The mythical 1961-62 NBA season was a year for defining legacies in the NBA. Bill Russell picked up his fifth championship ring and his third of five league MVPs. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game on the way to averaging over 50 on the season. Elgin Baylor averaged 38/19/, playing only on weekends because he was a member of the US army.
Perhaps most notably, Oscar Robertson averaged an eye-popping triple double with 30.8 PPG 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG. Since then, no one else in NBA history has been able to repeat that. Magic Johnson flirted with it several times, but always fell short.
That triple double season has become part of Robertson’s legend. Oscar won an MVP and a championship in following years, but that season still stands out because of its historical implications. Oscar stands alone.
And in order to secure his legacy, LeBron James must join him.
I've often wondered how James will be viewed after his retirement. Will he be praised for his statistical accomplishments and all-around dominance? Or will he be criticized for failing to bring a title to Cleveland? I’m guessing that it will be the latter.
LeBron’s "Decision" was heavily criticized and subsequently led to him becoming one of the most hated superstars in sports history. In one fell swoop, King James heavily damaged his legacy. After all, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant didn’t have to change teams to win titles, so why did LeBron?
Averaging a triple double—the ultimate standard for all-around players—would guarantee James a place among the greats. I’m not saying it will be easy, but if anyone can do it, it’s LeBron. His physical gifts are simply unbelievable and he is in somewhat of an ideal situation in Miami.
LeBron’s teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are talented scorers, so LeBron is not required to score 30 points a night in order for his team to win. This situation is completely different to when James was a member of the Cavaliers, and will allow him to focus on distributing the ball more.
If James transforms his game and focuses completely on creating for his teammates and crashing the boards, a triple double average may be within his grasp. It’s certainly not impossible.
The biggest thing working against James is that the game has changed. Think it was a coincidence that all those statistical accomplishments happened in the same season? Think again.
In ’61-’62, the tempo of the game was much faster—the league average for rebounds per game was 71.4. By comparison, last years league average was just over 41. This huge discrepancy is due to pace of play and poor field goal percentage in the ‘60s. Averaging a triple double in any era is impressive, but accomplishing it in today’s NBA is a lot more difficult.
We are watching LeBron’s legacy unfold right in front of our eyes. What he achieves on the court over the next decade or so will determine where he ultimately ranks. If LeBron somehow does pull off the triple double season, it would go down as his masterpiece.
Like Robertson, it would define his whole career. He would be viewed in an entirely different light. After all, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant never averaged a triple double for an entire season.
We are all witnesses.