CLEVELAND — On the same night LeBron James finished out February by averaging a triple-double for the first time in a calendar month in his fabled 15-year career, James also became the first player in NBA history to tally more than 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists.
“With the long list of so many great players that have come through this league, in the history of this league, for me to be the only [person] in a category, I think it’s pretty cool,” James said after the Cavaliers‘ 129-123 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. “It’s pretty cool. I take pride in my game. I’ve always taken pride in being a triple threat since I started playing basketball, and I never wanted to be labeled as a scorer.
“I always wanted to be labeled as just an all-around basketball player; and I get more gratification out of the assists more than anything, because to get my guys great looks or they’re knocking down shots, that means a lot to me.”
James reflected further on the accomplishment after the game, telling ESPN, “I need my own category,” now that he set himself apart with that statistical achievement. He also posted about the feat on Instagram.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. “It’ll never … if that ever gets done again, I’ll be shocked. We’re in the presence of something special right now and it’s an incredible accomplishment, so congrats to him, obviously.”
Point guard Jordan Clarkson, a recent addition to the Cavs (along with Nance) who hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining in Tuesday’s contest, was asked what he has learned about James in six games with him as a teammate.
“That he cool,” Clarkson said. “He cool. Talking to everybody and he’s open. That’s definitely cool to have in a superstar player and leader of the team.”
James had 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against the Nets to give him his 12th triple-double of the season (one off his career high for a campaign, set last season) and the 67th of his career. In 10 games in February, James averaged 27 points on 54.6 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists.
“I’m just playing some good ball, and the most consistent thing for me right now is I’m available out there on the floor for my teammates,” said James, who has played in all 60 of the Cavs’ games this season. “They give me the room to go out and do what I need to do to help them as much as I can. And for me to have the month of February, when I averaged a triple-double for the first time in my career, I’m just trying to make plays, get rebounds and also try to score the ball a little bit as well. So, I would say for me individually, it was a pretty good month.”
James came into Tuesday’s game needing seven rebounds and six assists to secure the triple-double average (he already had more than enough points), and he recorded the stats by the end of the third quarter — as he had 23 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists heading into the fourth.
“He gets better with time,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He’s had a great month. He’s really done a good job of just carrying the team. We was going through a tough stretch and he stepped up. He really put this team on his back and his shoulders, and especially with these new guys, he’s showing them the way.
“I think he’s being very [on point], showing those guys a lot of confidence and giving those guys a lot of confidence by talking to them, and it’s good for our young team going forward.”
Not only was it a first for the 33-year-old player’s already-decorated career, but James also became the oldest player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a calendar month containing at least 10 games played, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous oldest to do it was Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968 at 31 years old.
“My teammates are making shots … and I couldn’t do that without them,” James said at Tuesday’s shootaround when asked about the approaching accomplishment. “I just try to put the ball on time and on target, if it’s a cross-court pass to a shooter or an outlet pass to a streaking runner or a lob to one of my bigs. They actually have to make the shot for it to become an assist.
“Rebounding for me has always been instinctual. I’m not a big boxout guy; I’ve always kind of used my instincts and seeing the ball if it’s coming off the rim, how it’s coming off the backboard or off the guy’s hands and just try to use my athleticism to get the rebounds.”
“The scoring part is something I’ve kind of … if I can get two layups a quarter or three layups a quarter, then I’m going to get over 10 points a game,” James continued. “Scoring has always been last for me; I’ve never looked at myself as a scorer. But to know the history of the game and seeing the guys that put up triple-doubles on a regular [basis] — from Jason Kidd to Magic Johnson to Oscar Robertson to Russell Westbrook — you can throw my name in there as well.”
James previously became the first player in league history to average a triple-double for an entire NBA Finals in the Cavs’ 4-1 series loss to the Golden State Warriors in June.
“To do it on a regular [basis], it’s a very difficult task because you have so much responsibility offensively, defensively, defensive rebound, to assist, get guys involved to be able to put numbers on the board as well,” James said of his propensity for triple-doubles. “It’s very difficult, very challenging, and it takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of energy. But if you’re built for it, you’re built for it.”
With 20-plus points on Tuesday, James tied Michael Jordan for fourth place on the all-time list of 20-point performances with 926.
“Wow,” Lue said of James. “Hell of a achievement. I mean, yeah, especially coming into the league he’s a pass-first guy. Unselfish. To score 30,000 points in elite company — but to do all the other things he does shows he’s a complete all-around player and probably one of the best our game has seen as far as all-around passing, dribbling, powerful, shooting the basketball, scoring. Just a great player.”