Remember, LeBron James is not a pure scorer, so we’ve been told since his high school days. What was supposed to make his game special was his once-in-a-generation athleticism to go along with his Magic Johnson-like court vision. James dunking on the world and launching passes from one side of the court to the other would’ve been plenty for us to consider him one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA.
James turns 37-years-old today, and on Tuesday he entered an exclusive club that has only two other members, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. He joined them in the 36,000 point club. Following Thursday night’s Los Angeles Lakers 104-99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, James’ career point total is 36,038 less than halfway through his 18th season. Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leader in total points scored, had 36,424 points at the completion of his 18th season. He scored 38,387 points in his 20 NBA seasons.
There aren’t many records in the NBA that resonate with most sports fans, but James breaking Jabbar’s record would force the sporting world to pause and do more than applaud, but rethink his entire career.
It was just two weeks ago that Stephen Curry broke Ray Allen’s record in total career 3-pointers — a mark that no one cared about until Allen hugged Reggie Miller after he broke Miller’s record in 2011. The game was stopped in Madison Square Garden, not at the Chase Center in San Francisco, and a significant amount of time was spent adulating Curry on national television.
Jabbar’s record was considered untouchable. Who was going to have the 20-year career necessary to surpass that mark. When Jabbar set the new record in 1984, he surpassed the Wilt Chamberlain’s mark of 31,419 points. Jabbar didn’t retire until 1989.
James can realistically break this record in his 19th season. He has scored 617 points this season while playing in only 24 games. If he merely scores that same number of points in the Lakers’ remaining 46 games that would leave him 1,732 points shy of Jabbar. James scored 1,698 points in the Lakers truncated 2019-2020 COVID season.
If James continues to play after this season — physically there’s no reason for him not to, he’s averaging 28 points per game and 6.8 assists on 52 percent shooting from the field — more will need to be done than simply stopping the game when he breaks Jabbar’s record. We will have to stop the way that we discuss James’ career.
Is James a better basketball player than Jabbar or Michael Jordan is no longer the discussion we should have about him. It’s a fun subjective debate to have amongst friends, but the best career in NBA history will objectively belong to James. The discussion that should be had when James decides to leave the NBA: Is his career the best in the history of professional sports?
The only record in sports outside of Wayne Gretzky that is considered more untouchable than Jabbar’s career point total is Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak. James, introduced to us on a Sports Illustrated cover when magazines still mattered as “The Chosen One,” can end his career with NBA’s scoring record and pass for well over 10,000 assists, along with winning four championships with three different teams. How does that stand up next to Barry Bonds’ fielding and 40/40 seasons along with being the greatest home-run hitter in the history of Major League Baseball; Joe Louis successfully defending his Heavyweight title 25 consecutive times; Tom Brady’s 600-plus touchdowns passes and six Super Bowl championships; Serena Williams’ 23 major championships (I know Margaret Court has 24, but that’s not all in the Open Era and Court supported Apartheid so that’s at least worth a two major deduction); and Gretzky owning every major record NHL record (Alex Ovechkin is threatening the career goal mark)?
The kid from Akron, Ohio, who signed that $90 million Nike contract before his NBA contract is going to be among those greats at the conclusion of his professional sports career that will span across three decades. All the hype and all of the accolades.
And please don’t forget, LeBron James is not a pure scorer.