By: Dan Grant
More than any I can remember, this NBA season has been characterized by superhuman individual efforts. While there are myriad fantastic playoff races going on, the biggest highlights of the season so far belong to its stars. Russell Westbrook eviscerating the entire league and recording triple-doubles at will. Kobe Bryant passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. Dirk Nowitzki quietly moving into the top 10 in all time scoring. And of course, still the craziest thing I’ve seen this season, Klay Thompson turning into the Human Torch against the Sacramento Kings.
It got me thinking: are any NBA records safe anymore? I always thought George Gervin’s record of 33 points in one quarter was basically insurmountable. For someone to actually pull that out in a game in 2015 wasn’t just unexpected; it was unconscionable.
I did a little digging and much to my relief, the NBA record book is still chalk full of records that I deem to be ‘unbreakable’. And so I present to you, faithful Same Page reader (or you random Romanian dude, looking for dialogue on a possible Unbreakable sequel), the Top 10 most unbreakable NBA records!
First things first, this isn’t ‘Nam, Smokey, there are rules.
For the purposes of this list, only individual records are being considered. Take your lousy team success and suck a lemon! I’m looking at you, 72 win Chicago Bulls!
I don’t consider records for shittiness to be real records. Sorry I’m not sorry (and that I’m talking like a tenth grade gossip monger), but if you’re absolutely garbage at something, I’m not giving you any credit for it. This disqualifies candidates such as Tim Hardaway with his brick-tastic 0-17 field goals in a single game, Shaq-Daddy with his immaculate 0-11 free throws in a single game (honestly surprised this is so low!) and the immortal duo of Antoine Walker and Trey Burke, with their spectacularly stinky 0-11 three point field goals in a single game. Congratulations guys! You sucked so hard that you don’t even get to be on my list. You could throw something at me in rage, but you’d probably miss.
The other thing is that I’m only considering records set in 1970 or later. Yes, this eliminates the 60’s Celtics, but more importantly it eliminates Wilt Chamberlain, who set so many records that he basically discredits himself. 100 points in a game? 55 rebounds in a game? Averaging 50 points a game for an entire season? It was basically Kramer versus the nine year olds! Wilt was a great player and even greater personality, but he doesn’t get to be on my list because he sucks all the damn fun out of it. The only record he cared about was 20,000 anyway.
Anyway, too many rules aren’t fun, so that’s it! Let’s get started.
10. Kobe Bryant – 81 points in One Game
If we eliminate Wilt – and we have – then Kobe holds the all time record for scoring in a game. He dropped 81 points in the 2005-6 season at home against the Toronto Raptors. He shot 28-of-46 from the floor, 7-of-13 from downtown and 18-of-20 from the line.
Why do I think this is an unbreakable record? It was a perfect storm of insanity. First of all, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell was apparently trying to send a “message to his team” by refusing to double-team Bryant at any point during the game, even though Kobe was playing with guys like Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm and Smush Parker at the time. All three were in the starting line-up, no joke. Secondly, Kobe was at his personal apex, both in terms of skill and in terms of being an absolute gunner, given his trash-bag team mates. Again, discounting Wilt, only three other players have even topped 70 points in a game, and none ever went higher than 73. This game doesn’t happen without those three things – Mitchell, Kobe and Kobe’s team mates. I strongly doubt we’ll ever see a single game score higher than Kobe’s 81.
9. Dominique Wilkins – Most Free Throws In One Game Without a Miss (23)
I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it’s absolutely crazy. Wilkins was an 81 percent free throw shooter in 1985-86, the season he accomplished this feat, which is strong but not amazing by any means. Do you know what he said when interviewed afterwards? What do you mean I can’t take off my sweater? I’m hot!
So why unbreakable? Well, the record for makes in a game is 28, a tie between Wilt, a poor free throw shooter, and Adrian Dantley (who went 28/29. So close Adrian!). But to make 23 free throws in a game without missing? We rarely ever see a player attempt over 20 free throws in a game, let alone make them all. James Harden leads the league at 9.7 attempts per game this season and he’s attempted over 20 just once this year. Teams are just smarter nowadays. Dwight Howard holds the record for free throw attempts in a game, trying 39 on two separate occasions. He made just 46 of the combined 78 attempts. Enough said.
