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February 4, 2009
Hanging Fifty
Half-a-Hundred Fun Facts

by Bradford Doolittle

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Apparently, even the older, more mature version of Kobe Bryant has a hard time controlling himself from time to time. Bryant erupted for 61 points against the Knicks on Monday, the most points ever scored by an NBA player at the current Madison Square Garden, which opened in 1968. It was the fourth-most points Bryant has scored in a regular-season game, his fifth 60-point game and 24th 50-point game.

Bryant's outburst was the NBA's season high and the fourth 50-point game this campaign. According to my records, that brings the total number of 50-point performances in NBA history to 387.

Of the several geeky-type lists I sporadically maintain, one is an accounting of every instance in which an NBA player has cracked 50 points. I don't know where the original list came from, so I can't claim with 100 percent certainty that there are no errors and I also don't know whom to credit. I have checked my list against some other lists on the Web and in an old The Sporting News player register, so I think it's pretty complete. In the former case, I've also found discrepancies, which I've resolved--with one exception, which you'll read about--an apparent error in the official record. So my list may be the only complete and accurate list out there.

Bryant knocked Bernard King out of the Garden record book with his performance on Monday. In fact, King has three of the top six scoring performances at this Garden, the fourth version of the venerable venue. As it happens, Bernard King--scorer, competitor, scowler and a fine actor in such quality productions as "Fast Break" and "Miami Vice"--is my all-time favorite player. In honor of No. 30, I parsed my largely meaningless list of information in as many ways as I could conjure and came up with 50 fun facts.

(Notes: For facts that didn't come from my list, I've noted the source. Also, as always, a hearty hat-tip to basketball-reference.com for bringing basketball research into the 21st century. In all cases, these facts are based on regular-season NBA records only. Finally, a big thanks to databasebasketball.com for providing the downloadable files that contained most of the player logistical information used here.)

1. There have been 103 different players who have scored 50 points in an NBA game, which is 2.7 percent of all players to have appeared in the NBA.

2. There have been three instances when players on opposing teams scored 50 or more in the same game. Two of them were in overtime; two of them were Wilt Chamberlain vs. Elgin Baylor duels. The list:

  • Antawn Jamison (51) vs. Kobe Bryant (51), 12/6/2000 (OT)
  • Elgin Baylor (51) vs. Wilt Chamberlain (63), 12/14/1962
  • Elgin Baylor (63) vs. Wilt Chamberlain (78), 12/8/1961 (3OT

3. Because of those three games, the 387 fifty-point performances in NBA history have come in 384 different games. Through Monday, there have been 51,468 NBA games played. So 0.7% of NBA games have featured a 50-point scorer.

3. Michael Jordan is the oldest player to score 50 or more points in a game, putting up 51 for the Wizards against the Hornets Dec. 29, 2001, at the age of 38 years, 315 days.

4. LeBron James is the youngest player to score 50 points in a game, netting 56 for the Cavaliers against the Raptors on March 20, 2005, at the age of 20 years, 80 days.

5. The mystery game! Elgin Baylor scored 50 or more points in a game 18 times, including a streak of three straight during December, 1962. However, the various lists of 50-point games floating around the Web include the following:

52 Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia Warriors, 12/8/1961.

The problem with that is that Baylor was busy that night scoring 63 points in the triple-overtime game against Chamberlain's Warriors, listed above under No. 2. So what is the deal?

Here's what we know: Baylor had five 50-point games in December, 1961. At some point, he had three straight such games. The records are consistent on four of the games: Dec. 4 (Nationals), Dec. 8 (Warriors), Dec. 11 (Hawks), Dec. 13 (Hawks).

Where does the missing game fit in? It might be Dec. 15, against the Chicago Packers, which would have given him three-straight 50-point games. If he did it on Dec. 9 against Detroit, then he would have had a streak of four straight, a feat which we know he didn't accomplish.

However, if he really did it against the Warriors, as listed, then he could have done it in either game of a back-to-back on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. That wouldn't give him three straight necessarily, except for another complicating factor: Baylor played just 48 games that season because he was on active military service at Fort Lewis, Washington. During that stretch, he could only play on weekend passes. However, it's unclear during what portion of the season Baylor was stuck in that situation.

