The NBA’s career scoring record now belongs to a kid from Akron.
Lakers star LeBron James has surpassed the record set by fellow Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar more than thirty years ago.
The record-breaking feat came during the waning moments of the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at home in the Crypto.com Arena.
It was a routine one-footed fadeaway at the elbow that James had hit hundreds of times before. But this one rewrote the history books.
An unremarkable play for a remarkable competitor.
Born in 1984 in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James, the only child of Gloria James, excelled as a multisport athlete at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School.
Highlight reels and magazine covers made him the most-watched NBA prospect since Abdul-Jabbar himself and turned into a household name before ever stepping onto an NBA court.
Like many of his contemporaries at the time, James forwent the college experience and instead decided to jump head-first into the pros. He exceeded all expectations along the way.
Career Points: 0
Drafted No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA Draft to his hometown-adjacent Cleveland Cavaliers, even NBA analysts were shocked at how quickly James assimilated himself into the league. He was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2004 and then would rattle off a string of All-Star and All-NBA appearances for the Cavaliers.
His likeness graced video game covers, magazines, billboards and grocery store products. His very existence gave an economic boost to an entire region; LeBron was bigger than basketball.
In his first seven seasons as a member of the Cavaliers, James earned two MVP Awards, six All-Star selections, a Rookie of the Year trophy and an NBA Finals appearance in 2007.
But the greatest success continued to elude him in Ohio.
Career Points: 15,251
Despite nearly a decade of excellence, James was unable to get over the proverbial hump and make it to the top of the mountain as an NBA champion. A failure that critics happily and readily deployed at a moment’s notice and was a large contributing factor that led to the next chapter of his evolution as one of the sport’s greatest.
His career took an unexpected and controversial turn with “The Decision,” a primetime television special in which he announced his intentions to take his “talents to South Beach” and join the Miami Heat. It was there where LeBron won his first of four NBA titles, sharing the court with his longtime friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
LeBron, widely regarded as a villain for the first time in his career, struggled in his first Finals appearance with the Heat — a matchup with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki, who himself suffered years of ridicule for his inability to win on the largest stage, finally broke through and led the on-paper underdog Mavericks to a title and a Larry O’Brien trophy, denying James his first taste of the league’s top prize.
But the disappointment would end for the King just the following year. In his second season with Miami, LeBron received his third MVP award and silenced all doubters as the league’s best player. He captured his first NBA Finals MVP after dispatching the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder in five games — a team comprised of three future MVPs in James Harden, eventual teammate Russell Westbrook, and one of his greatest contemporaries and rivals: Kevin Durant.
James followed that season up with another NBA MVP and another Larry O’Brien in the first of two Finals matchups with the San Antonio Spurs. Despite his heroic play, that series will forever be remembered for a play in game that involved two of LeBron’s teammates. Late in Game 6 with the Heat trailing by 3, James missed a game-tying shot, Bosh grabbed the rebound off the miss and kicked it out to Ray Allen who tied the game with one of the league’s most iconic shots. The Heat would go on to win that game in overtime and then close out the series at home, securing LeBron James his second NBA championship.
But the sound of unfinished business eventually became too loud to ignore for James. After four years in South Beach, an experience he likened to four years in college, he published an article in Sports Illustrated in which he announced his plans to return to Cleveland in hopes of finally making good on his promise to win one for his hometown.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have,” James wrote. “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.“
Career Points: 23,170
This time around, however, his old franchise had a full deck of talented young players and draft assets — highlighted by a 22-year-old Kyrie Irving, a 23-year-old Tristan Thompson and two No. 1 draft picks that the team would send off to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love.
LeBron James had a squad and he brought his winning ways with him from Miami.
The three-headed monster of James, Irving and Love eventually found its footing and developed into one of the league’s most prolific offenses.
In his first year back in a Cavaliers jersey, James helped lead the team back to the NBA Finals. The only thing standing in their way: the soon-to-be greatest dynasty in a generation.
