Now in its 70th season, the National Basketball Association (NBA) continues to grow in both popularity and exposure. A big part of the league’s appeal can be attributed to its remarkable athletes, with basketball legends like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as current stars such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have all become internationally-recognized figures and have been huge contributors to the league’s (and the sport’s) continued success.
With such a long and well-documented statistical history, there’s no shortage of individual records to compare and contrast. Following are some of the NBA’s most remarkable all-time individual seasons.
1961-62 Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors. It’s almost impossible to find a more dominating individual statistical season than the one put up by the ‘Big Dipper.’ Consider: 50.4 ppg, 25.7 rpg, and incredibly, 48.5 minutes per game. And of course there’s his 100 point game on 3/2/62.
1961-62 Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals. Overshadowed by Chamberlain’s otherworldly averages is the ‘Big O’s’ triple-double season (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 assists). More than a half-century later, one of 2016-17’s most compelling storylines is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook’s quest for equaling Robertson’s feat. With roughly 1/4 of the regular season remaining, Westbrook’s numbers (30.8, 10.6, 10.2) give him a legitimate chance to add his incredible season to basketball history.
Big offensive numbers (points, rebounds, assists) will always grab the majority of the headlines, but a pair of all-time greats (Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon) have on their resumes individual campaigns that not only feature impressive offensive numbers, but are also notable for their performances on the less-glamorous but just as important defensive side of the floor. In 1987-88, Jordan not only led the league in scoring (35.0), minutes played (40.2) and steals (3.2), he also earned both regular season and All-Star Game MVP honors, but Defensive Player of the Year as well for the Chicago Bulls. Olajuwon’s 1993-94 season might be even more impressive (27.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.7 blocks, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals). In addition, the ‘Dream’ captured regular season MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, AND as icing on the cake, almost singlehandedly led the Houston Rockets to their first-ever NBA championship.
There are dozens of other remarkable individual seasons in NBA history, but it’s important to point out that basketball is undeniably a team sport, with unselfishness, familiarity and sacrifice rewarding the team that utilizes the ‘All for One’ philosophy the most consistently and effectively. It’s also revealing to note that there have only been five NBA championship teams that featured the league’s top scorer, further emphasizing the admirable track record of the ‘Team First’ concept.
Some other noteworthy individual NBA single seasons include:
1971-72 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers (34.8 ppg, 16.6 rpg, 4.6 assists).
1999-2000 Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (29.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 3.8 assists, 3.0 blocks).
2002-03 Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (23.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 3.9 assists, 2.9 blocks).
2008-09 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (28.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals).
2015-16 Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors (30.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.7 assists, 90.8 FT%). Golden State set an NBA record with 73 regular season wins.