Thinking I could solve this dilemma by raiding the reference library of my employer, The Kansas City Star, I got my hands on the official NBA media guide for the '61-'62 season. In it is listed the top single-game scorers for each season up to that time, down to 40 points. Bingo! But wait...much to my dismay, I find that Baylor is double-listed on Dec. 8. So at least now we know where the error originated.

If Baylor really scored those 52 points against the Warriors, he could have done it on Dec. 2, a Saturday. The next game was a Monday--on which he may have still been away on pass--and he scored 50 against the Nationals. Then he might have missed the games on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 (Tuesday and Wednesday) before returning for that epic battle with Chamberlain on Saturday, Dec. 8.

This last scenario sounds most likely to me, because it seems plausible the original error on the list was a simple typo on the date rather than an additional mistake on the opponent. Anyway, that's the way I've entered it on my list. But it would be nice to have some confirmation.

Finally, as a last-gasp measure, I downloaded the Lakers' media guide for this season. It includes a list of every Laker to score 50 points in a game. Sure enough, according to the Official Los Angeles Lakers Media Guide, Elgin Baylor scored over 50 points twice on Dec. 8, 1961. Except, he didn't. Argh. I've fired away e-mails to NBA media contacts everywhere. No response at press time.

6. Crawford became the fourth player to score 50 or more for three different teams. The others were the great Bernard King, and pretty good centers Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone.

7. Crawford also became the 27th player overall to score 50 or more on at least three separate occasions. Of those, 23 rank among the NBA's top 40 all-time in points per game. Only two are outside the top 100: Crawford and Richie Guerin. (Elias)

8. The first NBA 50-point game was also first 60-point NBA game. Joe Fulks became the progenitor of both categories when he scored 63 points for Warriors against the Indianapolis Jets on Feb. 10, 1949.

9. When was the last triple-double in a 50-point game? This isn't official, but it seems that it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the Bucks on Jan. 2, 1975 against the Hawks. (Newsday)

According to basketball-reference.com, since 1986, the closest anyone has come to scoring 50 in a game in which they hit double-digits in rebounds and assists was Larry Bird, who had 49 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists against the Blazers on March 15, 1992 in a double-overtime contest. A couple of years ago, LeBron James came two assists short of a 50-point/triple-double combo.

10. The most 50-point games in any one season is 50 in 1962, which is the season that Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points per game. In many of these facts, we'll have to present a Non-Wilt division, in which Chamberlain's feats have simply been deleted. In this case, the non-Wilt division champ is 18 in 2006-07, when Kobe Bryant surpassed the mark ten times.

11. The most different players in season to reach 50 is eight, which happened in the 1989-90 season. Those eight: Dale Ellis, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Terry Cummings and Tom Chambers.

12. Starting with the 1957-58 season, there has been at least one 50-point scorer in every season except one: 1998-99, the lockout season. There were a lot of things wrong with that season.

13. Maybe it's in the stars. For you budding astrologists out there, 50-point outbursts appear to be most common under the signs of Sagittarius and Capricorn. Fifty-point games by month:

December     84
January      81
February     71
March        62
November     52
April        25
October      12

14. Then again, maybe it's lunar. Fifty-point games by day of the month:

16th      22
18th      19
14th      17
21st      17
6th       16
20th      16
23rd      16
10th      15
11th      15
13th      14

15. The most typical peak ages for NBA players is 25 and 26. So it's not surprising that the most typical age for a player scoring 50 or more points in a game is 25. Fifty-point games by age:

age-25     73
-26        65
-28        51
-27        47
-24        40
-29        28
-30        20
-31        13
-23        12
-32        11

16. You could fill the Encyclopedia Brittanica with amazing Wilt Chamberlain statistics. Here's another one: Wilt's 105 50-point games account for more than a quarter (27.2 percent) of all such outbursts. Players with five or more 50-point games:

Wilt Chamberlain       105
Michael Jordan          31
Kobe Bryant             24
Elgin Baylor            14
Rick Barry              13
Allen Iverson           11
Bernard King             8
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar      8
Dominique Wilkins        7
Adrian Dantley           6
Bob Pettit               6
Pete Maravich            6
George Gervin            5
LeBron James             5

