2 stats that are considered in a triple-double were not officially recorded until his final season in the league (1973-74).
Nonetheless, Oscar Robertson manages to claim the 2 spot here, and at a relatively narrow margin. And, going back to 1961-62, he was the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season.
3. Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson (138)
By all accounts, Magic is the reason the triple-double was invented. The term originated in the early 80’s as a convenient way to deliver the gravity of Johnson’s early performances.
He was something entirely new when he hit the NBA, a point guard built like a forward. His ability to read the court and thread assists played no small part in his ability to rack up triple-doubles.
With points coming easy, and averaging 11+ assists throughout his career, all Magic really had to do for a triple-double is have a good night on the boards. Magic never logged a single triple-double on blocks or steals.
4. Nikola Jokić (109)
He just swept past LeBron and Kidd. Magic could be getting nervous around this time next year if Joker keeps this pace.
Nikola is a fascinating player, one of the greatest examples ever seen of a center who can pass and shoot at an elite level. With the Nuggets defending the title, the common sentiment that he was unrightfully denied on the MVP last season, and what looks to be yet another step up this year, this is fast becoming Jokić’s league.
5. Jason Kidd (107)
Kidd pops up a lot at the fringes of NBA lore for me. I missed most of his playing career, so I really only know him as a coach.
Between 2002 and 2008, Kidd averaged 10 triple-doubles a season with the New Jersey Nets. He had a steady diet of points, nothing spectacular, but he logged assists at a very high level, and he was a solid rebounder.
Despite having a decent record with steals, he never broke double digits, and all of his triple-doubles came as the standard, PPG, RPG, APG.
6. LeBron James (107)
LeBron is still stretching out this stat line. But you can’t deny that, despite spending an incredible amount of money on prolonging the inevitable, his athleticism is waning. The triple-doubles aren’t coming like they used to.
Back in the 2017-18 season, James took down 22 triple-doubles. In the most recent 2023-24 season, he only had 2. Jokić is coming for the #4 spot.
7. Wilt Chamberlain (78)
Alright, Wilt only had 78, but that’s maybe a little unfair. He could have snuck in a couple of blocks and steals triple-doubles in the years of his career where they were not recorded.
More importantly, the triple-double itself didn’t exist. Wilt was dominant in his career in a way that is difficult to understand today. When he intentionally and vocally pursued assists in 1968, he led the league in assists and logged a career-high 31 triple-doubles.
If Wilt had found any incentive to pursue the triple-double as a stat, he likely would have had many more than he did. And this in an era where the triple-double seems to have been a much more difficult achievement.
8. James Harden (74)
He’s got a pretty good chance to overtake Wilt. But if there’s one thing I know about James Harden, it’s that you should never underestimate his ability to sabotage his own success.
If Harden screws around enough, misses enough games, or gets himself sent to China too early, he’s not gonna make up those last 5 triple-doubles. The Harden legacy is on the line here. I’m pulling for the man, but I would not be surprised if he stalls out.
9. Larry Bird (59)
The legend. While he’s not likely to hang onto the #9 spot much longer, he’s probably safe on the list for awhile still. The closest competition for the #10 spot is Giannis Antetokounmpo. And while normally you’d be nervous to have Giannis breathing down your neck, he’s still got a ways to go at only 35 triple-doubles logged.
10. Luca Dončić (56)
Sorry Larry, you’re going down. Luca hit 10 triple-doubles last year. Barring injury, Luka’s on pace to claim the #9 spot before we see the firs buckets of 2024.
It’s the mark of a good game, and if you’re Ice Cube, a good day. Since it’s invention in the early 80’s the triple-double has served to designate the most effective players in the NBA.
And triple-doubles are more common than ever before. We’re seeing upwards of 150 triple-doubles a year across the league these days. Nobody really seems to understand why, whether it’s the floor spacing or the growth of athleticism and skill, or just the motivation to do more for your team.
Whatever the reason, we’re seeing a ton of movement on this list, and we’re only going to see more in the coming years.