The triple-double is a compiled basketball statistic, mostly used to gauge a player’s performance in a single game. A player has achieved a triple double when they reach double digits in three of the five major statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
Managing a triple-double is a good indicator that you’ve had a well-rounded game, as it requires contributions in multiple stats categories. It’s a challenge, even for the greatest players in the world.
Confirming this sentiment, the list of NBA players with the most triple-doubles includes many of the most iconic players in history. The players on this list who are not already Hall-Of-Famers, will be once they retire.
But there’s a lot behind this interesting stat line, in terms of its origin, history, and the details of how it’s put together. so let’s dig a little deeper.
The Origins of the Triple-Double
We’re not completely set on who invented the concept of the triple-double. Some attribute it to a Laker’s PR guy in the early 80’s. The great 76ers statistician Harvey Pollack claimed the phrase as his own.
What we can generally agree upon, is that the concept of the triple-double emerged in the early 80’s, mostly as a way to describe the impact of Magic Johnson on the league.
As reporters and statisticians found themselves frequently referencing triple double-digit performances, the term seems to have emerged naturally as shorthand. It does appear to be Lakers pundits who first started using it in publication.
Triple-Doubles Lost to Time
Created in the 80’s, the concept was retroactively applied to historical data. Players for whom the term never existed during their careers, emerged as contenders to the career triple-double throne.
Until recently, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain sat at the top of the all-time triple-double list. But in the last decade, Russell Westbrook came in on an absolute heater and stole the #1 spot from The Big ‘O’.
Wilt currently sits in the seventh position. But this is where we run into some fascinating statistical inconsistencies.
Blocks and steals were not registered in NBA stat lines until 1973. When you look at the data we do have, triple-doubles that rely on blocks or steals are comparatively rare.
Triple-doubles on steals are particularly rare. There have only been 25 instances since 1973 where a player managed 10 or more steals in a game.
Triple-doubles on blocks are a little more common, with 161 logged since 1973. But you also have to consider that some of the greatest blockers in NBA history played before 1973.
Some ambitious amateur statistician actually went back through newspaper box scores and recovered footage to try and compile blocks for both Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. The results are pretty surprising, and definitely enough to upset the current triple-double leaderboard.
Bill Russell’s Lost Triple-Doubles
Looking at the Bill Russell data first, we have 135 games. Having played 963 total regular-season games in his career, that represents less than 15% of his entire career. In those 135 games, Bill hit double-digits on blocks 38 times, including two quadruple-doubles on 11/08/1964 vs the Cincinnati Royals and 2/9/1964 vs the Sixers.
If you accept those box sores into the official data, Bill Russell tops the list of players with the most double-digit blocking games in history. If you accept the line from 2/7/1966 where the Celtics played the Warriors, Bill gets the record for the most blocks in a single game, with 25.
These numbers are mind-blowing. They would add at least 35 triple-doubles to Bill Russell’s career triple-doubles record.
With his official triple-double record standing at just 17, adding these 35 triple-doubles would put him in the #11 all-time triple-doubles position with 52 career triple doubles.
Extend that rate of blocking-based triple-doubles over the remaining 85% of his career would add another 233 for a grand total of 285 triple-doubles. That would place Bill Russell as the all-time triple-double leader, with a vast majority of his triple-doubles gained on blocking performance.
Even a fraction of this performance would be incredible. Mostly, this suggests a game that is vastly different than today’s game. Even considering Bill Russell’s incredible athleticism, he would almost certainly have been playing a game that was far more conducive to blocking than today’s NBA game.
You also have to acknowledge that a block is difficult to quantify. It’s reasonable to suggest that some portion of these blocks would not be labeled as such by modern NBA statisticians.
Wilt Chamberlain’s Lost Triple-Doubles
Let’s do the same math on Wilt’s unofficial box scores. We have data from 112 games, covering a little over 10% of his career.
Those 112 games included 44 games with double-digit blocks. Of those 44 double-digit blocking games, 40 resulted in triple-doubles and 3 resulted in quadruple-doubles.
Wilt’s official triple-double record stands at 78, which places him in the #7 position on the all-time leaderboard. Adding those 43 triple-doubles, Wilt slides right up to 4th place with 121 triple-doubles.
But if you try and extend that across all of those games where we don’t have any data, you would add an additional 390 triple-doubles to Wilt’s career total.
This is nuts. On blocking triple-doubles alone, Wilt dusts all of the competition. Of course, there’s way too much assumption going on here to make any solid claims.
A triple double can be achieved with any combination of points, rebounds, blocks steals and assists. But traditionally, the most common triple-double includes occurs across points, rebounds, and assists.
Wilt and Bill clearly flipped this concept on its head. The only time Wilt logged official triple-doubles regularly was in 1968 when he very vocally and obviously shifted his emphasis to assists. Both of these guys clearly embraced blocking as a dominant portion of their games.
The triple double is a highly sought-after feat and is a sign of a truly exceptional game. Many players strive to achieve a single triple-double, a sign of great skill and dedication.
The triple double is an important statistic in basketball and is used to measure a player’s performance. It is a sign of a well-rounded game and is a highly sought-after feat.
A triple double can be achieved in a variety of ways, and it is often the difference between a win and a loss. Players strive to achieve a triple double as it is a sign of their skill and dedication, and it is a major factor in determining the outcome of a game.
As it is a difficult statistic to achieve, players who have multiple triple doubles are seen as elite players in the game.