With a jump shot last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron James did it. Despite the Lakers’ 133-130 loss to OKC, no NBA great — from Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant — can ever say that they scored more NBA regular season points than James.
Now it’s official: James is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He didn’t need the record to cement his place as one of the greatest talents to ever step on the hardwood. But here we are.
What makes the accomplishment even more mind-boggling is that since we first saw glimpses of him as an adolescent prodigy in high school, he’s always been a pass-first distributor, as opposed to a selfish player who went hunting for his own buckets.
“LeBron passed the ball throughout his career and therefore defied, rather than defined, what a volume scorer should look like and play like,“ wrote NBA.com’s Shaun Powell. “He was never a selfish gunner. Actually, in his very first NBA game, on that night in Sacramento, as a precursor for what would come over the next two decades, LeBron’s first contribution to the box score was … an assist.”
“Those quirks make LeBron’s scoring journey all the more interesting, if not incredible,” Powell continued. “And combined with his longevity and ability to get baskets by the bucketful here in his 20th season, at age 38, they explain why and how he’s about to nudge aside Kareem for the Holy Grail of individual NBA records. Because the object of the game, after all, is to put the ball through the hoop.”
He’s never cheated the game, and always played the right way, even when he was castigated early in his career for passing to open teammates in critical moments with the game on the line.
The deafening chorus coming from the amorous cult of Michael Jordan screamed, “MJ would have taken that shot regardless of being double- or triple-teamed!” They seemed to have forgotten, through the hourglass of time and devotion to Jordan, that MJ passed to an open Steve Kerr, John Paxson and Craig Hodges in critical fourth-quarter moments to win championships.
Let’s put aside the moronic GOAT debates for the moment and give the man his deserved props now that he’s surpassed one of the most hallowed records in sports.
Amazingly, at 38 years old and in his 20th year in the NBA, James looks to be still in his prime. He owns four NBA championships, four regular season MVP awards, four Finals MVP awards and two Olympic gold medals. He’s been named to the All-NBA team an astounding 18 times. Last year, he became the only player in league history with over 10,000 career points, assists and rebounds.
No one has scored more points in the playoffs than LeBron, and when you factor in his postseason and regular season play, he was already the league’s all-time leading scorer prior to surpassing Kareem’s regular season record of 38,387.
The man has delivered on the bountiful promise that we witnessed when he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, where won a state title as a mere freshman.
LeBron was the most hyped prep school athlete ever, and to examine how he’s exceeded those expectations boggles the mind, punctuated by the 2015-2016 NBA title, after leading the Cavaliers back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit over the historically great Golden State Warriors to give Cleveland its first championship since the Browns in 1964.
Remember when the Cavs were down in that series, with the Warriors, who’d set a league record with 73 regular season wins, a victory away from a coronation as the greatest team ever? Do you remember how LeBron responded?
The haters don’t want you to remember, because they’re too busy arguing that Kobe or Michael Jordan were better in the same laughably erroneous way that Glenn Close was nominated for an Academy Award for her overindulgent portrayal of “Mamaw” in the film, “Hillbilly Elegy.”
But I’ll remind you.
He posted back-to-back 41-point games in the Cavs next two victories, setting up the series’ decisive game. Those were merely appetizers to his Game 7 triple-double performance, which included chasing down Andre Iguodala as if he’d stolen his momma’s rent money for that ridiculous block in the tensest moments as the clock ticked down.
LeBron averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.6 steals per game in that series, becoming only the third player ever to cop a triple-double in a Finals Game 7. He also became the first player ever to lead both teams in all five statistical categories, not only in an NBA Finals, but for any playoff round.
LeBron’s own personal journey, as crazy as it sounds, dwarfs anything he’s accomplished on the court.
What better example do we have in the realm of athletics for children being raised by teenage mothers who were mere kids themselves, youths who’ve never seen their biological fathers, people who’ve been smothered by the destructive forces of poverty before the onset of puberty — many of whom succumb mentally, physically and spiritually to the tangible hopelessness in the air?
LeBron grew up on Hickory Street in Akron, in a neighborhood woven into the fabric of the forgotten and ignored pockets of this great nation. Shortly after his grandmother passed away when he was three, the only home he’d known was condemned, as he and his mother Gloria, staring at long odds and now homeless, faced life on the streets.
They crashed with friends and family in the housing projects known as Elizabeth Park off and on for six years, part of a nomadic existence that would be LeBron’s reality until the age of 12. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script for how his life unfolded from there.
His personal journey to manhood and success is worth publicizing much more than titles, MVPs, gold medals, records and everything else that he’s achieved on the court.
Along with his friend, adviser and business associate Rich Paul, LeBron formed the Klutch Sports Group, a player representation agency that has, among others, Lonzo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Anthony Davis and Trae Young as clients. He’s also a partner in his own sports marketing agency, LRMR.
Do you recall when the majority of the media and the established agents and other sports professionals castigated him after James cut ties with his original agent and corporate marketing firm to create his own agency and handle all of those operations in-house?
Remember how they insinuated that he and his “posse” didn’t know what they were doing?
LRMR manages and negotiates all of LeBron’s marketing deals with companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, Kia, Samsung, Beats Electronics and others. Those deals alone have generated over a hundred million dollars for LeBron and his corporate entity.
“We’ve all learned, we’ve had bumps and bruises along the way, but it has only made us stronger and made us who we are today,” James said a few years back, when discussing his foray into player management and marketing. “About 12 years ago, when I decided to part ways with my agent, there were 150 million articles about how I was making a mistake to hire the people around me that I trusted: Maverick, Rich and Randy, and start LRMR, and how everything would fall to pieces. Those pieces have made a beautiful portrait at this point.”
Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse wrote a case study and book chapter about James’ new model, discussing how it is the future of sports marketing.
His digital video company, Uninterrupted, delivers athlete-created content to fans via Bleacher Report, a Turner Sports property. And let’s not forget his production company, SpringHill Entertainment, with a portfolio that includes major motion pictures, documentaries, television sitcoms and dramas.
James doesn’t shy away from controversial issues that negatively impact people of color, and his philanthropy is absurd. He’s partnered with the University of Akron to provide guaranteed four-year scholarships for students in his I Promise program.
If you want to have a serious discussion about what his legacy will be when it’s all said and done, to simply say that LeBron James could go down as the greatest basketball player ever is too limited a viewpoint.
He’s not only an architect of NBA championships for three separate franchises, he’s a social entrepreneur engineering change in the lives of other more important organizations, along with individuals and entire communities.
He’s still among the best players in the NBA right now. And from the looks of how he’s performing this season, he should remain so at least for the next two or three years. And away from the game, he’s the personification of the old adage, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
And just like the ubiquitous Nike ad campaigns that have aired since he took the NBA by storm as a 19-year-old rookie, we’re all still witnesses to the career of one of the all-time greats, and to the off-court vision of a businessman, philanthropist and change agent whose societal impact reverberates much louder away from the game of basketball.