When Nate “The Great” Thurmond passed away earlier this month, there was a lot to be said about what a good dude he was, but the Hall of Famer was also known for being one of the more dominant players of his era. This of course means that when it came time to talk about his massive list of accomplishments as a player, just about every conversation was going to start with his quadruple-double back in 1974.
Keep in mind that the NBA didn’t keep track of blocks and steals until the 1973-1974 season, which means there are probably 20-30 games’ worth of unrecorded quadruple-doubles hanging out there just from Wilt Chamberlain alone. Bill Russell probably had his fair share of them, too.
Despite all of that, Thurmond was the first person to post basketball’s statistical Holy Grail, and only three other players have accomplished it in the years since.
In fact, it’s been over 22 years since the last time an NBA player pulled off the feat, further proving just how rare it really is. Michael Jordan never did it. Neither did Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd. LeBron James has never done it, and while statistical machines like Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook have come close at various points in their careers, they haven’t done it, either.
Just four guys ever. That’s it, and Thurmond was one of them. Here’s the story of his quadruple-double, as well as the others that have gone down in the last 43 years:
Nate Thurmond, Chicago Bulls (October 18, 1974)
The Line: 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, 12 blocks
The thing about this game is that it was the first game of the season and Thurmond’s first as a member of the Chicago Bulls. Eager to keep up with a burgeoning Lew Alcindor, Chicago made the move to acquire Thurmond from the Warriors so they could team him up with a really strong Bulls team that also featured greats like Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker and Jerry Sloan.
A couple of things played into Thurmond’s statistical favor in this game, however, as Love, Van Lier and Walker all were holding out for better contracts at the start of the season. That put the ball in the new guy’s hands a whole lot more, obviously and that, compounded by the extra minutes he got playing in an overtime game, gave him a great opportunity to ring in one of the great statistical performances on record.
“One thing I distinctly remember was going back to my apartment after the game—I was just dead. I didn’t realize I had numbers spread out like that, across four categories until the next morning,” Thurmond said in a 2006 interview with Bulls.com. “It was my 12th year, and from that standpoint, the quadruple-double was just another game.
“But, as I look back now, I realize just how special a performance it was. At the time, nobody even talked about triple-doubles, so no one was really aware that I’d done something unprecedented.”
While Thurmond swears he must have had quadruple-doubles before that one, the feat proved unique enough for there to be a 12-year gap between his 4D and the next one.
Alvin Robertson, San Antonio Spurs (February 18, 1986)
The Line: 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals
The most significant thing about Robertson’s quadruple-double is that he’s the only guy in history to have accomplished one with steals as the fourth category. As a former Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time All-Star, Robertson didn’t just trip and fall into this great game, but of all the guys to have accomplished it he’s the only one who hasn’t been named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
In fact, there probably are plenty of casual fans today who have never even heard of the guy, which is a shame considering he’s the reason fans were graced with defensive legends like Gary Payton, who had this to say about Robertson’s smothering defense:
“Alvin Robertson would make your life miserable. He was a hawkish defensive player. He’s who I modeled my defense after,” Payton once told ESPN. “He’s one of those guys who’ll stay with you for 94 feet. If he was in front of me and it was my last day on earth, I wouldn’t want him there. How do I beat him?”
Robertson was the king of hand-checking before hand-checking was illegal, which likely played a role in his dominant defense efforts, but however he snagged his 10 steals in that quadruple-double game, it put him in a group all by himself. He’s a legend among legends, at least in the context of this statistical category.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (March 29, 1990)
The Line: 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 11 blocks
The most insane thing about this particular quadruple-double is what happened 23 days beforehand. On March 3, Olajuwon put up a similarly ungodly line of 29 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists and 11 blocks, leaving him one assist shy of being the third player ever to earn a quadruple-double.
That’s not the weird thing, though. After the game, Houston Rockets head coach Don Chaney and media-relations director Jay Goldberg went back over the game tape with the ol’ proverbial fine-toothed comb and found an uncredited assist in the first quarter that would have granted Olajuwon the 4D. The team issued a revised box score to media and everything, and those who run a Google search for “NBA quadruple doubles” will find more than a couple of websites claiming that Olajuwon remains the only player to have posted two of them.
Officially, though, he only has the one, which came a few weeks later because NBA director of operations Rod Thorn went back over the film of that March 3 game again to make sure everything was Kosher, only to discover that Olajuwon not only shouldn’t have been given credit for 10 assists, there were several others that were awarded rather generously as well.
So that one didn’t count. The one that happened on March 29, however, did, putting an exclamation point on one of the most dominant statistical months in league history.
David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (February 17, 1994)
The Line: 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 blocks
Imagine if Draft Kings was a thing in 1994 and you somehow had the wherewithal to pay the premium for that line. Just a couple of nights earlier he came just one assist shy of posting a triple-double, but when he faced former Spurs teammate Sean Elliott and the Detroit Pistons on February 17, he just shredded the sad defensive efforts of aging big men Cadillac Anderson and Charles Jones, scoring at will and finding the open man all night long.
It was so bad, in fact, that Robinson had his quadruple-double with five minutes left in the game. Head coach John Lucas played Robinson at “point-center” that evening, running the entire offense through him, and it led to his dishing out more assists than all of the Pistons’ guards combined that night.
After the game, Lucas said, “He was just great, but I was mad at him. He missed seven three-throws. He should have had 41 points.”
Despite his “disappointing” scoring effort, Robertson still scored more points with a quadruple-double than any other player in history, and to this day nobody else has done what only he, Olajuwon, Robinson and Thurmond have done.
Almost Doesn’t Count
That doesn’t mean others haven’t come close. There have been eight games in NBA history where players were just one number short of the quadruple-double, and Olajuwon’s narrow miss in early March of 1990 was one of them. Rick Barry, Larry Steele, Johnny Moore, Larry Bird, Michael Ray Richardson and Clyde Drexler all got close to getting it done, with Drexler’s 25-point, 10-rebound, 10-steal, 9-assist effort against Sacramento in 1996 being the most recent close attempt we’ve had.
That was almost 20 years ago. We will, of course, see another one someday. In fact, just this past December Ricky Rubio put up a line of 9 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists and 8 steals, so we know it’s possible in today’s NBA.
We also know it’s hard, and that only great players ultimately get it done. That, of course, begs the question: who will be the next guy to make it happen?
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