Russell Westbrook just wrapped up a 2016-17 season that was no doubt legendary and historic. With final season averages of 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists, he became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, following only Oscar Robertson’s performance in 1961-62.
But where does Westbrook’s season rank all-time in sports history? Here’s a hint: Robertson’s triple-double season doesn’t even make our top 10 list. Using the criteria of traditional statistics, advanced statistics, context of the time and historic significance, here’s our list of the top 10 all-time individual seasons across all sports.
Honorable mentions: Oscar Robertson (1961-62), Michael Jordan (1986-87), Peyton Manning (2013), Serena Williams (2013), Babe Ruth (1921), Richard Petty (1967).
Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 season was memorable and historic for many reasons, but where does it compare to some of the all-time performances?
Wilt Chamberlain (1961-62)
Really soak in these season averages for Chamberlain: 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds. That sounds made up. But it’s not. And yes, that season included his famous 100-point game. He scored 4,029 points that season, and only one other player in NBA history (Michael Jordan) has ever scored over 3,000 in a year.
Wayne Gretzky (1981-82)
The Great One had so many off-the-charts seasons it’s tough to pick out his best (and you may just see him again on this list). But the numbers he put up in his 1981-82 campaign look like a misprint they’re so good. His 92 goals that year are the most ever in a season and yet he still managed to add 120 assists, which is still more than any other player not named Wayne Gretzky has ever put up in a season.
Tiger Woods (2000)
The fact that he won three majors that year (U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) would put him on this list on its own, considering that’s only been done one other time in the modern era of majors. But Woods had to go add style points by winning a total of nine events and posting a ridiculous 17 top-10 finishes that season.
Lionel Messi (2012)
His 91 total goals are the most ever in a calendar year, including 74 for Barcelona (most club goals ever in a calendar year), and 12 for Argentina (tied for most by an Argentine in a year). He also added five goals in friendlies.
Steffi Graf (1988)
Graf is the only tennis player, male or female, to win all four majors in addition to an Olympic singles gold medal in the same calendar year. She finished with a 72-3 record that year on her way to winning 11 total singles titles. Quite simply, this was the best year by any tennis player, regardless of gender.
Michael Phelps (2008)
The most decorated Olympian of all time was at the peak of his powers at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, where he won an Olympic-record eight gold medals, including five in individual events. His winning time in the 400-meter individual medley that year still holds up as the world record, as does the 4×100 freestyle relay time for which he swam the opening leg.
Mickey Mantle (1956)
The greatest individual baseball season is very debatable because of how the game has changed both technically and demographically over the years. But Mantle’s 1956 year checks off all the boxes. He won the rare batting triple crown, leading the league in average (.353), home runs (52) and RBIs (130). This is especially impressive because he had to beat out legendary hitter Ted Williams in all those categories. For the stat nerds, he also led the league in wins above replacement (11.2) by a lot, with the next-best player coming in at 8.3.
Barry Sanders (1988)
As great as Sanders was in the NFL, and boy was he, his junior year at Oklahoma State stands in college football immortality. If you include his bowl game, he ran for 2,850 yards and scored 44 total touchdowns (42 rushing) on his way to winning the Heisman. Those are all single-season college records. And that’s all in just 12 games.
Wayne Gretzky (1985-86)
No, you’re not mistaken. This is the second time Gretzky has appeared on this list. So many of his seasons are that far ahead of the competition. Gretzky amassed an NHL single-season record 215 points in 1985-86, including 163 assists, which is BY FAR the record. The next-most assists in a season by a non-Wayne Gretzky player are 114.
Tom Brady (2007)
The season itself is legendary because the Patriots finished the regular season 16-0 and came within a few minutes of winning the Super Bowl to complete a perfect campaign. But the numbers only add to the story with Brady’s 50 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions, along with 4,806 passing yards and a 68.9 completion percentage. His 88.2 QBR is the highest ever recorded for a season. He just barely edged out Peyton Manning’s amazing 2013 season simply because of the 16-0 record.