8. John Lucas/Steve Blake – Most Assists in One Quarter (14), Larry Kenon/Kendall Gill, Most Steals in One Game (11)
Now, you might say “Dan, you ninny. If somebody has already TIED a crazy record, that’s just proof that somebody is eventually going to break it! Also, you chose two. WHAT IS THIS, A CENTER FOR ANTS?”
After I threw a gin and tonic in your face to calm you down, I’d say “Look, idiot. Both of these records are cat-lady level crazy. The fact that somebody already made a run at both of them and was unable to overcome them just proves that they are the absolute peak of human potential in these particular categories. And I chose two because I wanted to and I could and I wanted to. So maybe get off your high horse, put away the cheese curds and GET A JOB, KENNETH!”
Or something like that.
7. Elmore Smith – Most Blocks in One Game (17)
This record was set in 1973 and the closest anybody else ever got was 15, achieved by Shaq once and Manute Bol twice. 42 years is a pretty long damn time to go unchallenged. With the league moving in a smaller direction and individual shot blocking averages way down, I find it unlikely that this one will ever fall. No quips here, we’re running long people!
6. Moses Malone – Super Good At Rebounding And Stuff Record
Bill Simmons wrote the following thing about Moses Malone in his Book of Basketball, and it’s probably my favourite line in the whole book:
Imagine a quality prison basketball game in the playground, where players had to maim someone to draw a foul. Imagine the game included one inordinately good rebounder: perfect instincts, light on his feet, super tough, super physical, uncanny re-jumpability (© Jay Bilas). Imagine this guy had all kinds of positioning tricks and always seemed to know where the ricochets were going (to the point that it always seemed unfair). Imagine this guy loved crashing the boards, lived for it, couldn’t get enough of it. Then imagine the warden told him before an organized playground game against inmates from another prison, “We’re playing four 10-minute quarters. I made a bet with the other warden that you couldn’t grab 40 rebounds in 40 minutes. If you can do it, I’m paroling you. You have my word.”
Now, imagine watching that guy rebound. That was Moses from 1978 to 1983.’
I couldn’t have said it any better, so I didn’t. Moses holds two records for offensive rebounding that will never be broken: 7.2 offensive rebounds per game and 587 offensive rebounds in a single season, both set in 1978-79. He holds the top three spots on the single season leader list – Dennis Rodman is the next player, down at 523, or as it’s also known, not even close. Andre Drummond tossed up 440 (6.0 per game) in his sophomore season, leading the league, which makes him the only player in the 2000’s to sit in the top 30 all time, and he was still 147 short. Nobody is touching these records, ever.
5. Dale Ellis – Most Minutes Played In One Game (69)
Ellis set the record during a game that lasted five overtimes, meaning there was a possible 72 minutes to be played, as the NBA plays a 48 minute game, plus as many 5 minute overtime periods as is necessary to determine a winner. I’m not going to lie, NBA Live 2004 and NBA Jam both always made me stop after three overtimes and called a tie, so I thought those were the real rules, which really coloured my ranking of how unbreakable this record was. I mean come on, the weakling sat down for three minutes! Somebody break this one, prove me wrong.
4. Scott Skiles – Most Assists in One Game (30)
Skiles set the record on December 30th, 1990. Check it out. His team scored 155 points in regulation! John Stockton, the previous record holder with 27, made a run at it, dropping 28 in 1991… but nobody else has cracked 25 since.
I feel like Skiles probably held this over the heads of young players he refused to develop in Chicago and Milwaukee. “You don’t want to run my sets? I HAD 30 ASSISTS IN A GAME! I’M SCOTT SKILES!” And I mean really, can you blame him?
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Regular Season Points in a Career (38,387)
Earlier I threw out Moses Malone as the most under-appreciated three-time MVP ever, but man, what about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? A six time MVP, six time champion and the all-time leading scorer is rarely included in discussions of the greatest NBA player of all time. People will throw out MJ, Bird and Magic, they’ll get historical and throw out Russell, Wilt, West and the Big O, but rarely do you ever hear anyone say “By gum, Kareem was the greatest player ever and I don’t care who knows it!”
