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Nate Thurmond’s Most MemoraBull Game

Nate Thurmond
More Most MemoraBull Game Features:
Tom Boerwinkle | Artis Gilmore | Ben Gordon
Jerry Sloan | Reggie Theus | Norm Van Lier

Posted December 18, 2006

By Nate Thurmond, as told to Brett Ballantini

October 18, 1974 | Chicago Stadium Chicago Bulls 120, Atlanta Hawks 115 (OT)

It’s been 32 years since I made my debut with the Chicago Bulls, and what an entrance it was—better than my wildest expectations: 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocked shots. I notched the first “official” quadruple-double in NBA history. And as I look back on it now, it feels a little strange to be known as the first person ever to get a quadruple-double in an NBA game.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m truly honored. It’s certainly a rare accomplishment. It took 12 years before the feat was ever accomplished again, and only three guys have posted a quadruple-double since I had mine.

But you know and I know and any good basketball fan knows that there were plenty of quadruple-doubles back in the 1960s. When I first came into the league, I played alongside with Wilt Chamberlain, and there were nights he and I were playing volleyball out there on the floor, blocking shots, deflecting passes, tipping rebounds. So it’s fairly obvious that Wilt had plenty of chances to get double figures in four categories; think about after he was traded from the San Francisco Warriors back to Philadelphia—Wilt led the league in assists with the 76ers! Or what about his move to the Los Angeles Lakers, when he was less a scorer and more a complementary player?

Bill Russell could also fill the stat sheet and was a threat for a quadruple-double on a nightly basis. He was a great shot-blocker and passer, besides being a tremendous overall defender.

Another guy people don’t often think much about in terms of quadruple-doubles is Mr. Triple-Double himself, Oscar Robertson. I’m sure the Big O had games of 10 or more steals.

Nate Thurmond tries to block Walt Frazier's shot A first round draft choice of the San Francisco Warriors in 1963, Nate Thurmond’s NBA career spanned 14 glorious years.
(Billy Franklin/NBAE/Getty Images)
And hey, don’t forget about me. You think I never had a quadruple-double before 1973-74, when the NBA first started recording blocks and steals? Let me put it this way: I had 12 blocks in my quadruple-double game, and it was my 12th year in the league. That’s with two bad knees and more than 30,000 minutes pounding NBA floors, night after night. You bet I had plenty of quadruple-doubles before 1974.

I’m not trying to brag, but there were games where it was ridiculous the number of shots I blocked. When I was young, there were nights when guys couldn’t come close to getting shots off on me. Only Russell could have blocked more in his career.

I’d really like to know where I stand with blocks for my entire career. When you look at the list of career blocked shots leaders today, Russell and I are nowhere to be found. Quite frankly, that list is filled with pretenders to the title, all because the NBA didn’t record blocks for any of Bill’s and the majority of my career. Sure, I could put up points, but my game was really defense, so I’m a little disappointed that most of my blocks were never recorded.

Twelve years into my career, you might not have expected me to still be a force in the game. But the year before I was traded to Chicago, I was playing almost 40 minutes per game, and I averaged 13.0 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks.

Why would the Warriors trade me, then? Well, I knew the Bulls were very hot to get me, believing that adding a top-flight center would allow them to better compete against the other top teams in the league, particularly Milwaukee, who had a young Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the pivot.

I probably should have known something was up before the trade. I’d had a foot injury the year before, and the Warriors sent me to someone who wasn’t our regular team doctor. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but I found out later that he was Chicago’s team doctor, secretly checking me out for the Bulls.

Make no mistake, I didn’t want to leave San Francisco. It had been my home for more than a decade. San Francisco was a place I felt very comfortable and I knew I was going to live there after I was done playing. I certainly would have liked to have finished my career there. Back then, most players liked the idea of playing their entire careers with one team, unlike today, with free agency and such.

But on the other hand, I also didn’t want to play somewhere I wasn’t wanted, so I was excited to make my opportunity with Chicago work—and prove to the Warriors that I still had a lot of gas left in the tank. I left San Francisco with a lot of pent-up emotions.

Nate Thurmond and Dave Cowens In 1996, Thurmond was chosen as a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, comprised of the best and most influential players of the first half-century of the league.
(Neil Leifer/NBAE/Getty Images)
Ultimately, I figured that if I was going to be traded, Chicago would be a great place to go. I had a positive attitude about the trade—it certainly wasn’t as if I was going to an expansion team. The Bulls were title contenders, and who knew? With me, maybe the Bulls could win it all.

We had a great group of guys on the team, and that helped me ease into things. We had two terrific starting forwards, in Bob Love and Chet Walker. Why Chet isn’t in the Hall of Fame, I’ll never know, and Bob, he could play on both ends. Nobody credits his defense, but Butterbean Bob guarded Rick Barry as well as anybody. Bob and Chet’s skills really complemented each other, too.

Our guard play was also extraordinary. Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier were the heart and soul of the team, and those guys would regularly have dogfights at every practice. They always came to play, and that was the exact same attitude I always tried to bring to the court.

The man I was going to take playing time from, Tom Boerwinkle, was an extremely underrated player and an excellent passing center. He was one of those guys who really knew how to use his body, or, as I like to say, “stayed in your way”—he was a lot like Wes Unseld in that sense. Tom wasn’t the best athlete, but he used what he had and was a darn good NBA center.

