LeBron James is about to make basketball history. The only question is, when?
The Los Angeles Lakers forward is just 36 points shy of breaking a National Basketball Association (NBA) record held by another Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to become the league’s all-time leading scorer.
James could surpass Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 career points mark — a record held for nearly four decades — on Tuesday night when the Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder or on Thursday when they face the Milwaukee Bucks.
As the attention of the global sports world turns to the hardwood in Los Angeles, this week’s expected passing of the torch will be a historic moment for the NBA — and James himself.
“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said last week, after spending much of the season insisting that he is more focused on helping the Lakers win than getting atop the scorers’ list.
“It’s one of those records that you just don’t ever see or think that would be broken,” he said.
The 38-year-old, who entered the NBA straight out of high school, is averaging 30 points per game in his 20th season in the league — a remarkable show of athleticism and endurance in a career marked by countless accolades.
“To see LeBron do it over 20 years is pretty remarkable and a testament to not only his ability but his durability,” Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said about James being set to break Abdul-Jabbar’s record.
“He’s just a machine. He’s healthy and a physical force night after night.”
A native of Akron, Ohio, James won NBA championships in Cleveland and Miami before securing his fourth title in Los Angeles in 2020. He has four NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, four NBA finals MVP awards, and two Olympic gold medals.
Now, with the Lakers currently sitting back in 13th position in the Western Conference with a disappointing 25-29 record, James’s quest for the all-time regular season points record has reinvigorated fans around the world.
For those who know him, the idea that James is about to surpass Abdul-Jabbar is not a shock.
“It’s a huge deal to get the scoring title. But this is LeBron James. There’s nothing he’s going to do that’s going to make me say, ‘He did that?’ There’s all types of records he could break, if he put his mind to it,” Mike Brown, who coached him in Cleveland, told NBA.com.
Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets — the closest player currently in the NBA to James on the all-time scoring list, with 26,684 points — also recently said it was exciting to watch James chase the record.
“But to be in an era where we see this live is pretty cool, as well. You probably can’t even describe the emotions and feelings him and his family and his friends are going to go through, but it’s cool to see it up close.”
Even Abdul-Jabbar, who has publicly criticised James in the past over issues on and off the court, has said he looks forward to handing the record over to a player who has “earned it”.
“I’ve been carrying the torch as record holder for 38 years. I’m excited and relieved to pass it along to the next worthy recipient,” the former Laker, who won multiple championships in the team’s 1980s heyday alongside Earvin “Magic” Johnson, said in a recent statement to CNN’s Don Lemon.
“LeBron earned it and I hope he carries it even longer than I did,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who is expected to be in attendance at this week’s games in Los Angeles.
Yet with all the excitement and anticipation that James will soon wear the top-scorer crown, the question of whether he is the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time — remains far from settled.
Even before joining the NBA, as the star player at St Vincent-St Mary High School in Ohio, James drew comparisons to Michael Jordan, the other name that typically comes up in heated debates about who is the greatest to ever play the game.
And as always, the answer remains elusive: It depends on whom you ask.
“For me it’s hard to compare different eras because the game was different back in the ’80s and ’90s,” said Mark Ellis, a basketball fan and native of Long Beach, California, who weighed in on whether James deserves the GOAT moniker.
“But he’s on the Mount Rushmore, that’s for sure,” Ellis told the Reuters news agency. “For me, he’s one of the top four players in the NBA ever.”
Meanwhile, James is on pace to eclipse the 40,000-point mark next season and is under contract for one more season after that — and at 38, he appears ready to keep playing a little while longer still.
He has said he would like to stay in the NBA until his son — LeBron James Jr, nicknamed “Bronny” — can get into the league, something that will not happen until the 2024-2025 season at the earliest.
But for now, James appears focused on getting the Lakers more victories before the NBA breaks for the All-Star Game in Utah later this month.
“I just want to win,” he told reporters after putting up 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 131-126 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night. “You know, you play the game the right way and see what happens.
“I’m tired as hell,” said James before adding: “I’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”