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Steve Aschbruner

Brandon Jennings joins a long list of players to score at least 50 points in an NBA game.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Fifty nifty facts about scoring 50 (or more) points

Posted Nov 17 2009 9:39AM

Brandon Jennings' 55-point outburst didn't just inspire the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans. It inspired us to cull, from NBA lore and legend, 50 fascinating facts about scoring 50:

1. Just as there were home run leaders before Babe Ruth , there were big NBA scorers before Wilt Chamberlain showed up. Someone held the single-game scoring record -- a number of someones, in fact -- before Chamberlain set the bar triple-digits high with his 100-point performance on March 2, 1962, in Hershey, Pa.

The mark for most points in a game, individual, was held or shared by six players and reset six times -- in the NBA's first month of operation in November 1946. According to research compiled by Philadelphia statistician extraordinaire Harvey Pollack, Ed Sadowski grabbed the early lead by scoring 18 points for the Toronto Huskies on Nov. 1, the first night of the 1946-47 season. Twenty-four hours later, Max Zaslofsky of Chicago and Don Martin of Providence tied Sadowski. Frank Baumholtz scored 25 on Nov. 3. Then Zaslofsky (28), Sadowski (30), Mel Riebe (31) and Leo Mogus (33) raised the stakes over the next three weeks.

Philadelphia's Joe Fulks scored 37 against Providence on Dec. 3, then played leapfrog to reclaim or tie the single-game mark twice more. Minneapolis center George Mikan scored 48 on Jan. 30, 1949 to break the record Fulks shared with him and Carl Braun, bringing 50 into focus for the first time. Only "Jumpin' Joe'' didn't stop there. Against Indianapolis on Feb. 10, 1949, the 6-foot-5 product of Murray State turned 27 field goals and nine free throws into 63 points.

That record stood for nearly 10 years until Elgin Baylor scored 64 for the Minneapolis Lakers in November 1959, then got 71 one year later for the new Laker fans in Los Angeles.

2. In a 151-147 triple-overtime victory against Philadelphia on Dec. 8, 1961, Baylor scored 63 points for the Lakers. But it was a bittersweet night -- Chamberlain broke Baylor's 2-year-old individual record with 78 points in the losing effort.

3. Three weeks later, Baylor scored 52 and Chamberlain topped him again, getting 60 in Philadelphia's 123-118 victory in Hershey, Pa. Which, of course, was just an appetizer for his big night in Hershey on March 2, 1962.

4. Chamberlain didn't just double the 50-point milestone before that sparse crowd (4,124) for the Warriors-Knicks neutral-site game. He scored 59 points in the second half. Only 19 other players in NBA history have scored more than that in entire games.

5. Chamberlain scored 50 or more 118 times in his career. Michael Jordan ranks second with 31 in regular-season games -- which means Chamberlain lapped the field twice. Kobe Bryant has 24 games of 50 or more so far, Baylor did it 17 times and Rick Barry scored 50 points 14 times.

6. Chamberlain, as most fans know, averaged better than 50 points over a whole season. He did it in 1961-62, when he scored 4,029 points in 80 appearances for a 50.4 average.

7. That season, Chamberlain scored at least 50 points in 45 games, as many as Jordan and Barry combined in their whole careers.

8. No one in a single season has been closer than 5.6 points of that -- and that was Chamberlain, too, when he averaged 44.8 the following season as the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco. In that "slump'' year, the Big Dipper scored 50 on 30 occasions. Next-most in one season by any player? Bryant had 10 games of 50 or more in 2006-07.

9. No one else has been within 13 points of Chamberlain's lofty average. Jordan averaged 37.1 points in 1986-87 -- and still ranked behind Chamberlain's 38.4 ppg in 1960-61 and the rookie Wilt's 37.6 ppg in 1959-60.

10. As you might expect, no one can touch Chamberlain when it comes to stringing together those 50-point performances. He holds the top four spots for most consecutive games of 50 or more -- and they all came in the same season. Wilt reached 50 in five straight games from Dec. 8-13, 1961, then began a seven-game streak (still the record) on Dec. 16 that stretched through Dec. 29. He stacked up six 50-point efforts from Jan. 11-19 and ran off five more from Feb. 25 through March 4.

11. That 1961-62 season was to the NBA what 1930 was to Major League Baseball: The height of the lively ball era. Not only did Wilt post the fattest scoring average ever and The Big O average a triple-double (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg), non-legendary players got into the act. On Feb. 25, when Wilt scored 67 against New York, Knicks guard Richie Guerin countered with 50 in a 148-135 victory. Guerin had scored 51 points two weeks earlier against Boston and, to be fair, had a 57-point game in December 1959 against Syracuse. But the popular 6-foot-4 guard, who spent his first two seasons out of Iona playing for the Quantico Marines, averaged 29.5 points in 1961-62; that was a big jump from his previous best of 21.8 and a career average of 17.3.

12. The first time Chamberlain reached 50 points, he stopped on 55, just like Jennings. The legendary big man from Philadelphia did it in his eighth NBA game -- Jennings got there in seven. And Jennings' double-nickel came exactly 50 years and two days after Chamberlain got 55 against Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 1959.