17. Which franchise has had the most 50-point games? One with Wilt, surely, but which one?

Warriors        120
Lakers           52
Bulls            32
76ers            21
Hawks            18
Jazz             15
Spurs            12
Knicks           11
Bucks            10
Wizards          10
Kings             8
Nuggets           8
Rockets           8
Celtics           7
Cavaliers         6
Clippers          6
Magic             6
Pistons           6
Nets              5
Suns              5
Thunder           5
Trail Blazers     5
Mavericks         4
Pacers            3
Heat              2
Hornets           1
Raptors           1

With Wilt removed from the equation, the Lakers move to the head of the class with 50, following by the Bulls (32) and then the Warriors (24).

18. The Kings franchise has been the NBA's vagabond organization, existing at various times as the Rochester Royals, Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City-Omaha Kings, Kansas City Kings and, finally, the Sacramento Kings. (The way thing are going this year, both on the court and as the gate, Las Vegas may be added to the list, or maybe a return to Kansas City is in order.) In their travels, the Royals/Kings franchise has given up more 50-point games than any other:

Kings           37
Pistons         34
Knicks          30
Lakers          27
76ers           24
Hawks           21
Bulls           20
Celtics         20
Rockets         15
Nuggets         14
Warriors        13
Cavaliers       11
Wizards         11
Jazz            10
Nets            10

19. Brandon Roy set one record with his big game in December: Fewest career points by a 50-point scorer (3,002 at the time). He has since surpassed Willie Burton, doing so with his 33-point game against the Clippers on Jan. 26. They didn't even stop the game.

20. Of course, that's not to suggest that Roy's performance was a fluke. He's got many years add to his career point total. At the same time, looking at a list of the non-active 50-point scorers with the fewest career points might answer the question about which big game was the most unlikely:

Willie Burton             3243
Freeman Williams          4738
Tony Delk                 4957
Walt Wesley               5002
Tracy Murray              5943
Joe Fulks                 8003
Charles D. Smith          8187

21. Another way to look at the same question: Whose 50-point game accounted for the largest percentage of a player's eventual career total? Yes, it's the same list but I've got to stretch out a few of these to get to 50. Burton's 53 points for the 76ers against the Heat on Dec. 13, 1994 turned out to be 1.63% of the 3,243 points he scored in his career, which ended in 1998. If you were to ask me what the flukiest 50-point game in NBA history happened to be, I would say, "Willie Burton. 1994." Burton's second highest-scoring game was 33 points, the only other time in his career he topped 30.

22. The likes of Willie Burton, Freeman Williams and Tony Delk underscore the idea that you don't have to be an elite player to score 50 points in an NBA game. The opposite is also true. You can be a Hall-of-Fame caliber player and never score 50 points in a game. Here are the most career points by players that never reached a half-hundred points in a game:

John Havlicek      26395
Charles Barkley    23757
Robert Parish      23334
Gary Payton        21813
Hal Greer          21586
Kevin Garnett      21146
Walt Bellamy       20941
Mitch Richmond     20497
John Stockton      19711
Clifford Robinson  19591

23. There are three existing franchises that have never had a 50-point scorer: Charlotte, Memphis and Minnesota. I guess you could throw Oklahoma City in there, as well, since they "left the Sonics' history in Seattle." To me, it's still the same franchise. So the Thunder get credit for the feats of Fred Brown, Dale Ellis, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Spencer Haywood. Sorry, Seattle.

24. Who has the best chance to catch Wilt Chamberlain's career total of 105 50-point games? If by that, you are asking, "Which active player has the most career 50-point games," the answer is Kobe Bryant with 24, or 81 shy of Wilt. A nice NBA number. What the Lakers should do is set aside next season and let Kobe score 50-plus in every game.

25. From the "Do They Stop There?" department: You would think that because it's the easiest number to reach that the most common point total in a 50-point game is 50. You'd be right--68 times, in fact, followed by 66 occurrences of 51 points. The trend line is consistent through 59 points except for one blip: There have been 16 54-point games but 24 55-point outbursts.

