LeBron James' 'greatness' has him on cusp of NBA scoring mark

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Friday, February 3, 2023

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the NBA's all-time scoring mark while wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, but a significant part of that total came from the 14,211 points he tallied while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. LeBron James will pass Abdul-Jabbar's record donned in purple and gold, too, but he also scored 23,119 points with the Cleveland Cavaliers and 7,919 points with the Miami Heat.

It's a distinction that's not lost on Lakers governor Jeanie Buss.

Whenever James passes Abdul-Jabbar with the 38,388th point of his career -- possibly next week at Crypto.com Arena during one of the Lakers' home games against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday or the Bucks on Thursday -- the achievement will be commemorated by the Lakers.

But it won't belong to them.

"I think this is a record that really stands out among all the different records in the NBA," Buss told ESPN this week as James edged closer to Abdul-Jabbar. "I mean, this is the all-time scoring record. But this is really about a career that LeBron has built through his hard work and determination and talent. And while we will take a moment to celebrate, this is really about LeBron and reflecting on all the sacrifices he's made to get to this point and to achieve this level of greatness.

"It's really about him. This is his record."

The top of the all-time scoring list reads like a Lakers alumni guide. Beyond Abdul-Jabbar and James in the top two spots, Karl Malone is No. 3, Kobe Bryant is No. 4, Wilt Chamberlain is No. 7 and Shaquille O'Neal is No. 8.

James is 63 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar. A reporter, somewhat facetiously, asked James if he had a 63-point game in him to get the record over with when L.A. finishes its five-game road trip in New Orleans on Saturday. "Yeah, I do," James, fired back with a smile. "I mean, I don't know if it will happen on Saturday. But, yeah."

James' career high of 61 points came March 3, 2014, in his final season with Miami. It's the only time he topped 60 in 1,408 career games.

Based on his 30.1-point average this season, it's more likely James hits the mark in Los Angeles.

When asked about the team's plans to honor James, Buss deferred to the league.

"This is really, it's in the hands of the NBA," Buss told ESPN. "This is an NBA record that's being broken, not a Laker record. We'll celebrate LeBron however he would like to be celebrated."

In Las Vegas on April 5, 1984, then-commissioner David Stern was present for Abdul-Jabbar's record-breaking game against the Utah Jazz. After Abdul-Jabbar's raised the bar with his signature skyhook, Stern announced to the crowd, "NBA players are the greatest in the world and Kareem, you are the greatest.'' Chamberlain was not on hand in Las Vegas for that game, but congratulated Abdul-Jabbar in an on-court ceremony later on in Los Angeles. Abdul-Jabbar is expected to be present for James' feat if it comes next week in L.A., multiple sources told ESPN.

Mirroring the sometimes tenuous relationship between James and Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain bristled at the attention Abdul-Jabbar received as he neared the scoring record.

''It's curious,'' Chamberlain told the L.A. Times as Abdul-Jabbar approached Chamberlain's mark. ''It's really quite strange. If I had received half the fanfare that Kareem's getting at this time, I wouldn't know what to do with myself. It doesn't make sense. And there are a few things that are bothering me about it. If this is so great, well, it's only one of about 90 I held. I must be in a world by myself.''

After taking several public shots at how James was using his platform -- both on the court and off of it -- Abdul-Jabbar apologized for criticizing James last April.

"It wasn't my intention to criticize LeBron in any way," Abdul-Jabbar told SiriusXM NBA Radio. "He has done so much for the Black community as well as for the game of basketball. We may not always agree, but I want to wholeheartedly apologize to LeBron and make it clear to him that I have tremendous respect for him."

James took the high road last month when asked about his relationship with Abdul-Jabbar.

"I think in the sense of just the correlation of being high school phenoms, to doing the things that we did off the floor for the betterment of our people, to wearing the Lakers jersey and trying to carry on that legacy that Dr. [Jerry] Buss and so many great people have set out for. And then being a part of this conversation with the scoring record," James said. "That's the relationship, that's the conversation and we will kind of always be linked."

Jeanie Buss, who will soon witness the second of two players some 40 years apart reach the top of the scoring summit while playing for her family's franchise, sees both stars set apart from one another, remarkable in their own eras.

"I don't look at it as a passing of the torch," she told ESPN. "This is really an individual record and it's really about Kareem when he was a player, what he had to do to have the longevity and the productiveness in his career is a testament to him as a person and as a player.

"It's the same for LeBron. You have to look at the individual careers as opposed to it really being a passing of the torch."

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