LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career regular-season points total of 38,387 to become the NBA‘s all-time leading scorer on Tuesday, breaking a record that was long viewed as untouchable.
The moment arrived when James, who entered the Los Angeles Lakers‘ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder needing 36 points to accomplish the feat, made a stepback with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter, and play paused in recognition of the achievement. Abdul-Jabbar and NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined James at center court, with the former Lakers center handing an emotional James the game ball.
“I would never ever in a million years dream this even better than what it is tonight,” James told the crowd, adding, “So f—, man, thank you guys.”
Abdul-Jabbar held the record for over 38 years after surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 31,419 points on April 5, 1984 – more than eight months before James was born. When Abdul-Jabbar retired five seasons later, his scoring record was widely assumed safe for good.
James broke the record in 1,410 games played, 150 fewer than Abdul-Jabbar. James, 38, has averaged 27.2 points per game over his 20-season career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Lakers, while Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points over his 20-season career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers.
James has had the help of the 3-point line over that time, where he has made 2,237 shots. The NBA didn’t introduce the 3-point line until Abdul-Jabbar’s 11th season in the league in 1979-80, and he made only one shot from that distance during his career.
James surpassed the then-fourth-leading scorer Michael Jordan (32,292 points) in March 2019, followed by Kobe Bryant (33,643 points) just hours before his death in January 2020 and finally, passing longtime No. 2 scorer Karl Malone (36,928 points) in March 2022. Since moving into position behind Abdul-Jabbar, it’s been a countdown to this moment.
[Love or hate LeBron James, this record isn’t up for debate]
At halftime on Tuesday, TNT’s audio picked up James telling his sons, Bronny and Bryce, that he was shooting for the record in this game and not slow-playing the accomplishment.
“Right here, 16 points, eight points a quarter. Go ahead and get it?” he asked, looking at the scoreboard to break down the numbers. “I’ll get it.”
James entered Tuesday’s contest averaging 30 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting, 8.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists this season for the 25-29 Lakers, who are in 13th place in the Western Conference. Tuesday’s loss dropped them two games out of the play-in tournament, even with James finishing with 38 points. But since Christmas, James has averaged 34.4 points over 16 games, including five 40-point performances.
Currently, there are no significant challengers to James for the all-time scoring record. The active player with the most points behind him is Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who at 34 years old ranks 14th with 26,684 points.
James already has a glowing resume, including four championships, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs, two Olympic gold medals, a record 18 All-NBA selections and a record-tying 19 All-Star selections. Last season, he became the only player to accumulate over 30,000 career points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. He’s also the all-time leading scorer in the postseason with 7,631 points, ahead of No. 2 ranked Michael Jordan (5,987).
But the all-time scoring record was never something he dreamed of breaking.
“I never thought that I could catch Kareem in scoring,” James said in late January. “It’s never been something that was on my mind.”
James, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft by Cleveland, entered the league at age 18 after growing up in nearby Akron, Ohio. He has always considered himself more of a playmaker than a shooter, though he acknowledged on an episode of “The Shop” in March 2022 that it irks him that his name is not mentioned among the greatest scorers in NBA history, saying, “It pisses me off.”
But his reputation as a great passer and scorer nonetheless sets him apart.
“I think his favorite thing to do is to get a great assist,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told FOX Sports ahead of James breaking the scoring record. “When you factor in he’s about to become the all-time leading scorer in league history and he doesn’t even really fashion himself a scorer? That’s nuts.”
James is under contract through the 2024-25 season and has said multiple times that he wants to play with his son, Bronny, a guard for Sierra Canyon, who will be eligible for the NBA Draft in 2024.
Even at a tick below the rate James has been scoring, he could surpass 40,000 points as soon as next season.
In a one-on-one with FOX Sports this week, James said he still has plenty of motivation to keep playing.
“I still feel like I’ve got plenty of gas in this tank to help any franchise win a championship,” James said. “And I’m here with the Lakers right now, so I’m trying to help them get back to the promised land for the 18th time. So, that’s where [the motivation] comes from.”
People around the NBA believe he can sustain this level of greatness even past 40.
“He’s still going to be an All-Star at 40,” said Jared Dudley, who played alongside James from 2019-21 and is currently an assistant coach on the Mavericks. “He’s still going to average over 20.”
Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd agrees that James can keep going as long as he wants.
“Three or four more years and I don’t want to short-change him,” Kidd told FOX Sports. “He could keep this up longer than that. He could be the [NBA’s] Tom Brady if he wants.”
But the accomplishment still amazes even James himself. Asked by FOX Sports on Saturday what his 18-year-old self would say if he was told that he would one day become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, he responded with a wide grin.
“Yeah, right,” he said. “Yeah, right.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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