26. Of the 387 50-point performances, 49 (12.7%) have come in overtime contests.

27. Wilt Chamberlain, of course, has the record for the most 50-point games in a season with 41 in 1961-62. He's also second with 27 in 1962-63. In the non-Wilt division, Kobe Bryant is the champ with 10 in 2006-07. The most by a player not named Wilt, Kobe or Michael is six, by Rick Barry in 1966-67. That's a lot of granny-style free throws.

28. Most career 50-point games by Bradford Doolittle's favorite player: eight, by Bernard King. Have I ever mentioned that I really like Bernard King?

29. Who is the shortest player to get to 50? Calvin Murphy (5'9") was listed as one inch shorter than Michael Adams and Damon Stoudamire.

30. How about the tallest? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7'2") got there eight times.

31. The most common height? It's 7'1" of course, with 111 50-point games. In the non-Wilt division, it's 6'6", which happens to be the listed height for both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

32. From the "It Pains Me to Write It" department: The University of Kansas is the college responsible for the most 50-point NBA performances with 107. Another Wilt record. After that, it's 43 by players who didn't go to any college at all. That's followed by North Carolina (40), LSU (16) and, surprisingly enough, Seattle (14). Georgetown also has 14. Since I know you're wondering, Mizzou has never turned out a player who scored 50 in an NBA game. That hurts.

33. Years of birth. The earliest for our little game is 1921, the year Jumpin' Joe Fulks was born. The latest is 1984, when LeBron James and Brandon Roy arrived in the world. Wilt was born in 1936; after that the most common birth year is 1963 (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone) and 1978 (Kobe Byrant, Jermaine O'Neal, Dirk Nowitzki and Richard Hamilton).

34. By decade of birth:

1920s      9
1930s    136
1940s     44
1950s     53
1960s     63
1970s     68
1980s     14

35. By first letter of last name: C (116) and B (59). Strangely symmetrical.

36. By first name: Wilt (105), Michael (34), Kobe (24). OK, that was boring. I'm starting to feel like Steve Martin's character in the bar scene in "Roxanne." Or Cyrano de Bergerac.

37. We're talking officially listed weights here, which is precarious, but the heaviest player on the list is Shaquille O'Neal (300 pounds).

38. The lightest was Tiny Archibald, who was listed at 150 pounds or, in basketball parlance, half-a-Shaq.

39. It's not always clear-cut who plays what position, but according to my database: Centers 140, Guards 138, Forwards 109.

40. There have been 19 50-point games by rookies, led by Wilt Chamberlain with four. The last rookie to do it was Allen Iverson on April 12, 1997.

41. Unless Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford or Tony Parker decide to hang'em up after the season, no player has ever scored 50 points in a game during his final season in the league.

42. By decade:

1940s      3
1950s     14 
1960s    137 
1970s     49 
1980s     62 
1990s     45
2000s     77

43. In literature, a character with the same initial in both his/her first and last name is supposed to have a narrow or focused personality. Players who were narrow enough to score at least 50 points in a game: George Gervin, Gail Goodrich, Moses Malone, Cedric Ceballos, Jim Jackson, Paul Pierce and Walt Wesley. Yeah, we're to THAT point.

44. 50-point scorers who had a son or sons play in the NBA: Rick Barry and Dolph Schayes. Patrick Ewing should join the club by the end of the season.

45. 50-point scorers who had fathers that played in the NBA: Kobe Bryant and Kike Vandeweghe. Alas, there are no father-son combinations of 50-point scorers, so I guess we have to pull for Patrick Ewing Jr. to go crazy one night under Mike D'Antoni.

46. Most by a foreign-born player: Two each by Dirk Nowitzki and Patrick Ewing.

47. 50-point games on The Date That Will Live Infamy, Dec. 7, which also happens to be my birthday: Wilt Chamberlain (1962), Dominique Wilkins (1991) and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (1995).

48. 50-point games on Christmas: Wilt Chamberlain (1961), Rick Barry (1966) and--of course--Bernard King, who dropped 60 points on the Nets, including 40 in the first half, in 1984. That was the Madison Square Garden record which Bryant broke on Monday.

49. For the romantic at heart: Richie Guerin (1962) and Rick Barry (1967) scored over 50 on Valentine’s Day.

50. Two 50-point games by the same player in the same game: Wilt Chamberlain, on March 2, 1962, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Just had to throw that in there.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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