One assist. One bounce pass leading to a layup. Or one eye-blurring bullet leading to a fallaway jumper. Or one no-look throw leading to a slam dunk. That's all it would have taken Tuesday in Cleveland to give Kobe Bryant a triple triple-double.
With Shaquille O'Neal recuperating from off-season toe surgery, Bryant is piling up big numbers and beginning to emulate a multitalented Laker of another era in the most demanding of all of basketball's statistical categories, the triple-double.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 14, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 496 words Type of Material: Correction
NBA -- Alvin Robertson, one of four players to accomplish a quadruple-double (double figures in four statistical categories in a single game) in the NBA, recorded his in points, rebounds, assists and steals, not points, rebounds, assists and blocks, as reported in a Sports story Monday.
Bryant had consecutive triple-doubles -- double figures in points, rebounds and assists -- last week and missed a third consecutive by that one assist.
Harvey Pollack noticed right away. That figures.
When it comes to numbers, Pollack, who has been the guru of NBA statistics more than half a century, notices everything. Who wins the most jump balls, who sinks the most jumpers from 23 feet and who has the most tattoos.
So when this Laker rookie named Magic Johnson came along in 1979 and starting shooting and dishing and rebounding like nobody in the game at that time, Pollack noticed.
And when Pollack notices, he starts counting. And when he starts counting, another statistical category is born.
Thus, in the 1979-80 season, Pollack, then media relations director for the Philadelphia 76ers, began to keep track of how many times Johnson, the Lakers' unorthodox 6-foot-9 point guard, reached double figures in points, rebounds and assists.
"What's this?" Scott Ostler, then The Times' Laker beat writer, says he asked Pollack.
"Double-doubles," Pollack said.
"No, this would be a triple-double."
Soon, it became more than a name.
The triple-double has come to represent the ultimate versatility on the court, a player who has the touch and moves to be an effective scorer, the muscle and determination to be a powerful rebounder and the leadership, court sense and ballhandling ability to keep his teammates involved.
In baseball, a player who has maximum versatility is referred to as a five-tool player, one who excels at hitting, hitting with power, running, fielding and throwing.
Johnson began piling up triple-doubles with startling regularity, finishing his career with 138. He would have had even more had he not been forced to gear his game around the Lakers' dominating center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
A similar situation has developed on the current Laker team with Bryant. He has five triple-doubles in his career, three of them with O'Neal sitting out.
To illustrate the degree of difficulty of compiling a triple-double, only one Laker has been able to span the period between Johnson and Bryant. Center Vlade Divac had four triple-doubles while wearing the purple and gold.
James Worthy also had a triple-double for the Lakers while Johnson was still playing, but his came in the postseason and was pivotal in one of the most important games in team history. Worthy's 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists led the Lakers to victory in the seventh game of the 1988 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, giving the Lakers consecutive titles.
But when it comes to triple-doubles, one man deserves a category above Johnson, Bryant and the rest. Playing for the Cincinnati Royals in the 1961-62 season, Oscar "Big O" Robertson averaged a triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.
Robertson is atop the all-time list with 181 triple-doubles, followed by Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain (78), Larry Bird (59) and the current king, Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets, who had eight last season to bring his total to 46. Michael Jordan has had 28 triple-doubles. If the 29-year-old Kidd were to play until his 40th birthday, he would have to average better than 12 triple-doubles a season to surpass Robertson.
Kidd said he tries not to concern himself with numbers in the middle of a game. But sometimes it's unavoidable because a teammate will dribble by and remind Kidd he needs an assist or a rebound or maybe two points for another triple.
Four players in NBA history belong in an even more elite circle -- the quadruple double. Nate Thurmond, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Alvin Robertson reached double figures in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in a game.
Points, rebounds and assists are the routine triple-doubles, but Pollack, now 80 and still putting out a statistical yearbook, has assembled what he calls "the unconventional" triple-doubles since the 1979-80 season.
Those include triple-doubles in:
* Points, rebounds and blocked shots. Olajuwon has done it the most, nine, followed by Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo with seven apiece.
* Points, assists and steals. That has been accomplished twice, by Fat Lever and Mookie Blaylock.
* Points, rebounds and steals. A unique triple reached only by Clyde Drexler.
* Rebounds, assists and steals. This triple-double belongs exclusively to Kendall Gill.
* Points, assists and turnovers: Like it or not, Jerry Stackhouse has this one all to himself.
The NBA's most spectacular triple-double day was Jan. 31, 1989. On that date, four players -- Johnson, Jordan, Ron Harper and Darrell Walker -- each had a triple-double.
That Pollack included such a momentous statistical event should come as no surprise.
This is a man who pays his grandson, 28-year-old Brian, to count the number of tattooed players in the NBA.
Pollack's latest count: There are 173 players with tattoos, led by Allen Iverson with 19. Pollack may be slipping, though. He doesn't have a category for most triple-doubles by a player with a tattoo.
But if you suggest it to him ...
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NBA's all-time triple-double leaders:
*--* Oscar Robertson 181 Magic Johnson 138 Wilt Chamberlain 78 Larry Bird 59 Jason Kidd 48