Making his fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, LeBron and co. went head-to-head with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
New head coach Steve Kerr, who left the broadcast booth to return to the hardcourt, unlocked a level of play that few in the Bay Area even dreamed possible. Alongside Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and the emerging Draymond Green, Curry was awarded his first MVP award after being the engine of a team that won the most games in the league.
In their first of four NBA Finals matchups, the Warriors made relatively quick work of the upstart Cavs, dispatching them in six games. Kevin Love was lost in the first round of the playoffs; Irving was injured in Game 1 of the Finals. Despite stellar play from James, who put the injured team on his proverbial back, it was Curry who held up the Larry O’Brien trophy in Quicken Loans Arena. Iguodala was chosen as the series MVP, despite some clamoring for James to be bestowed the honor, even in a loss.
Despite the disappointment, James managed to succeed where he faltered in his previous stint with the Cavaliers. His team managed to actually win a game in the NBA Finals.
LeBron would have to stew over the loss for an entire summer before coming back the following season arguably more focused than ever.
Head coach David Blatt was fired mid-season and replaced by Ty Lue as the team’s new coach. Lue was a favorite assistant of LeBron’s and an NBA journeyman who played more than a decade in the league.
Again, the Cavaliers’ offense hummed to one of the top marks in the league. Again, the Warriors were along the way. Curry led Golden State to an NBA record 73 wins; James and the Cavaliers led the Eastern Conference with 57.
That led to the seemingly inevitable happening: an NBA Finals rematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors. This time, however, LeBron would get the last laugh.
A 3-1 start for the Warriors was derailed after Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 due to a string of kicking incidents throughout the season. The Cavaliers went on to even the series 3-3 before a final showdown in Oakland.
LeBron’s career-defining play came on the defensive end of that game — a tie-preserving chase down block of Iguodala with less than two minutes left in the game. The play will forever be known in the annals of NBA history as “The Block,” it even has its own Wikipedia page. Seconds later, Irving would hit a go-ahead three-pointer that is equally regarded as one of the greatest plays in NBA history.
LeBron would make a free throw with about ten seconds left on the clock that put the game out of reach for Golden State.
As the confetti dropped, the championship hats were getting ready to be dispersed and cameras flooded the court, LeBron was mobbed by his teammates. As he spoke to ESPN’s Doris Burke, he paused mid-sentence to declare: “Cleveland, this is for you.”
Career Points: 26,833
After that loss at the hands of LeBron and the Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors would reload their roster with the biggest free agent signing in history. Kevin Durant would join a team that won the most games in NBA history, and he and Curry would combine for the most deadly two-man combination in the league, with continued All-Star play by Thompson and Green and a full cast of high level role players.
Durant would win his first title the following season, defeating James and the Cavaliers 4-1 and keeping them from a repeat performance at the game’s biggest stage.
For LeBron, the homecoming would eventually come to a logical conclusion as Cleveland’s roster began to show cracks and the team’s big three became a big two. Irving would demand a trade and be dealt to the Boston Celtics.
The trade haul for the multitime All-Star did not meet the value of Irving’s contributions. But, thanks to a few deadline-day trades that brought some spark of life, the Cavaliers would be swept in four games in their fourth and final matchup against the Warriors in the Finals.
Perhaps the lasting memory of that disappointing series was LeBron’s shocked expression when teammate J.R. Smith forgot the score in Game 1, setting a tone for the remainder of the series and putting a spotlight on the talent disparity between LeBron’s Cavaliers and the greatest team ever assembled.
Career Points: 31,038
Always one for the spotlight, LeBron traded in Cleveland winters for the palm trees of Los Angeles.
The move gave James the chance to join another up-and-coming team with plenty of young talent and assets, and allowed him to pursue his business and entrepreneurial interests while continuing his playing career.
His time in Los Angeles has been… mixed.
In his first season with the Lakers, LeBron was joined by a ragtag group of 20-somethings with little-to-no track record of professional success. A team that looked to him for guidance but was ultimately not ready for the spotlight.
