FOX Sports NBA Reporter
LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s regular-season point total of 38,387 to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Tuesday, breaking a record long considered untouchable .
The moment came when James, who entered the Los Angeles Lakers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder needing 36 points to accomplish the feat, took a step back. with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter, and the game was stopped in recognition of the accomplishment. Abdul-Jabbar and NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined James at center court, with the former Lakers center handing an emotional James the game ball.
“I would never in a million years dream of this being even better than what it is tonight,” James told the crowd, adding, “So shit, man, thanks guys.”
Abdul-Jabbar held the record for more than 38 years after surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 31,419 points on April 5, 1984, more than eight months before James was born. When Abdul-Jabbar retired five seasons later, his scoring record was widely assumed to be forever secure.
James broke the record at 1,410 games played, 150 fewer than Abdul-Jabbar. James, 38, has averaged 27.2 points per game during his 20-season career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Lakers, while Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points during his career 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers.
James has had help from the 3-point line during that time, where he has made 2,237 shots. The NBA didn’t introduce the 3-point line until Abdul-Jabbar’s 11th season in the league in 1979-80, and he made just one shot from that distance during his career.
James passed then-fourth-leading scorer Michael Jordan (32,292 points) in March 2019, followed by Kobe Bryant (33,643 points) just hours before his death in January 2020, and finally passed the long-time second-leading scorer date Karl Malone (36,928 points). in March 2022. Ever since he got behind Abdul-Jabbar, it’s been a countdown to that moment.
[Love or hate LeBron James, this record isn’t up for debate]
At halftime Tuesday, TNT audio picked up James telling his sons, Bronny and Bryce, that he was shooting for the record in this game and that he wasn’t playing slow.
“Right here, 16 points, eight points per quarter. Go ahead and get it?” he asked looking at the scoreboard to break down the numbers. “I’ll get it.”
James entered Tuesday’s contest averaging 30 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting, 8.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists this season for the 25-29 Lakers, who are ranked 13th in the Western Conference. Tuesday’s loss dropped them two games out of the play-in tournament, even with James finishing with 38 points. But since Christmas, James has averaged 34.4 points in 16 games, including five 40-point performances.
Currently, there are no significant challengers to James for the all-time scoring record. The active player with the most points behind him is Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who at 34 years old ranks 14th with 26,684 points.
James already has a glittering resume, including four championships, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs, two Olympic gold medals, a record 18 All-NBA selections and a record 19 All-Star selections. Last season he became the only player to accumulate more than 30,000 career points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. He is also the all-time leading scorer in the postseason with 7,631 points, ahead of second-place Michael Jordan (5,987).
But the all-time goalscoring record was never something he dreamed of breaking.
“I never thought I could catch Kareem scoring,” James said in late January. “It was never something that crossed my mind.”
James, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft by Cleveland, entered the league at age 18 after growing up in nearby Akron, Ohio. He’s always been considered more of a playmaker than a shooter, though he admitted on a March 2022 episode of “The Shop” that it bothers him that his name doesn’t appear among the all-time leading scorers. NBA, and said, “He gets upset. me out.”
But his reputation as a great passer and scorer sets him apart.
“I think what he likes the most is making a big assist,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told FOX Sports before James broke the scoring record. “When you consider that he’s on the verge of becoming the all-time leading scorer in league history and he’s not even a scorer? That’s crazy.”
James is under contract through the 2024-25 season and has said multiple times that he wants to play with his son, Bronny, a guard at Sierra Canyon who will be eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft.
Even at a slower rate than James has been scoring, he could top 40,000 points as early as next season.
In a one-on-one with FOX Sports this week, James said he still has a lot of motivation to keep playing.
“I still feel like I have a lot of gas in that tank to help any franchise win a championship,” James said. “And I’m here with the Lakers right now, so I’m trying to help them get back to the promised land for the 18th time. So this is where [the motivation] comes from”.
People in the NBA believe he can maintain that level of greatness even past 40.
“He’s still going to be an All-Star at 40,” said Jared Dudley, who played alongside James from 2019-21 and is currently an assistant coach with the Mavericks. “He’ll still average over 20.”
Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd agrees that James can go as long as he wants.
“Three or four more years and I don’t want to trade him short,” Kidd told FOX Sports. “I could keep this up longer than that. I could be the [NBA’s] Tom Brady if he wants.”
But the achievement still surprises even James himself. Asked by FOX Sports on Saturday what his 18-year-old self would say if he were told he would one day become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, he responded with a big smile.
“Yeah, right,” he said. “Yeah right.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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