Now that might be because we don’t live in a 1940’s comic strip, but it also might be because we forget how good Kareem was, and for how long. Unlike the one and done players of today, he played four years in college before coming to the NBA. He then promptly averaged no lower than 28.8 points per game for his first six seasons. Many discredit his accomplishments for the same reason I dismissed Wilt earlier; he was so big (7’2), that he had a seemingly unfair advantage.
You know what? Twenty total players 7’3 or taller have played in the NBA since 1970. If you add all of their career points together, they come to around 65,000. Kareem put up two-thirds of that by himself. Tall dudes don’t necessarily equal success. In fact, in most cases, they’re humongous (intentional pun!) busts. Kareem wasn’t just some beanstalk dropping dunks from the sky. He was one of the leagues five best players for fifteen years.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Kobe Bryant made history this season, passing Michael Jordan for third all the all-time scoring list. There has been speculation that Bryant will stick around for as long as it takes to pass Kareem, but to do that, he might have to play until he’s 50. He may be third all-time but he still sits 5,905 points behind the big man. Kobe has averaged just under 2,000 total points per 82 games in his career, which of course, requires him to be healthy. Can he play till age 38 or 39 in perfect health, scoring nearly 30 points per game? It seems unlikely. Which is why we must look elsewhere.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are best situated to make a run at Kareem. James passed Allen Iverson earlier this year (something that made me go “Huh. LeBron has been around for 12 years now!”) and currently sits 21st all time, at 24,599 points. That leaves him 13,788 points short. Like Kobe, in a healthy season, LeBron can score roughly 2,000 total points. Does he have six more healthy seasons in him? LeBron is possibly the greatest athletic specimen the world has ever seen, but long playoff runs have taken their toll on his body, as evidenced by his two week “sabbatical” earlier this season. Remember, these points are regular season, and don’t include playoffs.
As for Durant, he has 15,537 points and is still just 26 years old. Injuries have derailed him this year but a better point might be that even if he finishes the season with a bang, he’s already played eight seasons and he’s not even halfway there yet. Kareem played until he was 41, averaging 24.6 points per game for his entire 20 season career. It will take a truly special combination of health and otherworldly talent for anyone to ever take down the master of the Sky Hook.
2. Klay Thompson – Most Points in One Quarter (37)
This is really a post-1980 record, as that’s when the NBA added the three point shot. Klay was a perfect 9-for-9 from behind the arc and a perfect 13-for-13 in the quarter. If a team scores 37 points in a quarter, they are generally extremely pleased. But a player? I mean come on. His team mates shot only six times in the quarter and just once after the 6:43 minute mark, because why would they? To assail this record, you’d need a dynamite long range shooter during a supernova heat check, on a good team, playing a bad defensive team, with team mates that would willingly give up the ball over and over again. The best bet to break this record might be Klay Thompson himself.
George Gervin’s record of 33 stood for, funnily enough, 37 years before Klay managed to break it but Gervin didn’t have the benefit of the three point line, so for me, his record still stands. If someone can drop 34 in a quarter without shooting a three, I’d buy them a lime rickey, so I would.
1. John Stockton – Most Career Assists (15,806)
The last pioneer of short-shorts owns by far the most unbreakable NBA record. With 15,806 career assists, Stockton leads second place Jason Kidd by a ridiculous 3,715 assists. Stockton’s career was a model of health – he missed just 22 games total in his entire 19 season career. But he was also the most efficient pure creator the game has ever known. All of the top four spots on the single season assist leader list belong to him and he has six places in the top ten. He led the league in assists per game for an incredible nine consecutive seasons from 1987-1996. He averaged over 14 assists per game in a season twice and over 13 per game another three times during that stretch, which coincidentally are five of the six all time per game season averages. He’s also the all-time steals leader, again over Kidd, topping him by close to 600, but hey, who’s counting?
Anyway, that’s the list! Plenty of unbelievable records for today’s stars to shoot for both in the short and long term. Who would have thought a tiny white guy in 1980’s gym shorts would be at the top? I can hardly believe it myself. The NBA: Where Nut Huggers Happen. Just remember: it’s only a record, until it’s broken.