It’s about to happen. LeBron James is finally on the brink of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring record, the torch getting passed from one member of the Los Angeles Lakers to another.
James is 35 points away from Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 38,387. The record-breaker could come as early as Tuesday when the Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder or Thursday in Los Angeles against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Here’s the significance of James passing Abdul-Jabbar:
WILL THIS RECORD BE BROKEN AGAIN?
Perhaps, but no time soon.
James is on pace to eclipse the 40,000-point mark next season and is under contract for one more season after that as well. And even then there’s no guarantee that he won’t continue playing; he has said many times he would like to stay in the NBA long enough for his son, LeBron James Jr. — he goes by “Bronny” — to get to the league, something that won’t happen until 2024-25 at the earliest.
The closest player currently in the NBA to James on the all-time list is Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who has 26,684 points. Durant would probably have to play at least another six or seven seasons just to catch Abdul-Jabbar’s mark — and who knows how far James will raise the bar by then.
Philadelphia’s James Harden and the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook are just over 24,000 points apiece. Both of them are all-time greats, but they’re not going to catch James.
Dallas’ Luka Doncic is averaging 27.4 points per game so far in his career. But for as great as Doncic is, he’ll need to average that many points for another 14 seasons or so before he gets to the 38,000-point mark.
So unless the NBA adds a 10-point shot, the record won’t be broken for a very, very, very long time.
HOW DID JAMES GET TO THIS POINT?
James entered the NBA straight out of high school; Abdul-Jabbar had a college career before he was eligible to join the league. James was 18 when he scored his first NBA points; Abdul-Jabbar was 22.
It took Abdul-Jabbar 20 seasons to get to 38,387. James will catch him in his 20th season.
James has been durable, especially over the first three-quarters of his career. He missed only 71 games in his first 15 seasons. Since joining the Lakers 4-1/2 seasons ago, he has missed nearly 100 games. But he has always avoided major injury; part of that is just good luck, but much of it is because he reportedly invests more than $1 million annually on his body.
For almost the entirety of James’ career, keeping The King fit has fallen on the shoulders of Mike Mancias, one of the most-trusted members of James’ inner circle. Mancias never wants any credit for his work; he shuns limelight the way James blows past defenders. But in 2019, when James was revealed as The Associated Press’ male athlete of the decadefor the 2010’s, Mancias shed a tiny bit of light on James’ work ethic.
“He does whatever it takes when it comes to fulfilling his commitments to everything,” Mancias said, “especially his game and his craft.”
DIDN’T JAMES BREAK THE RECORD LAST YEAR?
Official NBA records are based solely on regular season games. Playoff games are in their own category. That’s why the record, for almost 39 years now, has been Abdul-Jabbar with 38,387 points. But when adding postseason games to that total, Abdul-Jabbar actually retired with 44,149 points.
And that’s the figure James — again, when adding in his playoff points — eclipsed on Feb. 12, 2022, in a Lakers loss against the Golden State Warriors. So while that is “a” record, it’s not “the” record.
DOES THIS SETTLE THE ‘GOAT’ DEBATE?
For those unfamiliar with the acronym, ‘GOAT’ is shorthand for Greatest Of All Time.
James may very well be the GOAT, based on his longevity, his accomplishments, how no one in NBA history has been so hard to stop for 20 years and counting. Abdul-Jabbar should be in the conversation as well; his sky hook — a one-handed shot released high over his head, impossible for any defender to stop without the use of a stepladder — is one of the most dominant weapons basketball has ever seen.
Michael Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls on his way to becoming a global icon and might have been the greatest competitor in the sport’s history. Golden State’s Stephen Curry is the most prolific 3-point shooter the game has ever seen and still going strong. The Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Boston’s Larry Bird had a rivalry that brought them both multiple championships and might have saved the NBA in the 1980’s. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan spent nearly two decades in the league and was maybe the most fundamentally solid player ever.
Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game and once averaged 50 for an entire season. Kobe Bryant had an 81-point game, finished with five championships and spent years being simply unstoppable. And Bill Russell won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics.
This record doesn’t even settle the debate on greatest scorer ever. James is passing Abdul-Jabbar for the most points — but Jordan still averaged the most, his 30.12 per game pace over the entirety of his career ranking just ahead of Chamberlain’s 30.07. James averages around 27 per game; Abdul-Jabbar averaged around 25.
The answer to the GOAT debate is there isn’t one. There are many. Personal preference prevails.
LeBron’s Cleveland era, as told by teammate Kevin Love
(Editor’s Note: Kevin Love is a five-time All-Star and former Cleveland teammate with LeBron James, who is set to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Love played four seasons with James and won the title with him in 2016, when the Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to win Cleveland’s first professional sports championship since 1964. Love reflected on his time with James for The Associated Press.)
Those years LeBron had here in Cleveland, capped by a winning a championship, cemented his legacy. Naturally, the first one he got in Miami was a weight off his shoulders. The back-to-back titles solidified him and the Heat. It showed they were a dynasty before we saw those guys out in San Francisco, that’s a real powerful team. I feel that, and I think he would say the same, that 2016, especially in the manner that we won, and against the 73-9 team we beat and him being from Akron, it was definitely the most important one for him.
What always impressed me about my time with LeBron is the precision of his life. He’s a man with a plan. He’s become larger than the game.
It will be very tough to eclipse or surpass him as a better face for the NBA and what he has meant for the league. He had all the pressure in the world on him and people were touting him and projecting him to be Jordan-esque or the next Jordan. The man has “Chosen One” tattooed across his back and he goes out and exceeds expectations. And at every juncture, every fork in the road, anything that came up — adversity, any lump that he took. People wanted to tear him down, buy he always found a way. Like he says, strive for greatness.
