Odds in the NBA: The Elusive Triple-Double
When LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers leads the cream of the NBA’s Eastern Conference onto the court for the League’s annual All-Star Game this Sunday night, he’ll be carrying some impressive statistics for the first half of the season. After 53 games, James was leading the league in points per game (29.8) and averaging over 10 assists. A scoring machine and a playmaker, James—who excelled in high school football too—is living up to his old high school nickname, “King James.” But there’s one hoops accomplishment likely to elude the great small forward (and everyone else) as his career continues to blossom: averaging double figures in points, rebounds, and assists—the so-called “triple-double”—over the course of an entire NBA season.
It’s been done. But just once. After all, posting a triple-double is tough enough in a game. Only Oscar Robertson, the Hall of Fame guard who played from 1960 to 1974, ever averaged a triple-double over a whole season.
In that 1961-62 campaign, Robertson averaged 30.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. He was in his second year in the league when he posted his record-setting numbers. Most players would be pleased to average double digits in one category for a season, let alone all 3. But Robertson was uncommonly modest about his feat. He is quoted in the Oakland Tribune as saying, "I guess when I played, I didn't think I was doing anything exceptional…When I got those [triple-doubles], I thought everybody played that way."
Just how odds-defying is Robertson’s achievement? Very. The odds an NBA player will ever average 30 or more points per game for a season are 1 in 223.7. The odds a player will ever average 10 or more assists per game for a season are 1 in 129. The odds a player will ever average 14 or more rebounds per game for a season are 1 in 88.29.
Although no NBA player since Robertson has matched his feat, others have had impressive triple-double performances. On February 2, 1968, Wilt Chamberlain, playing against Detroit, posted a triple-double of 22 points, 21 assists, and 25 rebounds. No other player has ever posted a triple-double by accumulating 20 or more points in each category.
Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks has posted 100 triple-double games in his career. In fact, he reached the century mark on the last day of the 2007-08 season when he scored 27 points, collected 10 rebounds, and had 10 assists against the Hornets.
As impressive as Kidd’s milestone is, neither he nor any other player since has been able to average a triple-double over the span of an entire season. Kidd has nothing but appreciation for Robertson’s feat. “He is the one who transcended the guard position,” Kidd is quoted as saying in the St. Augustine Record. “He could score, he could rebound. He controlled the game…To average a triple-double for a season…it's going to be hard for someone to do that in today's game."
Even “King James.”