Stealing the ball is an art that a handful of players have mastered throughout NBA history. Those players are highlighted throughout the record books when it comes to the most steals in a game.
The masters of steal have a great understanding of the game and anticipation when it comes to how the ball moves around on the court. An underrated aspect of a steal is the momentum swing it creates for the player, team and fans in attendance.
On that note, let’s look at some single-game steal records that have electrified NBA arenas. These marks go back until the start of the 1973-74 season when the league started tracking that data.
Most Steals in a Game
T-1. 11 – Larry Kenon, San Antonio Spurs at Kansas City Kings (Dec. 26, 1976)
In the Spurs’ first season in the NBA (joined from ABA during the merger), Kenon made major improvements to his game – improvements that led to a record night in December of 1976.
When the Spurs visited the Kansas City Kings (now Sacramento Kings) the day after Christmas, Kenon had one of his best all-around games. He was undoubtedly the best player on the court, racking up a game-high 29 points, 15 rebounds and 11 steals.
Every starter on both teams ended up scoring in double digits, making the contest a high-octane affair. But the Spurs outlasted the Kings 110-105, with Kenon’s defensive prowess giving them the edge.
T-1 . 11 – Kendall Gill, New Jersey Nets vs. Miami Heat (April 3, 1999)
Gill proved to be a defensive nightmare for opponents over his career, racking up steals consistently.
The 1989-99 season was one such year when he exponentially improved in this category. He logged four or more steals in a single game on 18 occasions that season, but one game stood out.
The New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) hosted the star-studded Heat and Gill seemed determined to get a W for his team. While the Nets started out slowly, Gill’s defense changed the tone of the game in the middle quarters. He recorded a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 11 steals.
Miami’s defense was also on point, as Alonzo Mourning swatted away nine shots. However, Gill’s well-timed interceptions keyed New Jersey’s 88-77 victory at home. It was a big win considering the Heat were fighting for the top seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Miami, though, was stunned in the first round by the eighth-seeded New York Knicks.
Best of the Rest: Kenon and Gill surely set the bar high, but 18 different players came close to the record before falling short by just one steal. Among the bunch, only two players have managed to do it multiple times: Alvin Robertson (2,112 career steals) against the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz and Clyde Drexler (2,207) against the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. Long before Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen teamed up to torment opponents on both ends of the court during the Chicago Bulls’ championship years, Jordan had 10 steals against the Nets in January of 1988. Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell did it against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 3, 2021. McConnell posted a triple-double in that contest with 16 points, 13 assists and 10 steals. His nine swipes in the first half set an NBA record for steals in a half.
Most Steals in a Playoff Game
10 – Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic (May 13, 1999)
Apart from the MVP-level skill Iverson possessed with the ball in his hands, he also finished his career with 1,983 steals.
As he often was during his prime, Iverson was the best player on the court when the 76ers hosted the Magic in Game 3 of their first-round series in 1999. The perennial All-Star had 33 points and 10 steals, which was not only the most steals by a player in NBA playoff history but also more than the entire Orlando team (eight).
Iverson made people wonder just how many hours he spent watching film before the contest as he disrupted almost every offensive tactic that the Magic attempted. The game ended in a 97-85 win for the 76ers, who would go on to win the series in Game 4.
Best of the Rest: Six different players have come close to Iverson’s record with eight steals in a postseason contest. Hall of Fame guard Tim Hardaway did this twice. He was a second-year player for the Golden State Warriors in the 1991 Western Conference semifinals when he finished with 28 points, 14 assists and eight steals in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers. His efforts, along with teammate Chris Mullin’s 41-point night gave the Warriors a 125-124 victory – their sole win in the series (4-1). He also had 27 points, 11 assists and eight steals in Game 4 of a 1992 first-round series against the Seattle SuperSonics, but the Warriors dropped all four games. The most recent player to reach that mark in a playoff game was Mookie Blaylock – a two-time steals champion in the league. The Atlanta Hawks found themselves in a crucial juncture of their series against the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 1996 playoffs. And Blaylock had 16 points, seven assists and the eight steals in a 90-83 win that helped them take the series 3-2.
Most Steals in an NBA Finals Game
7 – Robert Horry, Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic (June 9, 1995)
The then-defending champions Rockets entered Game 2 of the 1995 NBA Finals with a 1-0 lead, having slipped past (120-118) the Magic at home in the opener.
Horry played the entire 48 minutes, tirelessly keeping his matchups in check while also providing help for his teammates. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals and two blocks to help the Rockets win 117-106.
They would eventually take the series in four straight.
Best of the Rest: Seven different players have managed to reach six steals in an NBA Finals game. Lionel Hollins of the Portland Trail Blazers is among those on the list with his six steals against the Lakers in the 1977 postseason. John Havlicek is one of the steals leaders in this category for his defensive performance in the 1974 Finals when the Boston Celtics faced the Milwaukee Bucks. He ended up with 28 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and the six steals as the Celtics went on to win Game 3 (95-83) and eventually the series in seven games. When LeBron James and the Cavaliers took on Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors at home in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals, Kevin Love had a night he would rather forget in terms of shooting the ball. However, Love lifted Cleveland defensively with six steals. The extra possessions he provided helped keep the game close, though the Cavaliers eventually lost the game by a five-point margin and the series in five games (4-1).
Most Steals in a Season
- 301 – Alvin Robertson, San Antonio (1985-86)
- 281 – Don Buse, Indiana (1976-77)
- 265 – Michael Ray Richardson, New York (1979-80)
Most Steals in a Season by a Rookie
- 211 – Dudley Bradley, Indiana (1979-80)
- 209 – Ron Harper, Cleveland (1986-87)
- 205 – Mark Jackson, New York (1987-88)
Most Steals in a Career
- 3,265 – John Stockton
- 2,684 – Jason Kidd
- 2,514 – Michael Jordan