LeBron James breaks NBA all-time scoring record, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LOS ANGELES – The king has now become the king of scorers.
From the time LeBron James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager, so much was expected of him. He was expected to lead teams to championships, become an MVP and a world icon.
Passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer was a bridge — even among all the accolades James has earned during his two-decade reign in the NBA’s white spotlight. His four MVPs trail Bill Russell, Michael Jordan (five each) and Abdul-Jabbar (six) for the league’s individual honor, and multiple players from different eras have more championships — with Stephen Curry matching James with four rings with Golden State. The Warriors’ last title in June.
But he stands alone at the top of the scorers list. With a fadeaway bucket late in the third quarter Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James took his place in history.
Abdul-Jabbar went down and reached 38,387 points, passing Wilt Chamberlain in 1984 with a skyward shot against the Utah Jazz, then leaving the record nearly unattainable before retiring in 1989.
James has no such moves and has been falsely labeled a “non-scorer,” but has managed, through devastating consistency, to claim the title—looking down on Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Jordan in the top five. All of you. the scorers of the time.
Scoring has become more of a focus even as James begins what is expected to be his twilight. While he has led the league in scoring average just once (2008), two of his four best scoring performances have come in a Laker uniform — hovering around 30 points per game this season and averaging 30.3 in 56 games in 2021-2022.
Surprisingly, he averages more like a Laker than when he was a much younger man. In his first stint in Cleveland, he was almost a reluctant scorer, but his high volume made him do a lot. In Miami, he was the most complete, devastating version of himself — increasing efficiency and becoming a premier 3-point shooter. During his second stint in Cleveland, he found himself shuffling between the two roles, depending on his teammates, and sometimes, his mood or desire to take over.
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His gifts have always been undeniable and he has rightly honored them as he is still an impact player at 38 years old.
LeBron James is now the NBA’s all-time regular season scoring leader, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after previously passing Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. (Graphic by Stefan Milic/Yahoo Sports)
But his ability to see trends and adapt to them is underrated, perhaps. When he entered the NBA in 2003 as an 18-year-old on opening night, the league was still in its infancy, when teams scoring 100 goals were a struggle and cause for celebration.
James negotiated his growing physical strength and advanced skills to compensate for his natural scoring ability, and naturally evolved as the league opened things up to make room for players like him and fellow draftee (later, teammate) Dwyane Wade.
Too big, too strong and basically, too big for any player or team to tackle. His greatness has endured — aided by his hand in building the team, as the NBA has moved faster than at any point in its nearly 80-year existence.
The league emphasized the post-up game and pick-and-rolls driven to the basket when James began his career, aided by mid-range jumpers who ruled the scoring charts. James was never as greedy as Allen Iverson (2005 scoring champion) or Bryant, who led the league in scoring multiple times. Nor was James a clinical scorer in the manner of Kevin Durant, who won the season title by scoring three times in four years.
But he always found himself in the top five—hungry enough to eat with the best of them while still wearing the clothes of a distributor. After his rookie season and through 14, James never finished outside the top five in scoring average.
His passing ability and desire to make the right play have long been his reputation, but James found ways to manipulate his game to still have a heavy fingerprint in the scoring column.
It wasn’t an accident that he arrived at this spot at this point in his career, especially as the scoring exploded and teams fell deeply in love with the 3-point shot. Images of James making the final shots of the game are overblown — often, him making the last shot, the first shot, and much in between is the best possible outcome for the teams he’s played on.
Ray Allen’s hit in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals is considered one of the greatest in league history, and certainly in recent history. But the way the ball got back to Allen was because James missed the game-tying 3-point attempt off the inbounds pass — not as a way to criticize James, but to illustrate his willingness to have a game, a series, of won or lost on his shoulders. .
Even as Chris Bosh was locating Allen in the right corner, James could be seen clapping for him, aiming for another chance at history.
We’re in the Curry era in terms of impact. The score is on the rise across the board and shows no signs of slowing down. Last season, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and DeMar DeRozan were the top five scorers — each with a different flavor and certainly a different brand of scorer than when James entered the league.
LeBron James celebrates after setting the NBA’s all-time regular season scoring record during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 7, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
His greatness has transcended and endured through time. Although James doesn’t fully indoctrinate himself into whatever trend the league is going with, he assimilates himself enough to ride the wave.
It is consistent with all the great scorers. Jordan became the best mid-range shooter during the hand control era after starting his career as a relentless rim driver. Bryant refined his game throughout his career, perhaps because he was never the caliber of Jordan or James.
Malone matured into a premier elbow shooter after starting him as a playmaker with John Stockton — emphasis on rotation with his muscular frame.
To some extent, James tracks.
The one thing that has remained consistent is that James finds ways to get to the basket or put the ball in it. He’s not going to rank on anyone’s individual list in terms of a certain aesthetic, perhaps with the exception of being a devastating finisher at the rim, especially during his athletic prime.
His place at the top of the scoring list won’t change anyone’s opinion of him and where he is on the all-time list, whether one believes he is the greatest ever or somewhere behind the likes of Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar , or someone else.
The one thing that is indisputable: James has maintained that a more emotional record could not have made it to the top.