13. Chamberlain had games of 55, 58 and 58 points in his rookie season. Barry scored 57 as a newbie with San Francisco in December 1965 and Earl Monroe scored 56 in February of his 1967-68 rookie season.

14. Derrick Rose got a lot of attention last April when he scored 36 points in his playoff debut, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's mark for a rookie in his first postseason game. We didn't hear much about Chamberlain because he already had two whole playoff games under his belt when he lit up the Syracuse Nationals for 53 points on March 14, 1960. Eight days later at Boston, in his eighth playoff game, Chamberlain dropped 50 on the Celtics.

15. Abdul-Jabbar scored 51 points as a Milwaukee rookie in February 1970 against Atlanta. He reached that threshold nine times in his six seasons with the Bucks -- but not once in his 14 seasons with the Lakers.

16. Michael Redd set Milwaukee's franchise record with 57 points on Nov. 11, 2006 against Utah. Redd scored 52 points against the Bulls in March 2007.

17. Twenty-three active players have scored 50 points or more in an NBA game. Seven teams boast two players who have done it at some point: Boston (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce), Cleveland (LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal), Miami (Dwyane Wade, Jermaine O'Neal), Milwaukee (Redd, Jennings), Orlando (Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis), San Antonio (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker) and Washington (Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison).

18. In context, Jerry West's 52 points in Game 2 of 1965 Western Division finals against Baltimore wasn't that remarkable. After all, in the games before and after that performance, the Lakers' sharpshooter scored 49, 44, 48, 43 and 42, becoming the only man in league history to score 40 or more points in more than four consecutive playoff games. His series average (46.3 ppg) is No. 1 in NBA playoff history.

19. Individual scoring doesn't guarantee team success: Of the NBA's 10 greatest individual scoring performances in regular season history -- 70 points or more -- the teams that had that big scorer went 6-4. Chamberlain's teams were 3-3 when he reached or topped 70.

20. Michael Jordan's 63 points against Boston in a double-overtime loss in Game 2 of Chicago's 1986 playoffs series ranks as the NBA's top scoring performance in the postseason. It arguably ranks as Jordan's greatest game, too, though the Bulls were swept in three games by the Celtics.

21. That 63-point explosion flipped a switch of sorts for Jordan. He scored 50 for the first time in a regular-season game a few months later, doing it against New York on Nov. 1.

22. Jordan hit or exceeded 50 eight times in that 1986-87 season, posting four of his top 10 scoring totals.

23. Jordan's last game of 50 or more as a Bull came on April 30, 1997 in the playoffs against Washington. He hit 22 of his 35 shots and all 10 of his free throws for 55.

24. But wait, there was more: Jordan scored 51 points while playing with Washington on Dec. 29, 2001, making 21 of his 38 shots. He was 50 days shy of his 39th birthday.

25. Bryant has scored at least 60 points four times. The Lakers won all four. And in games when Bryant scores 40 or more, they are 68-31 over his career.

26. But when Bryant scores between 50-58 points, Los Angeles is a more modest 12-8.

27. One of the NBA's greatest individual scoring showdowns took place last February -- only 48 hours apart. On Feb. 2, Bryant swaggered into Madison Square Garden, one of the league's most storied arenas, and scored 61 points in a 126-117 victory over the Knicks. Breaking Bernard King's record for the current Garden of 60 points and Jordan's record for points by an opposing player in the Garden (55), Bryant was 19-for-31 and hit all 20 of his foul shots, needing only 36:48 minutes of playing time.

28. Two nights later on the same floor, Cleveland's LeBron James took the challenge among MVP candidates. James scored 52 points on 17-for-33 shooting and added nine rebounds and 11 assists. He stuck around for 44:03, but then the game was closer, a 107-102 Cavaliers' victory.

29. You want showdowns between 50-point gunners? The scoring title in 1977-78 came down to the season's final day, with Denver's David Thompson and San Antonio's George Gervin separated by a fifth of one point. That afternoon, Thompson scored 73 against Detroit (that's still tied for the fourth highest output in NBA annals). That put his season scoring average at 27.15.

30. Some reporter called Gervin with the news at the team's hotel in New Orleans, interrupting his pre-game nap. Gervin told the New York Times years later that he figured the duel was done and went back to sleep. But his Spurs teammates were not done, and they kept feeding him the ball. Enough that the Ice Man scored 63, boosting his season average to 27.21 to snare the scoring title.

31. That was Thompson's lone game of 50 points or more in the NBA. Gervin did it five times. Both started in the ABA (Thompson one season, Gervin four).

32. In 1996, when Gervin and Thompson were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the San Antonio scorer was introduced first. "He beat me again,'' Thompson said.

