In this Feb. 27, 1959 photo provided by the University of Cincinnati, Oscar Robertson poses. A four-year-old federal lawsuit aims to cut players in on the action and dramatically alter the financial relationship between student-athletes and the NCAA. Former athletes such as UCLA basketball star and the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player in 2005, Ed O’Bannon, and others like Robertson and Bill Russell argue they are entitled to share in the spoils earned from their labors. (AP Photo/File)
He’d set up shop out there at the top of the key, lock on and back his man down, one bump-bump at a time and his man was helpless; he looked like he was shod in castors and O was moving office furniture.
O would score when it suited him or if his team was behind. But of course the points were not even half of the story.
There were the assists.
And the rebounds.
Lots and lots of all three, so many that, finally, someone got to thinking it might be fun to keep track of them. Take a bow, Harvey Pollack. The late Super Stat of Philadelphia was without equal when it came to inventing numbers.
And so was born, drum roll, please, The Triple Double.
During the 1961-62 NBA season the Big O played in 79 games with the Cincinati Royals and averaged…averaged…30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.
To repeat, that’s averaged. That’s double digits in each of the three most important statistics in basketball. Covering an entire season.
Exactly how difficult is that?
It’s never been done since, that’s how difficult. Through the first five weeks of the current season, Russell Westbrook, the point guard for the Oklahoma Thunder, amassed nine triple doubles. The rest of the entire league amassed nine triple doubles. The whole league. Which means that all those best players in the world might not be so hot after all. Or…
…Or Russell Westbrook is good…really good, wicked good.
I’m a devote of The Triple Double. I rank it right up there in terms of degree of difficulty with, say, Wilt Chamberlain’s average of 50.4 points per game. For one entire season.
And Wilt, by the way, had 78 Triple Doubles in his star spangled career. Points? By the car load. Rebounds? Tons. Assists? Not so much, although there was that one season when he bristled over a story that said “all” he could do was score and rebound, and Wilt responded with just for that I’ll lead the league in assists.
Which he did.
Earvin Johnson was the name, sleight of hand was the game.
The Big O holds the career Triple Doubles record with 181. Russell Westbrook, assuming he can avoid debilitating injury, which is no mean feat in the NBA wars, should breeze past that in a season or three.
Lurking between them is Magic Johnson with 138.
The Big O was pretty much the stoic on the court, going about his business in the methodical style of a paid assassin. O, they said, would weave a web around you, put you in Dream Land and you’d wake up to find he had laid a box score line on you that read something like this: 32-18-12. You know the song “Killing Me Softly”? That was O.
Magic, of course, was the exact opposite, Show Time. Remember?
Light the Lights, Strike Up the Band…behind-the-back passing, 94 feet of burnt rubber…full court mayhem, all orchestrated by the guy with the piano keyboard grin, and it was contagious.
Magic was made for the Triple Double. He was tall like a small forward, he could see over the defense, he could overpower guards, he could hold his own, and then some in the elbow-sharp sparring around the rim and those Bloody Nose Alley bouts in the paint…and the best part was he loved to spread the wealth around. Be alert…you’re apt to get a pass in your ear hole if you don’t keep you head on a swivel.
He could—and frequently did—play all five
positions in the same game.
It was one of those NBA All Star weekend skills competitions, 3-point shots, and the locker room door flew open with a resounding crash and the players jumped and this Hick From French Lick strutted in and proclaimed: “OK, which one of you poor SOBs is playing for second?”
NBA, please welcome, from the Boston Celtics, Larr-r-r-r-r-r-y Joe Bird.
They called him White Magic. He had a game right out of the Globe Trotters manual. French Pastry. There was the 3-ball, both fade away and step back. And a baby hook, borrowed from that other Magic.
He used his elbows like bayonets, carving out choice rebounding real estate, and his passes belched blue flame.
The sadly uninformed sniffed and labeled him slow afoot and non-dunker. Yeah, right. He couldn’t play a lick, could he?
Forget those 59 Triple Doubles.
You saw a lot of The Big O in Jason Kidd’s game. Same go-for-the-throat dispatch. Played the point, got the game spread out before him, flush for the taking…like a Chinese menu: one from column A and 2 from column B, and do we get egg rolls with that? No. but you did get 107 Triple Doubles.
LeBron. King James. One of the five best all-time.
Modest total of Triple Doubles (45), yes, but he’s still collecting them. Along with rings.
So what to make of this Russell Westbrook. He is listed at 6-feet-3 and 200 pounds. Hardly imposing. The NBA is full of those.
But he is cheetah-quick and hard to run to ground. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He can score from anywhere on the court. Literally. Being so quick to the ball enables him to snatch away rebounds from bigger players like a slick pick-pocket. His court vision enables him to see the game a move ahead. Or two.
Someone who consistently averages double digit assists is hardly a ball hog. You’d beg to have him pick you.