1. The King surpasses The Mailman
LeBron has passed Karl Malone for second place in the NBA’s all-time scoring list during the Lakers’ (30-41) loss against the Wizards (30-40). He now only trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by 1,440 points.
If everything goes according to plan, LeBron should surpass Kareem sometime next season. At this point, it’s almost a foregone conclusion. He is having the best scoring season of any 37-year-old in history (in case you’re wondering, Kareem averaged 22.0 points during his age-37 season) and is extra motivated to reach the milestone.
A recent episode of his HBO-produced show “The Shop” gave us an insight of what goes through LeBron’s mind:
“To sit at the top of the food chain in the most points scored in the history of the game [combined regular season and playoffs], it’s weird to me, they don’t ever call me… When they talk about the best scorers of all time, they never mention my name. Yeah, it pisses me off.”
This is the thing about LeBron: he obsesses about the public’s perception of him. He wants to be praised and adored. Who doesn’t, right? But LeBron’s not shy letting the public know that he craves for it. He wants to be universally regarded as the GOAT, and he and his posse will actively try to influence the off-court narratives in order to sway public opinion.
In LeBron’s mind, people will have no choice but to acknowledge him as the best scorer ever once he takes Kareem’s record. But the reason why he doesn’t get mentioned in any such list is simply this: he has one scoring title and has averaged over 30 points per game twice (topped out at 31.4 in 2006) during his 19-year career.
Michael Jordan holds the record for most scoring titles (10), most 30+ppg seasons (8), and owns the highest career scoring average (30.1, some hundredths ahead of Wilt Chamberlain). Wilt had seven scoring titles and seven 30+ppg seasons, including the single-season record of 50.4ppg and the single-game record of 100 points. Allen Iverson had four scoring titles and four 30+ppg seasons. Kevin Durant has 4 (scoring titles)/2 (30+ppg seasons); James Harden 3/3; Kobe Bryant 2/3; and Kareem 2/4. Harden and Kobe also each had a 35+ppg season, which puts them in a list of five names that includes Wilt, Jordan, and Rick Barry.
Scoring titles are particularly a good measure because it tells us how dominant someone is as a scorer compared to his peers. 30 points per game is a fair benchmark because it separates the elite from very good scorers. LeBron stans predictably would want to lower that threshold to 25 points, but that’s just conveniently moving the goalpost (similar to how they view Finals appearances vis-à-vis championships). Carmelo Anthony was a very good scorer at his peak, but short of elite. Averaging 30 in a single season is not easy and there’s a reason why Melo never breached that mark. Don’t get me wrong, Melo was great, but there are different levels of greatness. If LeBron wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Melo, then by all means; I think we can all agree that he is a better scorer than Melo.
But let’s not confuse longevity with pound-for-pound bucket-getting. This is not to take away anything from LeBron. He has been a consistently very, very good scorer for a long period of time. He shouldn’t be too concerned about having his name in the best pure scorers list because what he’s doing is something different: he is the most consistent scorer of all-time.
2. ‘Good stats, bad team’ Bron has the edge in a historically tight scoring race
LeBron’s craving to be recognized as a scorer also informs this season’s scoring race. It’s among the tightest ever, with only 0.2 points separating Joel Embiid (30.0), LeBron (29.8), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8). (Note: Durant is at 29.4 but he would miss qualifying for the title by four games even if he played the remainder of the Nets’ schedule.)
Embiid and Antetokounmpo are better players than LeBron at this point, but LeBron has the advantage because of one simple fact: LeBron is playing for points, not for wins.
Embiid and Antetokounmpo are locked in a battle for playoff seeding—and homecourt advantage in a potential second round meeting. They’re not only scoring, but also playing hard on defense. LeBron, on the other hand, couldn’t be arsed to even try on the defensive end.
Zero effort. Only delusional LeBron fans (@Nickypoo) would deny that LeBron is playing for stats at this stage of his career. Everybody on mainstream media seems afraid to call it as it is, so I’ll do it for them: LeBron cares more about his stats, particularly catching Kareem’s scoring record, than winning basketball games.
The once-proud Lakers franchise has become a willing accomplice—content to support LeBron’s quest for history rather than actually becoming a good basketball team, like the Thunder were during Russell Westbrook’s first triple-double season in 2017. How many times have we seen LeBron play during garbage time with the Lakers down double-digits? The stat-padding has become so blatant that it’s comical.
Like Westbrook in 2017, the most common rebuttal is: What else is he supposed to do? Um, play defense for a start. Find chemistry with Westbrook. Try to impact winning besides scoring. The sad thing is that LeBron was capable of doing all these once upon a time.
Father Time has caught up but it’s manifesting on other facets of his game. As far as narratives go, he’d point to his scoring average and proclaim that he’s still in the best player on the planet conversation, and his stans would believe him. But rational basketball fans know better.
3. Greatness is not just about stats
LeBron’s endgame is, of course, not just to be considered as one of the best scorers ever but to be recognized as the GOAT. A tweet went viral this week after someone took a shot at how LeBron’s going about his case:
How would Jordan have responded to the hypothetical time-traveler? He’d have probably told him to piss off, because he never played for stats.
“Well, that never drove me. Stats only add up. When you put in the effort, you don’t worry about it. Good things happen if people work hard. If I’d play for the stats, I’d never retire in 1993. Or I’d still be chasing all-time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring lead.”
Jordan’s response is telling because it defines what makes a GOAT. Prior to Jordan, there was no consensus basketball GOAT. Kareem had the scoring record and six MVPs. Bill Russell had the rings and five MVPs. But it wasn’t as if Jordan snatched the title from either. At some point, he just became the GOAT (when exactly is difficult to pinpoint because some were already calling him the greatest ever after he retired the first time in 1993). Presumably, it’s because he combined winning, individual accolades, stats, and other intangibles. There’s no set formula for it, but one thing is clear: winning takes primacy over stats.
4. Throwback video of the week
LeBron has scored 10 or more points in 1,093 consecutive games (and counting), an NBA record, which proves my point that he is the most consistent scorer of all-time. The streak began on January 6, 2007, when he scored 19 points against the Nets. Two months later, young LeBron dropped 41 against the Pistons, in what turned out to be a preview of the 2007 ECF.