The burning question entering Tuesday’s contest between the Lakers and the Thunder was whether LeBron James could score the 36 points he needed to finally break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career NBA scoring record.
In true LeBron fashion, he didn’t even need a full game.
James sank a 21-foot turnaround with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter at Crypto.com Arena, giving him 16 points in the period, the necessary 36 for the game and 38,388 for his illustrious career — now more than any other player in NBA history.
“I never thought anybody could beat Kareem’s record,” Magic Johnson said during a congratulatory clip, speaking for most NBA observers.
That includes James, who said in the run-up to Tuesday’s game that he never seriously contemplated besting Abdul-Jabbar’s record until recently given how unreachable it felt.
But James, who also played multiple stints in Cleveland bracketing a stretch in Miami, has followed the same path as his fellow Lakers star with consistent, high-level excellence and historic longevity. With double-figure points in all but eight career games, and scoring averages of at least 25 points per game in all 19 seasons since his rookie campaign in 2003-04, James consistently chipped away at the standard Abdul-Jabbar initially set in 1984 and continued to build on until his retirement in 1989.
“Congratulations to LeBron on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports by becoming the NBA’s all-time scoring leader,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said via statement. “It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written.”
James now joins a lineage of record holders started by Joe Fulks and George Mikan, extended by Dolph Schayes, Bob Pettit and Wilt Chamberlain, and seemingly put completely out of reach by Abdul-Jabbar.
Or so we thought.
“To be in the presence of such a legend and great as Kareem, it means so much to me. It’s very humbling,” James said as the game was stopped for a brief ceremony at center court. “To everybody who’s ever been a part of this run with me the last 20 years, I just want to say thank you so much.
“To the NBA … I thank you guys so much for letting me be part of something I’ve always dreamed about. I would never, ever in a million years dreamed it’s better than what it is tonight.”
Said Abdul-Jabbar, “LeBron’s career is one of someone who planned to dominate this game. He had the size and the talent to step right into the NBA, and he immediately had his effect. It’s gone on for 20 years now. He has that indefinable essence that you call leadership, that people want to get behind him.”
LeBron’s last 5 games