Skip to main content

While the cliche is usually applied to other sports, the idea that defense wins championships can cross over into basketball. Even when things are a bit more offensive, being able to limit the opposition’s opportunities can be valuable. Every scoreless position, after all, gives you an opportunity to widen the gap.

With that in mind, let’s consider who has the most steals in (recorded) basketball history. This isn’t simply limited to NBA players, either. We’ll also consider the WNBA and college to see who sits atop the metaphorical mountain.

Jacob Gilyard and Chastadie Barrs hold the record for the most steals in men’s and women’s college basketball

As the basketball landscape has evolved, NCAA records have become something of a touchy subject. Given how much has changed over the years — the lack of freshman teams, the rise of one-and-done players, etc. — it barely feels like the same game. With that being said, though, a record is still a record.

On the men’s side of the ledger, Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard rules the roost with 466 steals during his time in college. He spent five years with the Spiders, suiting up for 154 games — the guard made use of the extra year of eligibility stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic — which may have given him an advantage, but the fact that he’s more than 100 steals ahead of his closest competition (John Linehan, who also played five collegiate campaigns) suggests that he’s more than worthy of holding the title.

In women’s NCAA basketball, Chastadie Barrs sits atop the all-time steals leaderboard. The Lamar University product swiped the ball 649 times in 149 games; that’s unsurprisingly an achievement that she takes pride in.

“It means the world. I’ve worked on my defense since I was a kid, and Lamar preaches defense,” Barrs told Richard Dean of the Houston Chronicle after breaking the previous steals record in 2019. “So to be the national steals leader is a big thing to me. This was a big goal for me, and I’m glad I was able to achieve it.”

Tamika Catchings is head and shoulders above the competition in WNBA history

Stepping up to the professional level, it’s clear who reigns supreme in the WNBA, at least from a steals perspective. That distinction goes to Tamika Catchings.

During her time with the Indiana Fever, the forward piled up 1,074 steals. For context, her closest competition from a counting numbers perspective is Ticha Penicheiro, who sits in second place with 764 takeaways. The same rankings hold if we shift to a per-game basis; Catchings leads the way with 2.35 steals per contest, while Penicheiro trails behind with 1.68 per outing.

John Stockton has the most NBA (and overall) steals, but the per-game numbers highlight some different names


Karl Malone Responded to a Violent Threat From Maurice Lucas by Dunking On His Head

Unlike the WNBA, where one player leads the way in both ways of measuring steals, things are tricker on the NBA side of things.

If you go purely by the counting numbers, John Stockton has the most steals across any of the basketball competitions we’ve discussed. The Utah Jazz guard swiped the ball an incredible 3,265. Jason Kidd sits in second with a more-than-respectable 2,683.

And while those numbers may mean that Stockton has the most steals around, he doesn’t rule the steals-per-game leaderboard. He sits in seventh among NBA players and eighth when ABA alumni are added to the mix.

That combined ABA/NBA ranking goes as follows:

PlayerSteals per Game
Alvin Robertson 2.71
Michael Ray Richardson 2.63
Fatty Taylor 2.40
Michael Jordan2.35
Mookie Blaylock2.33
Fat Lever 2.22
Slick Watts2.20
John Stockton2.17

And there you have it. While stealing isn’t usually advisable, it landed these players in the basketball history books.