Opening Night, October 18, 1974 – Chicago Stadium
Atlanta Hawks vs. Chicago Bulls
One of the NBA’s greatest defensive big men of all-time, Nate Thurmond averaged exactly 15 points and 15 rebounds a game over an illustrious 14-year career.
A seven-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive First or Second Team member, Thurmond was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985, and was later named as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in history in 1997. Yet as great a player as he was, Thurmond was somewhat overlooked, especially by the media during his playing days as he toiled mostly during the era of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and towards the end of his career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Nevertheless, Big Nate owns the unique distinction of posting the NBA’s first recorded quadruple-double, achieving the feat on October 18, 1974 in his very first game playing for the Chicago Bulls.
As far as in-game records go, it simply doesn’t get any rarer than posting a quadruple double. To achieve such a feat a player has to reach double digits across four statistical categories from points, assists, rebounds, blocks or steals. Until this day no one officially had ever done so — that is until Thurmond wrote the book in posting 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks to lead the Bulls to a 120-115 overtime victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
Born July 25, 1941 in Akron, Ohio, Nathaniel Thurmond stood 6’11” and weighed 225-pounds during his prime. He was an All-American center out of Bowling Green State University. The San Francisco Warriors tabbed him with the 3rd overall pick in the 1963 NBA Draft, and he quickly became a team fixture, playing 11 seasons in the Bay area.
As a rookie, Thurmond primarily backed up Wilt Chamberlain, but also played alongside him at times at power forward. That season Thurmond averaged 7 points and 10.4 rebounds, earning a place on the league’s All-Rookie team. The Warriors reached the NBA Finals that year, but fell to the Boston Celtics in five games.
Halfway through the following season (1964-65) Chamberlain was traded to Philadelphia and Thurmond was asked to step in as the Warriors’ full-time man in the middle. He then went on to average 16.5 points and 18.1 rebounds in over 41 minutes a game that year.
Thurmond was the epitome of consistency as he averaged at least 20 points a game for five consecutive seasons beginning in 1967 through 1972, and grabbed at least 17 rebounds a night for six straight seasons from 1964 through 1970. However, by the end of the 1973-74 season, Thurmond, who was then on his way to turning 33-years old, began to see his numbers slip to 13 points a game, yet he still proved a defensive superstar, averaging 3 blocks and 14.2 rebounds.
Just before the start of the 1974-75 season the Warriors began calling teams to gauge interest in Thurmond as team believed Big Nate’s best days were behind him. Golden State quickly found a willing trading partner in Chicago’s Dick Motta who was not only the Bulls head coach, but also the team’s general manager. Motta had grown frustrated at seeing his hardnosed, blue collar squads win 50 or more games during the regular season only to fall in the playoffs every year to archrivals sporting superstar centers (in particular, Chamberlain then with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Milwaukee Bucks). Motta was convinced Chicago needed a frontline center of their own and jumped at the opportunity to land the future Hall of Famer in exchange for 25-year old pivot, Clifford Ray.
Unfortunately the trade did not work out well for the Bulls as Thurmond’s strengths were clearly best suited near the basket but Motta’s offensive schemes demanded his centers play up top, setting picks and passing the ball from the free throw line to teammates cutting towards the hoop. Although Thurmond posted a career high 4.1 assists and led the Bulls with averages of 11.3 rebounds and 2.44 blocks per game, his scoring fell to 7.9 points a game and his shooting percentage crashed to a career-worst .364. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was no longer a starter and played less than 20 minutes a game.
But for at least one night — Opening Night against the Atlanta Hawks inside the old Chicago Stadium in front of a somewhat underwhelming crowd of 7,351 fans — Big Nate was the toast of Chicago.
Although the crowd that night was somewhat sparse in number, they were nonetheless loud. Many years later Thurmond remembered sensing a great deal of excitement in the air as the Bulls came out for pregame warmups.
“There was nothing like playing at the old Chicago Stadium,” Thurmond recalled. “Something about that organ music always got me jacked up. For my very first game in Chicago, climbing the stairs (the Bulls locker room was located beneath the arena floor) and walking onto the court, hearing the home crowd yell my name was something special.”
Thurmond played all but three minutes (49) that night and was 8-of-12 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free throw line in notching 22 points. He thoroughly dominated the paint, pulling down a game-high 14 rebounds and blocking 12 shots. He also established a career-best of 13 assists in leading Chicago to victory.
“I never saw Nate play better, and I think I know why,” recalled Clyde Lee years later, who played for Atlanta that night and was also a former teammate of Thurmond’s with the Warriors. “The (Bulls) fans got behind him right from the start, and that gave Nate a lift. He never was appreciated for being a great center all those years in San Francisco. So when the Bulls fans yelled out his name during the pregame introductions and during the game, you could see it fired him up, and he sure picked up the Bulls that night.”
Since Big Nate’s maiden quadruple-double the feat has only occurred (officially) four other times in history. The next player to post a quadruple-double was Alvin Robertson of the San Antonio Spurs on February 18, 1986 against the Phoenix Suns. Robertson’s stat line was 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals, in leading the Spurs to a 120-114 victory.
Four years later Houston Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon notched two quadruple-doubles in the same month!
On March 3, 1990 Olajuwon powered the Rockets to a 129-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors with 29 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists and 11 blocks. A couple of weeks later on March 29, 1990, Hakeem the Dream led Houston to a 120-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks behind 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and 11 blocks.
The last player to post a quadruple-double was fellow Hall of Famer David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs who put up 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 blocks against Detroit on February 17, 1994 in leading the Spurs to a 115-96 victory over the Pistons.