c/o Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

c/o Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Feb. 7th, in front of a sold-out crowd of faithful Lakers fans, LeBron James stared down his defender, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kenrich Williams. He dribbled into Williams with his shoulder and, in one smooth motion, stepped backwards and put up a 13-foot jump shot. Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, and countless NBA greats of years past looked on as the ball flew through the air and hit nothing but the nylon net for two points. With that bucket, LeBron surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be the all-time NBA scoring king. 

How did we get here? How was a seemingly unbreakable record broken by a kid from Akron, Ohio? I’ll start with the man who held the same record for 39 years, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kareem (then named Lew Alcindor, as he had not yet converted to Islam) entered the league in 1969 after three years at UCLA, where he captured the NCAA National Championship each year. He entered the draft as one of the most highly-touted prospects of all time, so amazing that the NCAA banned dunking to slow him down (it didn’t work). He was drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and quickly changed the minds of any doubters with an impressive Rookie of the Year season. In his second year in the league, Kareem won both the regular season MVP, averaging 31.7 points and 16 rebounds, and the Finals MVP for his work in a four game sweep against the Baltimore Bullets, becoming the second player ever to win both awards in one season. For the next two decades, Kareem’s name was synonymous with consistency and excellence. Then, in 1984, he had a chance to make some history of his own. 

The all-time points leader at the time was 76ers great Wilt Chamberlain, who had scored 31,419 career points. On April 5, 1984, in a win against the Utah Jazz, Kareem claimed the record for himself on one of his signature “skyhook” shots. He went on to play another five seasons, setting an almost unreachable bar for longevity. He finished his career with the impressive total of 38,387 career points. 

On Dec. 30, 1984, a little over six months after Kareem claimed Wilt’s record, LeBron Raymone James was born in Akron, Ohio. He lived with his mother, who was just 16 when she gave birth, but around the third grade he moved in with his youth football coach in order to have a more stable home environment. His coach, Frank Walker, introduced the young LeBron to basketball, and by fifth grade he was playing on the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) circuit. By the time he got to high school at Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s, LeBron was getting attention. By the time his sophomore year rolled around, the varsity team had to play their home games in the University of Akron’s stadium to satisfy the nearly insatiable ticket demands from countless NBA scouts, coaches, and all those who wanted to see the best high school basketball player in the country for themselves.

During his junior season, Sports Illustrated featured 16-year old LeBron on its cover (the first high school athlete to ever be given that honor) with the heading “The Chosen One.” At the time, this statement matched the general opinion about LeBron. If he became anything less than a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, he would be considered a bust. LeBron entered the NBA in 2003 and, just like Kareem, he shot to the top. By his second season, he was considered a top NBA player. Also like Kareem, LeBron has dominated the league for two decades, winning MVP trophies and rings, and being, year after year, the best player on the court.

Entering this NBA season—his 20th—LeBron has continued to set the standard of production for an older player. Just like in previous seasons, NBA analysts predicted that he would start to regress this year, but he quickly proved them wrong by averaging 30.2 points on the season, the third-best mark of his career. As LeBron kept putting up absurd numbers, he began to slowly creep up to the record.

First, it was a few hundred points away, then 150, then LeBron was 36 points away from the record and going into his game against the Thunder. On February 7th, with Kareem looking on from the sideline, LeBron scored 38 points in three quarters and cemented his name in the record books as the All-time NBA scoring king. 

The large swath of haters that LeBron has gathered over the years (most hurt by him beating or leaving their home team) may think that he is only “stat-padding,” playing for his individual accomplishments, and that is why he has gotten to this amazing mark. But LeBron has been anything but a one-sided scorer throughout his career. Though he is a high-volume scorer, he has remained a pass-first player, leading the league in assists once and ranking fourth all time in career assists. On top of this, LeBron has moved teams in order to win, sacrificing some of his stat production in the chase of team success. If all that LeBron cared about was filling up the basket, he would have stayed in Cleveland in 2010. Instead, he signed with the Miami Heat to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the sole purpose of winning championships. Then, when those same LeBron haters called him disloyal for his move, he went back to Cleveland and brought his home team a championship against all odds. If all of this isn’t enough to make them accept LeBron as both an all-time great, and a great man, I don’t know what will.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said it best in an interview after the game:

“LeBron makes me love the game again.”

The same is true for millions of kids who grew up watching LeBron lead teams to championships, and become the amazing father that he never had. In more ways than one, LeBron James truly is the King. 

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

Comments are closed