The recent stats revolution in basketball has come up with myriad ways to rate a player’s performance in addition to the banal points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
But no matter how much adjusted plus-minus or defensive win shares make sense, there is still nothing sexier than a quadruple-double. It is a rare species; only four players have filled up that kind of stat sheet in NBA history (the league began recording blocks and steals for the 1973-’74 season). It makes sense that David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon are two of them: Both were athletic marvels despite their size and blessed with impeccable basketball timing.
Olajuwon got there before Robinson, on March 29, 1990, against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Houston Rockets center (who still spelled his name “Akeem” at the time) thought he had reached the summit earlier that month, but David Stern and the league office stripped Olajuwon of an assist.
On the Bucks’ first possession, Olajuwon pulled down his first rebound off a miss by Alvin Robertson, who incidentally recorded a quadruple-double when he was with the San Antonio Spurs in 1986. (Nate Thurmond of the Chicago Bulls recorded the NBA’s first quadruple-double in 1974.) Olajuwon got into the scoring column by sinking 1 of 2 free throws, and by the end of the first quarter he had seven points and seven rebounds.
Olajuwon also picked up two fouls and took a seat on the bench with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. But with the Rockets dominating, 37-21, heading into the second quarter, Olajuwon did not need to limit his aggressiveness. He registered blocks on the Bucks’ first two possessions of the period. Olajuwon also had his most breathtaking sequence of the game: a block of Milwaukee’s Larry Krystkowiak that was immediately followed by a rebound, then a nice dish down low to Buck Johnson for an assist.
Olajuwon was truly in full command of his talents in this game. His best pass of the game didn’t even get an assist. After pulling in a rebound, Olajuwon unfurled a full-court baseball pass in perfect stride to Mitch Wiggins, who was fouled before he could attempt a layup.
Olajuwon blocked six shots in the second quarter, then switched his emphasis to assists after halftime. Wiggins was the main recipient, knocking down long jumpers as Olajuwon passed away from double teams. When Olajuwon went to the bench with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, a Rockets assistant pulled him aside for a long talk. Olajuwon was probably told he had a chance to make a run at history, because he had 16 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks and eight assists heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bucks were never in the game, so the fourth quarter became a shameless stats-grab for Olajuwon. That doesn’t put a damper on the accomplishment, not least because the back-to-back blocks he had to put him into double figures midway through the fourth quarter were nothing short of breathtaking. On offense, Rockets coach Don Chaney had Olajuwon mostly stationed at the high post, where he continuously fed teammates. The Rockets missed on six consecutive opportunities to pad Olajuwon’s assists total. But Vernon Maxwell drained a three with 3:46 left for Olajuwon’s ninth assist, then Lewis Lloyd nailed a 20-footer for the monumental assist with 2:50 to spare. Olajuwon’s final tally in the 120-94 victory was 18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks and 10 assists.
Robinson got his quadruple-double (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks, 10 assists) in the Spurs’ 115-96 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 17, 1994. Since then, Andrei Kirilenko and Chris Paul have probably come closest to getting to that particular promised land.
Paul still has a window of a few prime years to reach a quadruple-double. LeBron James, of course, is a threat to put up those numbers any time he steps on the court. Josh Smith is another player who has all the tools. But whoever becomes the fifth NBA player to get a quadruple-double, statheads and laymen alike will agree that it’s an awesome accomplishment.