As the grizzled veteran on a team co-headlined by Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, LeBron would be at home watching the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
The season was a low point in his career, but a pathway to success was clear.
The following season, the Lakers would consolidate their talent and draft equity to acquire arguably the best teammate LeBron had ever played with: Anthony Davis.
Davis had earned multiple All-Star and All-NBA appearances as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but the Brow began to sour on his time in the big easy.
His career as a Pelican ended with a whimper as he sat out the remainder of the team’s games while not-so-secretly lobbying for a change of scenery.
He would get that change in the summer when the Lakers offered essentially all of their picks and young players (sans Kuzma) to form the league’s most talented pick-and-roll duos.
LeBron, playing primarily point guard, would help lead the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference before the unthinkable happened in the middle of the NBA season on a seemingly normal day in March.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert would test positive for the coronavirus and the league, and the world, would come to a screeching halt.
For weeks, the sport’s leaders and biggest names debated how to proceed with the season, if they decided to play at all.
LeBron advocated for the continuation of the season, knowing that what was brewing on the Lakers was something special. He was right.
In a season that was shortened due to an unprecedented event, LeBron, Davis and a cast of high-level role players would travel to Orlando to finish the season in the strangest and most peculiar circumstances in league history: a bubble environment on Walt Disney World property.
Davis would hit his stride as a shooter, LeBron would up his game as a playmaker and the two would lock in as defenders during the most crucial moments. The Lakers would not lose more than one game per series on their way to the Finals — a matchup with LeBron’s former team, the Miami Heat.
It took six games and LeBron would average just shy of 30 points, 12 rebousnd and 8.5 assists per game en route to his fourth title. He was 35 years old.
In the years since, LeBron has missed the playoffs again as a Laker, and his current team is several games below .500. But on this day, no one seems to mind.
Not even the most dedicated of LeBron’s legion of haters and detractors can deny his place in history. The NBA scoring record is his.
Career points: 38,388 (and counting)
It was a record that stood for decades and took one of the game’s finest players playing well into his 40s to be set.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who blazed a trail as an outspoken civil rights advocate and an off-court enigma, laid down a blueprint that James followed. Work hard, work long and don’t take a day for granted.
His friends, adversaries and colleagues have spent the last several days reflecting on the accomplishment.
Durant, one of only a handful of players who can say they’ve gone toe to toe with the King and won, heaped praise on LeBron for adapting his game as his physical attributes began to change and continuing to push his body to play as often as he could.
Speaking on his podcast, Durant said of LeBron: “He’s 38 years old, he goes through so much off the floor as a man in general. His family, he’s got so many responsibilities. He still loves the game, he’s still getting up, playing back-to-backs … Man, salute to that.”
Stephen Curry, whose story cannot be told without mention of his many duels with James, released a pre-taped video statement to congratulate LeBron on ascending to the top of the league’s scoring list.
“Your sustained level of play for 20 years, pushing the envelope, reaching this pinnacle of scoring the basketball, it is unbelievable,” Curry said.
Curry, who amazingly enough was born in the same hospital as LeBron only a few short years later, reflected on what it meant to watch someone from his generation break the league’s long standing scoring record.
“It’s special,” Curry said. “The amount of battles we’ve had back and forth, me looking up to him before I even got to the league, it all makes the accomplishment special for this generation of players.”
Many of his peers and former teammates were in the building when LeBron eclipsed Kareem. Kareem was there, too.
Close family and childhood friends made the trip from Northeast Ohio to congratulate James in person. Hundreds of video camera, thousands of cell phone cameras and millions of fans watched with anticipation from the comfort of their homes.
For every failure and every success, LeBron James never shrunk under the weight of the massive expectations set out for him as a young kid from Akron. If there was ever any doubt that James would one day write his name in the history books, those thoughts should be cast aside.
LeBron James is the NBA scoring King, and long may he reign.