LeBron James got the first official statistic of his NBA career on a rebound. His next entry on the stat sheet was an assist.
Even then, points weren’t the priority. They never were.
Somehow, he became the most prolific scorer in NBA history anyway. It finally happened Tuesday night, the kid from Akron, Ohio, connecting on a stepback jumper to push his career total to 38,388 points and break the record that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar held for nearly 39 years.
James outstretched his arms after his 36th point of the night for the Los Angeles Lakers, threw both hands in the air, then smiled. Abdul-Jabbar rose from his seat and clapped. The game was stopped as members of James' family, including his mother, his wife and their three children, took the floor for a ceremony recognizing the moment.
“It’s never gotten my juices flowing,” James told The Associated Press, when asked what the scoring record means to him. “I’m there now because I never, ever thought about it. The only thing I ever thought about was winning championships, maybe a couple MVPs, maybe defensive player of the year. But scoring championships and records, I’m telling you, that was never on my mind.”
Abdul-Jabbar — a longtime Laker and one of many celebrities and sports stars who made sure they were there to see history — became the league’s all-time leading scorer on April 5, 1984 and wound up retiring in 1989 with 38,387 points. It was a record that some thought would last forever, with very few even coming close. Karl Malone retired 1,459 points behind Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant was 4,744 points shy, and Michael Jordan was 6,095 points away.
James began the game needing 36 points to capture the record considered unbreakable by some pundits. The record includes scoring only during regular-season games. Playoff games are in their own category.
Abdul-Jabbar, who was at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Tuesday, surpassed NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain as the top scorer on April 5, 1984 — more than eight months before James was born.
Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 points in a two-decade NBA career before he retired in 1989.
James, 38, widely considered a pass-first player, moved up to No. 4 in all-time NBA assists late last month when he eclipsed Steve Nash with his 10,336th assist.
James, a native of Akron, Ohio, who was selected out of high school as the NBA’s No. 1 pick in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers, has trekked toward the scoring record during his two-decade career by averaging about 27 points per game.
James, a four-time league MVP who has won four NBA titles with three teams (in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat, in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and in 2020 with the Lakers), saidThursdayafter a narrow victory against the Indiana Pacers that the scoring record is one he covets.
“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports, in general,” he said. “It’s like the home run record in baseball. It’s one of those records that you don’t ever see or think will be broken. You see guys like Hank Aaron, who had it for so long. You see guys like Sammy [Sosa] and Mark McGwire, and you start climbing it, and it’s like, ‘Oh, this could really happen.’ It’s a fun thing as a sports person. It was fun watching those guys chasing it.”
Even as a grizzled veteran, James hasn’t slowed down this season. While the Lakers are struggling to secure a playoff spot, James has averaged about 30 points per game, competing among the league’s elite scorers, 20-something superstars such as Joel Embiid, Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
James has had multiple 40-point games this season. His 46 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 24 set another NBA record, establishing him as the only player in history to score 40 points or more against every NBA franchise.
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