What Is A Triple Double In Basketball? Definition & NBA Leaders

Basketball enthusiasts are debating the significance of triple-doubles in basketball. Some argue that it’s an achievement, while others say that tracking isn’t important. So, you might wonder, what is a triple-double in basketball, and does it matter?

A triple-double in basketball means that a player has gotten double digits, with ten being the least in three out of five statistical categories. They can be in points, rebounds, steals, assists, and blocks. In the points category, free throws are also counted to achieve a triple-double.

What is an Example of a Triple-Double in Basketball?

You can say that a player can achieve a triple-double when he receives at least a score of 10 in three among any of the five statistical categories throughout a single game.

These categories include points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.

So, for instance, if a player scores 23 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists, this qualifies as a triple-double.

Why is it Called the Triple Double?

Five hands on a basketball

We cannot ascertain who exactly coined the term because there are several claims. There’s a claim that the L.A. Lakers’ public relations director Bruce Jolesch came up with it to highlight the team’s star player Magic Johnson’s multifaceted ability instead of just focusing on his sharp shooting skill.

Meanwhile, the other claim says that Harvey Pollack, Philadelphia 76ers’ media relations director, coined the term.

Still, other sources say that the term triple-double is simply an up-level version of what is known as double-double. A player achieves a double-double when he can score ten or more in two among any of the five statistical categories. So, for example, he scored 20 points and 10 blocks, which means he earned a double-double.

This also works with a quadruple and quintuple double, which means double-digits in four out of five categories and five out of five, respectively.

Are Triple Doubles Important?

Triple doubles are pretty controversial. Some say that they are empty stats. Yet, supporters cheering from the sidelines can’t help to get pumped up whenever they see their favorite players hitting a triple-double.

So now that we know what a triple-double in basketball is, we might also wonder whether it matters.

To keep things in perspective, earning a triple-double doesn’t guarantee that a player has played well in the entire course of a game.

But many times, famous players who are known for their ability in the multiple aspects of basketball are the ones who frequently earn a triple-double. And often, teams where star players earn triple-doubles also have a high percentage of wins. So, it’s safe to say that it can somehow predict success.

There’s nothing wrong with tracking triple-doubles. Triple doubles signify that a player is having a great day on the court. It showcases his versatility, highlighting that he’s not only good at shooting baskets but in other essential aspects of the sport too.

A player shouldn’t focus on achieving individual stats but on being a reliable team player. Earning a triple-double due to achieving such a goal becomes more beneficial. Remember, your team’s reputation is your reputation.

Are Triple Doubles Counted in the Official Stats?

Hustle play basketball

Yes, triple-doubles are counted in the official stats. But the NBA has only officially recognized it as of the 1979-80 season. Since then, the league has been actively tracking it in the games.

Back in the day, double-doubles are more common. But as you would expect in the NBA, the bar keeps getting higher year after year, season after season. Double-doubles have soon become triple-doubles.

We will not be surprised to see more quadruple doubles or even quintuple doubles shortly! They’re not impossible.

But we are going back to triple-doubles; while we see the achievement more often now, only a few players in the league can earn the feat consistently. So, if someone is part of the tribe, he must be proud of it.

3 Powerful Tips to Get More Triple Doubles

To earn a triple-double, a player must showcase his versatility on the court. He must display that confident, dominating attitude in the game. But as mentioned, the focus should be not on earning the individual stats but on becoming a better team player.

If you want to earn more of what is a triple-double in basketball, here are some valuable tips.

1. Enhance your offensive ability

The easiest ways to earn a triple-double are scoring points and doing more rebounds and assists. So, it will make a difference if you rarely miss shots and if you can even shoot from long range.

It would be great to be adept at driving the ball, knowing when and to whom you should pass it, and even performing alley oops with a high-performing teammate.

2. Master your defense tactics

Sometimes, a player on the defense can get so aggressive that instead of successfully obtaining possession of the ball, he commits a foul. You can also earn a triple-double by gaining more blocks and steals.

But what you should be careful of is the way you perform those. Master the legal ways that you can deflect a shot from an offensive player and the rule-abiding ways to take the ball away from the player of the offense team. Then, consistently include these in your team practice to up your defense strategy.

3. Focus on playing for your team, not for yourself

It doesn’t matter who gets a triple-double. What makes a powerhouse is a team of players who play for their team, not for their glory.

Yes, players need to enhance their abilities. But once they are in the actual game, they should be concerned about the welfare of their team instead of chasing stats for themselves. When you do so, you might be surprised at how triple-doubles could come naturally with your ability and the right attitude!

As you can see, earning a triple-double requires you to play well both on the offense and the defense side. In addition, you must have the right mindset and attitude for it to be genuinely beneficial.

NBA Triple-Double Leaders

Man cheering basketball

We’ve mentioned earlier that only a few players can do triple-doubles consistently. Wondering which names will ring a bell when it comes to triple-doubles?

We can divide them into two categories: the older generation and the newer generation.

Older Generation Triple-Double Leaders

Check out these iconic old-but-gold players when it comes to triple-doubles in basketball.

1. Oscar Robertson

He has the highest triple-double score of all time, bagging 181 at the end of his career. Throughout his time in the NBA, he earned 26,710 points, 9,997 assists, and 7,804 rebounds.

2. Magic Johnson

Johnson ended his career with 138 triple-doubles—thanks to the sum of 17,707 points, 10,141 assists, and 6,559 rebounds.

3. Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain earned triple-doubles 78 times throughout his career. At the end of his time in the league, his points accumulated to 31,419, rebounds to 23,924 and assists to 4,643.

4. Larry Bird

He snagged triple-doubles 59 times and gained 21,791 points, 5,695 assists, and 8,974 rebounds throughout his career.

5. Fat Lever

For Lever, 43 triple-doubles aren’t bad at all. After all, he ended his career with 10,433 points, 4,696 assists, and 4,523 rebounds.

Newer Generation Triple Double Leaders

Who are the rising stars then of the newer generation? We give you a summary below.

1. Russell Westbrook

Oh, who doesn’t know about Westbrook? He’s averaging 23.2 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game. As of writing, he has earned 146 triple-doubles.

2. Jason Kidd

Though retired already, Kidd is part of the newer generation. At the end of his career, he has logged 107 triple-doubles and 17,529 points, 12,091 assists, and 8,725 rebounds.3

3. Lebron James

One of the best players today, James has garnered 94 triple-doubles as of writing. His current average includes 27.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game.

4. James Harden

One of the most famous superstars today, Harden has logged 46 triple doubles and an average of 25.1 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game.

5. Nikola Jokic

Jokic averages 16.9 points, 5.4 assists, and 9.7 rebounds per game. As of writing, he has achieved 40 triple-doubles.


To wrap things up, while a triple-double doesn’t necessarily mean a player has played well in the game, it’s still significant. It can be viewed as an important achievement because it showcases a player’s versatility in terms of offensive and defensive ability.

In addition, it often translates into wins. Note that teams with players earning triple-doubles have a high percentage of wins, which makes a difference.

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