LeBron James helped snap a 52-year title drought in the city of Cleveland last season by delivering a championship over the Golden State Warriors. This season, he could achieve something that hasn't been done by any NBA player in 54 years: average a triple-double.
"I think he could if he wanted to," said coach Tyronn Lue before the Cleveland Cavaliers' 128-122 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday.
James had 30 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds against Boston to bring his season averages to 22.4 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds through the Cavs' 5-0 start. He started off the season with a triple-double on opening night (19 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists). It was the first time James did that in his 14 seasons in the league and the first time any player did it on an opening night since Jason Kidd in 2006.
The one and only player ever to average a triple-double for a season was Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, when he put up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists for the Cincinnati Royals.
James claims he did not set out to average a triple-double when he was putting together his goals for the season on his cell phone, something he does at the start every year.
"It’s not on there and I never thought it would be possible again after obviously The Big O did it, but if you see the game today, you see guys like [Russell Westbrook] and what he’s doing every night and I’ve come close a few times this season," James said. "I don’t know if it’s just more possessions or guys are just in the right place at the right time, but it’s not something that I’ve typed down [in my phone]. But I’ve always told you guys I want to be a triple threat for my team every night and that’s scoring, rebounding and definitely getting my guys involved, and if it results in that then I’m fine with that."
James isn't the only player flirting with triple-double numbers in the early going. Oklahoma City's Westbrook, as James alluded to, is averaging 34.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 10 assists. Houston's James Harden is averaging 31.8 points, 12.4 assists and 7 rebounds for the Rockets through five games.
James' teammate Kyrie Irving, who would hypothetically have to work off the ball more than he's accustomed to in order for James to reach the requisite assist mark for the stat, didn't rule it out.
"Anything’s possible, man," Irving said. "Anything’s possible. As you see, he can do amazing things out there, so anything’s possible. Especially for that guy."
James is already linked to Robertson as the only other player in league history to rank in the top 25 all-time in both scoring and assists. And the fellow Ohio resident Robertson supports James so much he wrote an essay for "The Undefeated" praising him after James beat the Warriors in June.
"No one has ever before seen a player quite like LeBron," Robertson wrote. "He’s a five-tool player, fundamentally sound, and able to do practically anything on the court. As the NBA continues to evolve, I think he is the model other players ought to emulate."
Robertson was asked last week about the possibility of Westbrook, not James, averaging a triple-double by The Oklahoman, the newspaper based in Oklahoma City, and he did not shut the door on the possibility.
"I first will ask this: Why do [people] think he wouldn't do it?" Robertson told the paper. "It's not impossible. I think he has all the tools to do it."
Robertson added that he felt like rebounds are the toughest category to secure -- as James' and Harden's early averages would suggest -- but conceded he thinks "it can be done" and that "I thought it would have happened sooner."
If James has indeed pondered a triple-double season, he isn't about to tell anyone.
"I can do whatever I put my mind to," James said when asked if his can sustain his early-season statistics for 77 more games. "It’s just my mind ain’t on it."