He’s found a way to achieve a level of greatness that very few in this world have touched or seen. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest athletes of all time. And when you consider what he’s done away from basketball with the I Promise School or the people he has impacted over the course of his career or what he’ll do after basketball, it’s a pretty incredible story about who he is and what he’s about.
It’s not just his body. It’s not just his process. It’s not just his intention. It’s his brain.”
I feel so fortunate my career intersected with LeBron’s. Everybody that he touches, especially if you have that opportunity to be within his orbit or his gravitational pull, whether it’s covering him as a media member or me playing with him in very special years, especially here and because of what he means to Northeast Ohio, that is definitely something that is not lost on me.
For when it happened at the point it did in my life, it could not have been better for me. It really helped me grow up and become a man and understand sacrifice and become a better teammate while also allowing me to be my authentic self and unapologetically myself, 100%. As a fan, a friend, a teammate, to be part of the brotherhood, it’s special to have him be within our family. It’s pretty amazing.
LeBron’s Miami era, as told by teammate Shane Battier
(Editor’s Note: Shane Battier is a former Miami Heat teammate of LeBron James, who is poised to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Battier played in the NBA for 13 seasons, the last three of them with James in Miami. He shared some memorable moments with The Associated Press of what he witnessed during their time together with the Heat.)
There was a night that I’ll never forget as long as I live, and it made me have just such a deeper appreciation for who LeBron James was as a person, as a man, as a player.
We were in Boston in 2012, during the playoffs, no love lost from Boston fans. We’re walking to dinner and a car slows down next to us. A guy said, “Hey LeBron, I hate you, you suck.” He rolls up the window and proceeds down the street.
As players we’re used to being called names and whatnot. But at that moment I understood all the stuff he had to deal with from Day 1 and being on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 and being No. 1 in the draft and being the most hyped athlete maybe ever, the most famous athlete maybe ever at every step of the way. There wasn’t a moment where he could hide behind a teammate, hide behind a coach.
He’s always proven he can handle it. He handled it that time, too.
The next night was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. We all know what Game 6 was for us, right? If we lose Game 6, then we all have new addresses the next year. The Big Three is a Dumpster fire of an experiment that failed at the highest level. And legacies were on the line, from LeBron to Pat Riley to Erik Spoelstra, you name it. We knew what the implications of losing that Game 6 would be. (Editor’s Note: Miami trailed the Celtics, 3-2 and James had 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in Game 6 to save the season, one where the Heat went on to win the NBA title.)
I played baseball growing up. The way he played that night was the closest thing to watching a no-hitter, a perfect game. We sort of nudged, sort of elbowed each other on the bench and said, “Oh my gosh, this guy’s a monster.” We didn’t want to talk about it. We tried to be cool. But, I’m sorry, we’d never seen anything like this. And we’ve all seen everything in the game. You want to look up determination in the dictionary? It’d be LeBron James. It was the greatest display of will that I saw in my entire career because of the circumstances, because of the consequences, because of the team we played. The Celtics had no shot that night. I had never seen anything like it, even to this day.
In my mind, he’s the greatest player of all time. I’m biased, I know that, but I’m allowed to be. And I know we said this with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, we said this with Wilt Chamberlain, we said this with Michael Jordan, but I don’t think we’ll see someone like LeBron James ever again.
LeBron’s Los Angeles era, as told by coach Darvin Ham
(Editors’ Note: Darvin Ham is in his first season as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a longtime NBA assistant coach and as a player helped the Detroit Pistons win the NBA title in 2004.)
When I got hired to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the first things that I saw was the tweet where LeBron James congratulated me.
I’m not on social media myself, but people I know who are, and they saw it and screen-shotted it and sent it to me. All the major platforms were showing the tweet, so I got his number and called him and just had a lot of laughs.
That’s when I started to learn what he’s all about. There was a lot of excitement on that call. There was energy both ways. We were ready to get started, ready to get going. He was verbalizing it, that I have his full support and that we were going to figure this thing out, to right the ship, so to speak. He said we’re going to get back to the way we should be performing and what we’re representing in terms of the Lakers. And he’s lived up to that every step of the way.
I waited a long time for a job like this. And working with LeBron, it’s an interactive type of relationship. He has a willingness to be coached. I’ll just start there. That’s the most awesome thing about ‘Bron. He allows himself to be coached. You can get on him in a film session. You can point out mistakes. He’ll either admit it — “my bad” — or if he disagrees, he’ll disagree. And we figure it out. But it’s never anything malicious. It’s never anything personal. It’s not about his way or my way. We’re trying to figure out the best way.
That’s who he is. Everything has to be the best way. He’s one of one. His size, his athleticism, his shooting capabilities, his playmaking capabilities … we haven’t seen anything like him before.
I don’t think he’s ever wanted the scoring record. He’s about team. He wants the team to do well. That’s the thing that shines through. He’s everything that he’s been advertised to be and much more. But just being around him and seeing him, I know he really enjoys his teammates. I’d even go as far as to say all this attention embarrasses him a little. When everybody’s trying to shine a light on him individually, he handles it with grace, don’t get me wrong, but he would much rather be a part of a group celebration than everyone talking about how great he is.
And we all know he’s great. Arguably the greatest. But he would prefer that everything be group focused. He’s about “How can my team and my teammates be put in the best position to be successful, not just me?” It’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s a beautiful thing to live every day and witness firsthand.