33. Echoes of that scoring race were stirred in April 1994 when San Antonio's David Robinson trailed Shaquille O'Neal on the final day, April 24, but scored 71 points against the L.A. Clippers. That left him at 29.8 ppg to O'Neal's 29.3

34. A personal remembrance from that week: O'Neal put himself in great position for the scoring title by dropping 53 on Minnesota on April 20. The Magic had a cannon sound effect that boomed every time O'Neal dunked, and it sounded like a rendition of the 1812 Overture in the arena that day.

35. The big man's biggest total was the 61 points he scored for the Lakers in a 123-103 victory over the Clippers on March 6, 2000.

36. One memorable shootout took place between teammates, nine days apart. On March 3, 1985, Kevin McHale scored 56 points against Detroit, breaking the Boston Celtics' regular-season record of 53 set by Larry Bird two years earlier. Well, McHale got to enjoy bragging rights for little more than a week, because on March 12, 1985, Bird scored 60 against Atlanta.

37. We should note that John Havlicek still holds the Celtics' single-game mark overall, scoring 54 in a 1973 playoff victory over the Hawks.

38. Three current franchises never have had a player score 50 points. Kevin Garnett holds the Minnesota Timberwolves' single-game mark of 47. Bryant Reeves is tops among Grizzlies, either in Vancouver or Memphis, with 41. And Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace share the Charlotte Bobcats' biggest total of 42.

39. Baylor holds the record for most points in an NBA Finals game, getting 61 on April 14, 1962, in Game 5 at Boston.

40. Best player in NBA history to never score 50 in a game? That's pretty subjective. But we can report that, of the top 20 career scoring leaders (by total points), 19 of them scored 50 or more at least once. The one who did not: Robert Parish (19th all-time).

41. Extend that list a few spots and you find that 23 of the top 25 got 50. But Gary Payton (23rd) did not.

42. When Garnett passes Hal Greer, probably sometime next month (he's 159 points shy), he'll make it 22 out of the top 25 who scored 50. Garnett's career high of 47 came in January 2005 duel with Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire.

43. Here are some big-time NBA scorers who had career highs of exactly 49 points: Paul Arizin, Cazzie Russell, World B. Free, Paul Westphal, Mark Aguirre, Otis Birdsong, Antoine Walker, Latrell Sprewell, Carmelo Anthony and Bob Love, the smooth Bulls' forward who got 49 in consecutive games in February 1973.

44. When James scored 56 points against Toronto on March 3, 2005, he became -- at 20 years, 63 days old -- the youngest NBA player to reach the 50-point milestone. Jennings was born Sept. 23, 1989, which means he beat James' rush to 50 by 11 days.

45. At least three others scored 50 or more as U.S. pros before the age of majority and two, in fact, were teenagers. Spencer Haywood was one week shy of his 21st birthday when he scored 59 in the Denver Rockets' 152-116 victory over the L.A. Stars in an American Basketball Association game on April 15, 1970. Connie Hawkins had 54 for the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League in a 110-108 loss to the Cleveland Pipers on Jan. 15, 1962 when he was 19 years, five months and 28 days old. And Tony Jackson -- like Hawkins, a player who was indicted on questionable NCAA point-shaving charges in 1962 -- was 19 years, four months and 14 days old when he hit 12 3-pointers and scored 53 for the Chicago Majors against Cleveland in an ABL game.

46. Oscar Robertson was 19 years, 46 days when he scored 56 points at the old Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9, 1958. But this one gets an asterisk -- Robertson was still just a sophomore in college, his University of Cincinnati club facing Seton Hall in a New York doubleheader.

47. Robertson reached 50 points twice in his Hall of Fame career, doing it less than two months apart. He had 56 against the Lakers in December 1964 and 50 at Philadelphia in February 1965. Though known for his triple-doubles, Robertson was the league's No. 2 all-time scorer (behind Chamberlain) when he retired in 1974.

48. In the NBA's highest-scoring game ever -- Detroit's 186-184 triple-overtime victory in Denver on Dec. 13, 1983 -- Nuggets forward Kiki Vandeweghe scored 51 points on 21-for-29 shooting with nine rebounds and eight assists in 50 minutes. Teammate Alex English took more shots (30) but finished with 47 points, same as Detroit's Isiah Thomas (18-of-34).

49. Quirky fact about that game: The NBA's 3-point rule was in its fifth year, but only four shots were taken from behind the arc. Thomas was 1-of-2, Denver's Richard Anderson hit one and Dan Issel missed an end-of-period fling.

50. Worst player in NBA history to score 50 or more? C'mon now, that's a little harsh, don't you think? For such a memorable accomplishment? Let's just agree that a few of the guys with the hottest of hands were a little, er, unexpected. Like Tony Delk, Willie Burton and Tracy Murray. But arguably the least likely player in NBA history to score 50 points or more was Walt Wesley, a skinny, big-haired 6-foot-11 journeyman center who was the property of eight teams across 10 NBA seasons.

On a glorious night for the expansion Cavaliers, Feb. 19, 1971, Wesley scored 50 points in a 125-109 victory over Cincinnati. Two days later, Wesley had 30 points and 21 rebounds against Portland. That season, Wesley averaged 17.7 points. Over the other 508 games he played, his scoring average was 6.9.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

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