What’s more, the 38-year-old needed far fewer games than the legendary bespectacled centre to top the scoring charts – 1,410 to Abdul-Jabbar’s 1,560. James’ record-breaking performance is all the more impressive given that he is widely regarded as one of the league’s all-time great passers, with LeBron currently ranking fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.
Kareem entered the league in 1969 after playing three years at UCLA, where he won the NCAA national championship every year. He established himself as one of the all-time greats. It should be noted that the NCAA banned dunking to slow him down (it didn’t work). The Milwaukee Bucks drafted him first overall and he quickly changed the minds of the doubters with an impressive Rookie of the Year season. In his second year in the league, Kareem averaged 31.7 points and 16 rebounds and was named regular season MVP and Finals MVP for his performance in a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets, becoming the second player to win both awards in the same season. Over the next two decades, Kareem’s name became synonymous with consistency and excellence. Then, in 1984, he had the opportunity to make history of his own. The all-time scoring list was then led by 76ers player Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 31,419 points in his career. On April 5, 1984, in a win over the Utah Jazz, Kareem broke that record. He played five more seasons, setting an almost unattainable benchmark for longevity. He finished his career with an impressive 38,387 career points.
On December 30, 1984, just over six months after Kareem set Wilt’s record, LeBron Raymone James was born in Akron, Ohio. His coach Frank Walker introduced young LeBron to basketball, and by the fifth grade he was playing in AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) games. By the time he was in high school at Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s, LeBron had already caught the attention of the fans. By his sophomore year, the varsity team had to play its home games at the University of Akron’s stadium to satisfy the growing number of fans and scouts who wanted to see the best high school basketball player in the country.
LeBron’s record fulfilled a promise that James had already seemed to keep when he was drafted out of high school and traded to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers as a 16-year-old prodigy in 2003 – a year after Sports Illustrated’s cover story called him “The One”. At the time, that statement was in line with the general perception of LeBron. LeBron entered the NBA later that year, and like Kareem, he rose to the top. He was already considered the best player in the NBA in his second season. Like Kareem, LeBron dominated the league for two decades, winning MVP trophies and rings, and becoming the best player on the court year after year.
Adam Silver issued a statement congratulating James on “breaking one of the most hallowed records in sports”. “It is a tremendous achievement and a testament to his 20 seasons of excellence in the league. And it’s absolutely amazing that LeBron continues to play at an elite level and basketball history is still being written.”