From The Big O to Russell Westbrook, Triple-Doubles Have Never Translated to Championship Basketball
Westbrook surpassed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in NBA history — in a loss
During an NBA game in 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers were seconds away from a blowout victory over the Utah Jazz and Ricky “Buckets” Davis was just a rebound short of securing the first triple-double of his career.
Well aware that he had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, Davis took an inbound pass near the Jazz basket and lobbed a gentle flip off the backboard so he could rebound the ball — off his own basket — instead of just running out the clock. Though Davis did not end up getting credited with the board and fell short of the career milestone, his blatant attempt at personal glory did not go unnoticed, contributing to a well-deserved reputation of being a selfish player.
“Any statistical achievement is only noteworthy in the context of the game being played,” ESPN’s David Aldridge wrote at the time. “In Davis’s case, there were six seconds left in a game where the Cavs were up by 25. If Davis had shot at Utah’s basket on purpose, and missed, it would have merely been bush league. To shoot at his own basket unveils a whole new level of bush previously undiscovered by the world’s top archaeologists.”
While Washington Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook did not do anything remotely Davis-like on the way to notching his 182nd triple-double on Monday night to surpass Oscar Robertson for the most in NBA history, Aldridge’s point about weighing the importance of individual achievements within the context of a team game is worth remembering with regard to the 32-year-old’s achievement.
The only player in NBA history to have a triple-double against all 30 teams other than LeBron James, Westbrook passed Robertson on the all-time list in a game he finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 21 assists that his team lost by a single point. Westbrook had a chance at getting the Wizards the win, but missed a potential game-winning three-pointer as the Hawks escaped with a 125-124 victory.
In 10th place in the East and clinging to the conference’s final post-season play-in spot, the Wizards really could have used the win on Monday. But at least Westbrook got the record — and the game ball.
“I normally don’t like to pat myself on the back, but tonight I will just because I’m so grateful for the ones before me and so blessed to the man above to allow me to go out and do it,” Westbrook said following the loss. “I take this job very seriously and I’m super grateful for my teammates and coaches on my journey so far.”
That journey, which has seen Westbrook produce 174 triple-doubles over the last seven seasons after notching just eight during his first six seasons in the NBA, has never resulted in a championship for the 2016-17 MVP and a nine-time All-Star, and he’s advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs just twice during that span (one each with Kevin Durant and James Harden at his side, it bears noting).
Though Westbrook has a 136-46 overall record in his 182 career triple-double games, his team was knocked out of the playoff in the first round in the three straight seasons that he averaged a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder (2016–17, 2017-18, 2018-19). Now averaging a triple-double on the year once again playing for Washington, Westbrook may not even make the playoffs, let alone advance out of the first round or sniff an NBA championship.
That’s somewhat par for the course for elite triple-doublers. Of the four players who’ve had 20 or more triple-doubles in a season (Westbrook, Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and James Harden), only Chamberlain went on to win a championship during his stat-stuffing season, leading the 76ers to a title in 1967. Robertson did win a title, but it was in the twilight of his career, after a season in which he only had three triple-doubles, and none in the playoffs (he also had a young center named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at his side). The moral of the story here seems clear: any team relying on one man to so comprehensively fill up the box score every night probably isn’t much of a team at all.
With Westbrook nearing the final stages of his NBA career, a championship seems unlikely. But with the triple-double record now in his back pocket, he’d do well to follow Robertson’s lead, and embrace a more complementary role as the curtains draw closer.
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