Having the center pass the ball out of the high post was a key to coach Dick Motta’s offense, but that wasn’t a strength of mine. I had always played down low, but Motta wanted me to play in a different position, playing a very different way than I ever did before. That was a big sacrifice to ask of a 12-year veteran, but I really wanted to fit into his system, and I wanted to win, so I gave it my best shot. I certainly would’ve like to have gotten more looks down by the hole, but Dick didn’t want change his system, and, really, why should he? They had been close to winning it all for a number of years, and I figured my arrival would lead to good things. I really thought I would get better at what Motta was asking me to do, but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t fit in as well as I thought I would.

People have asked if I felt pressure coming to a team that was so tight-knit, especially since I was the guy who was expected to deliver a title. Not really: I welcomed the high expectations. I’d been in pressure situations before; I was a confident player who approached the game always looking to add to my skill and expertise. Of course, as the season went on and I didn’t play as well as I expected to or wanted, then I began feeling pressure.

For all the promise heading into the 1974-75 season, there was also some cause for concern. Walker, Van Lier and Love all were holding out during the preseason. Back then, holding out was uncommon, so I didn’t know what to make of the situation—I just knew that we were down three very important players.

Nate Thurmond at the line Thurmond’s time in Chicago lasted only a season and 13 games, as the Bulls’ championship hopes fell short, and at age 35, he was dealt to Cleveland.
(Steve Snodgrass/NBAE/Getty Images)
Guys like Bobby Wilson at guard would end up getting valuable experience early on and a lot of playing time while we were undermanned, but c’mon, these guys who were missing were integral parts of the team. It was disappointing and frustrating. Walker would rejoin the team in time for the start of the season, but the other two (Van Lier and Love) lingered into November.

But, as we took the floor on October 18, 1974, I could sense excitement in the air. There was nothing like playing at the old Chicago Stadium. Something about that organ music always got me going. We’d run upstairs from the locker room, and that organ would jack us up. For my very first game in Chicago, climbing the stairs up to the court and hearing the home crowd yell my name is an unforgettable memory.

Because of the holdouts, we had a starting lineup much different from what you’d imagine: Van Lier was replaced at point guard by Rick Adelman, and Love’s forward spot went to Matt Guokas. Talk about a starting five with a high basketball IQ—right there you had three future NBA head coaches. Plus, there was Chet Walker, who could have gone far in a career on the bench, as well as me.

As for this first game of the 1974-75 season, my most memorable one as a Bull, it wasn’t what you would have expected, either. Atlanta wasn’t the strongest team, aside from star swingman John Drew, but even though they were more undermanned than we were, dressing only eight guys, the Hawks played a tough game.

Atlanta and Drew, who would end up with 32 points and 12 rebounds, jumped out on us quickly and took a 31-23 lead at the end of the first; we’d be playing catch-up for the remainder of the game. We played strong, out passing (36 assists) and out rebounding (53 boards) Atlanta by a wide margin. We also shot almost twice as well as the Hawks did, .633 to .324. Those guys were in disarray, dribbling down the floor, launching shots, not really playing team ball.

So how in the world did Atlanta stay ahead of us? Well, they took almost 25 more shots than we did—102 shots in the game! We also played pretty sloppy (26 turnovers) and rough, tying the all-time franchise record with 38 fouls.

Chet was his usual brilliant self, keeping us in the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Little-known guard Wilson was also a standout that night, scoring 20 points on nine-of-12 shooting before fouling out. Sloan had an off-game and also fouled out.

But, aside from my quadruple-double effort, the hero for the Bulls that night was forward Bill Hewitt. In probably the greatest game of Bill’s career—he wouldn’t last the season with us—he scored 15 points in 40 hard minutes of work.

Nate Thurmond in the Bay Area Upon retirement, Thurmond returned to the San Francisco Bay area and opened a well-known restaurant, Big Nate’s BBQ, where you can find him greeting fans today.
(Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images)
Looking back, I remember I was busy and was very active in the game, but I didn’t think about it in terms of a quadruple-double. We went into overtime, won the game, and I remember thinking it was a great way to start the season. That’s what made it so special.

One thing I distinctly remember was going back to my apartment after the game—I was just dead. I didn’t realize I had numbers spread out like that, across four categories until the next morning. It was my 12th year, and from that standpoint, the quadruple-double was just another game. But, as I look back now, I realize just how special a performance it was. At the time, nobody even talked about triple-doubles, so no one was really aware that I’d done something unprecedented. But I’m very happy that someone went back and discovered I was the first player ever to record a quadruple-double.

Of course, I wish I could have kept playing at the quadruple-double pace I started with that first game. It just wasn’t meant to be, just as our dreams of a first NBA title in Chicago weren’t meant to be.

But that first game, let me know I still had a little bit more to give to the game of basketball.

Nate Thurmond is a Hall-of-Famer and was named as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all time in 1996. But that’s not all, as Nate “The Great” is also a restaurateur. In fact, if you’re ever in the Bay Area and your stomach starts grumbling, do yourself a favor and stop by Big Nate’s Barbecue, at 1665 Folsom St. in San Francisco, and tell ’em Bulls.com sent you.

Four on the Floor: A Quad of Quadruple-Doubles

Since the NBA began recording steals and blocked shots 32 years ago, only four players have accomplished the feat of accumulating double figures in four separate stat categories:

  • Nate Thurmond, October 18, 1974, Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks:
    22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocks
  • Alvin Robertson, February 18, 1986, San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns:
    20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals
  • Hakeem Olajuwon, March 29, 1990, Houston Rockets vs. Milwaukee Bucks:
    18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks, 10 assists
  • David Robinson, February 17, 1994, San Antonio vs. Detroit Pistons:
    34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 blocks