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A Triple-Double Season -- Like Oscar Had -- Key to LeBron's Legacy

Jul 13, 2010 – 11:15 PM
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Tim Povtak

Tim Povtak %BloggerTitle%

LeBron James Triple DoubleMIAMI -- Even winning a championship this season won't change the widespread perception that LeBron James took the easy way out -- hurt his own brand -- by coming to Miami to play for a Super Team alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Only one thing will re-kindle the belief that he still might become the greatest player in basketball history:

He could average a triple-double this season, doing what no NBA player has done in almost 50 years.

It's his ticket to forgiveness. It might become his destiny.

Without it, the Heat always will be Wade's team in Wade County. And even if James wins a string of championships in Miami, he always will have one fewer than Wade.

The only way out is a triple-double season, the ultimate measure of versatility, unselfishness, and greatness.

"I think LeBron has the ability to do it,'' said Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, the first and only NBA player ever to accomplish the feat. "It's one thing to talk about, though. Talk is cheap -- until you do it.''

Robertson talked to FanHouse Tuesday afternoon about his miraculous triple-double season of 1961-62, his thoughts on James and his move to Miami, and why no one else has come even close in almost 50 years.

In only his second season in the NBA, Robertson averaged an incredible 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds in 79 games.

He was a 6-foot-5, 220-pound guard who played all over the court, blurring the lines of his position, playing with a completeness that never had been matched in the NBA.

Michael Jordan never did it. Neither did Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or any other great player in basketball history.

Robertson still stands alone -- waiting for James to stand alongside him. It's one reason that some basketball purists still rank Robertson as the greatest player in history.

It's why some also believe that James could use the triple-double to change the perception after making the messy decision to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in search of an NBA title with Wade.

The comparison with Robertson, the quest for a triple-double season, was first broached during his free agent recruitment by Heat President Pat Riley earlier this month. James, actually, brought up the possibility.

"He sort of lit up,'' Riley said. " ... and that maybe he could be the first guy since Oscar Robertson to be a triple-double guy.''

James, 25, already is a two-time Most Valuable Player, an NBA scoring champion who played for a team that needed his points more than anything else. He comes to the Heat averaging 27.8 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in his career.

He already has five seasons of at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists, joining Robertson as one of only two players to accomplish that feat in the NBA. He also finished the 2009-10 season as the only active NBA player to score at least 2,000 points in six consecutive seasons.

No NBA player today combines the all-around game of James, whose size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds), speed and athleticism allows him to play any position on the court.

Robertson, the only player to average a triple-double, says it could be in LeBron's future
With Wade and Bosh, the Heat will have three of the top 10 scorers in the league, the first time James will have the luxury of not one, but two, premier scorers on his team, allowing him to expand his game in any way he likes.

"LeBron is as close to complete as you'll see,'' Robertson said from his office in Cincinnati. "To do it, he'll have to have the patience, and let the game come to him. The hardest thing may be the rebounding. And if he shoots first, and passes next, it won't get it done. If he really thinks of helping his teammates first, he could do it.''

Reaching double figures in points, rebounds and assists in a single game is tough enough, a real badge of honor for any NBA player. To do it over the course of an entire season is unheard of today.

James has 34 triple-double games in his career. Robertson had 41 in that 61-62 season. Robertson holds the career record with 181 triple-doubles in his career. Second is Magic Johnson with 138. Jason Kidd is the only other player in history with more than 100.

The closest Johnson ever came was in his third season with the Lakers (1981-82, 20 years after Robertson) when he averaged 18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.5 assists. In Johnson's great career, it was always the rebounds that prevented him from matching Robertson.

"I used to think that Kobe (Bryant) could do it, but Kobe is a shooter. They (Lakers) needed him to put the ball in the hole,'' Robertson said. "I always scored, but I was able to play the whole floor.''

When Robertson played, no one ever mentioned the term triple-double. It was never kept as a statistic, never a measuring stick.

"I didn't even know I was doing a triple-double back then. I was just playing basketball the way I thought it should be played,'' Robertson said. "You finished the game, and got ready for the next one. The first time I even heard triple-double was when Magic Johnson came into the league.''

From a distance, Robertson admires the way James plays the game, curious to see, like everyone else, how James will handle playing with other stars like Wade and Bosh.

"The game has changed so much. I played everywhere. I wasn't a 4 or a 3, or a 2. I was a basketball player,'' he said. "Today, you touch a guy, and it's a foul. And assists are given out so freely. We were always taught fundamentals. Now they go to glamour school.''

While averaging that triple-double, Robertson became the only player in league history to get 900 assists and 900 rebounds the same season, and the only guard in league history to lead his team in rebounding. He finished his career averaging 25.7 points, 9.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds, taking him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"To me, it (averaging the triple-double) was just part of playing basketball. If they want to make a big deal about it now, that's fine. I'm glad people still love the game,'' he said. "LeBron is already a great player. If he does average that triple-double, it'll be just another notch in his belt."
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