In 1984, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar overtook Wilt Chamberlain, a former Laker himself, to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with his signature sky hook.
Back then, there were only three Star Wars films, mobile phones were still very much one-dimensional compared with their modern counterparts, and the NBA only had 23 teams as opposed to today’s 30.
Chamberlain’s record, which he seized from Bob Pettit in 1966, was thought to be untouchable, but Abdul-Jabbar’s unabated consistency helped him overcome the odds. Following that 1984 campaign, Abdul-Jabbar, who was fondly known as “The Captain”, went on to play for five more seasons before retiring with 38,387 career points.
Like Chamberlain before him, Abdul-Jabbar’s point total was thought to be unreachable and it indeed was for a few decades. Since Chamberlain lost the top spot, four other players–Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Dirk Nowitzki–have also overtaken the legendary center on the all-time scoring list, yet ultimately fell short in their chase of Abdul-Jabbar.
However, there’s a popular saying that goes, “Records are meant to be broken” and this instance is no exception. A fifth contender, one LeBron Raymone James born in the same year that Abdul-Jabbar moved past Chamberlain, has finally reached the hallowed accomplishment almost 38 years later.
James–coincidentally playing for the same Laker team that Abdul-Jabbar suited up for when he broke the record–became the all-time leading scorer in NBA history with a fadeaway jumper late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The fact that he was able to do it in front of the Lakers’ home crowd at the Crypto.com Arena made the moment even more special, though they eventually went on to lose the contest, 133-130, which dropped them to 13th place in the Western Conference with a 25-30 win-loss slate.
While the manner by which James has scored his points since he entered the league in 2003 is far different from the way Abdul-Jabbar did things back in his day, the common denominator between the two is their longevity. They are both notoriously meticulous about taking care of their bodies and the extra effort that they have put in has allowed them to outlast their peers.
When Abdul-Jabbar passed Chamberlain, he was in his 15th year in the league and 11 days shy of his 36th birthday. He still averaged over 20 points a contest in the next two seasons and went on to play until the age of 42.
Meanwhile, James, who turned 38 last December 30, is 20 years deep into an NBA career that has seen him score at least 25 points per game in every season since his rookie campaign. It looks like there is no end in sight to his career and it is highly likely that he will become the first player in league history to surpass the 40,000 point mark–something that could happen as soon as next year.
As James continues to rack up career points and distance himself from Abdul-Jabbar, it begs the question of whether this new record can ever be challenged. The time that it takes for the scoring record to change hands from one player to the next has grown exponentially through the years and this trend should only continue.
Before Chamberlain became the all-time leading scorer in 1966, five different players held the esteemed title since the end of the league’s debut 1946-47 season. In the 57 years since Chamberlain took control, only Abdul-Jabbar and James have been able to wrest the honor away.
Among current players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic come to mind as the most likely to have a remote chance of closing in on James. With that said, the case to catch James is not quite convincing even for these two transcendent superstars.
Antetokounmpo, now 28 years old, currently has 15,706 career points. If he plays in 70 games for each of the next 10 seasons and manages to average 30 points per game, he will still have only 36,706 points which is approximately 1,600 below James’ current total.
On the other hand, the 23-year-old Doncic has only 8,531 career points, but has much more time to catch up. Assuming he makes 70 appearances per year for the next 15 seasons and puts up 30 points a night, this will bring him up to 40,031 and give him a shot at outdoing whatever total James ends up with when he decides to retire.
Doncic’s commitment, or lack thereof, to staying in shape during the offseason, along with his apparent reluctance to have a long career, will be major headwinds for this scenario to become reality though.
All things considered, the time that it has taken for Abdul-Jabbar’s point total to be eclipsed and the near impossibility of current players catching up to James in due course only emphasizes the magnitude of this milestone. He has firmly entrenched himself in the “Greatest Basketball Player of All Time” conversation and his critics are slowly losing ammunition in their arguments against him.
James is a once in a lifetime player and, realistically speaking, this latest achievement of his may actually have a shot at standing the test of time.