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LeBron James breaks the NBA career scoring record, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers scores on a jumper to oust another Laker great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from the top spot as the NBA's all-time  leading scorer on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Harry How
/
Getty Images
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers scores on a jumper to oust another Laker great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from the top spot as the NBA's all-time leading scorer on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Updated February 8, 2023 at 9:00 AM ET

LeBron James has now scored more points than any NBA player in history, as he passed fellow Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career 38,387 points on Tuesday night in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

The record came near the end of the third quarter, when James hit a fadeaway jumper.

It's the first time a new name has appeared atop the NBA's all-time points rankings since April 5, 1984, when Abdul-Jabbar passed Wilt Chamberlain's 31,419 points.

It wasn't until nearly nine months after Abdul-Jabbar wrested the record away from Chamberlain that LeBron James was born. Abdul-Jabbar used his sky-hook to keep amassing points until he retired in 1989, at age 42.

James, 38, broke the career record late in the third quarter when he scored his 36th point on a fadeaway jumper against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Abdul-Jabbar was in attendance to witness the accomplishment, along with countless other celebrities.

The NBA stopped the game for an on-court ceremony with Abdul-Jabbar and James embracing. Abdul-Jabbar held the basketball aloft and handed it to James, a ceremonial passing of the torch. James addressed the crowd and was emotional about what he'd just done.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, hugs Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James after he surpassed Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on  Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
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AP
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, hugs Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James after he surpassed Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

"I had a moment when it happened, and I embraced that moment," James said. "Seeing my family and friends, the people that's been around me since I started this journey to the NBA, definitely very emotional right there."

James broke the record which has stood for nearly 39 years, roughly halfway through his 20th NBA season. Over his career, James has shot 50.5% from the field and averaged 27.2 points per game.

The reaction

James' teenage sons, Bronny and Bryce, were shown filming the record-breaking shot, and bursted out of their seats when the points were scored. James' daughter, Zhuri, 8, as well as his wife, Savannah, and mother, Gloria, were seen celebrating.

Celebrities in attendance, such as Jay-Z, Bad Bunny and Denzel Washington, also cheered James on.

James reacts after scoring to pass Abdul-Jabbar's career record total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Los Angeles.
Harry How / Getty Images
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Getty Images
James reacts after scoring to pass Abdul-Jabbar's career record total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Los Angeles.

"La cabra! La cabra!" Bad Bunny told James, which is Spanish for "the goat," used as a colloquialism for the "Greatest of All Time."

Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike,presented James with a commemorative plaque. James' former teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and theMiami Heat, sent their felicitations.

And Jabbar, who is known to advocate for social and political issues outside of sports, recognized James for doing the same.

"What LeBron has done off the court is more important than what he's done on the court," Jabbar said."He sends kids to school. He's provided, just leadership, and an example of how to live."

The King rises to the top

The NBA uses only regular-season games to tally its all-time scoring record, meaning the 7,631 points James has scored across 266 playoff games aren't part of its official count.

LeBron James reacts after dunking the ball as his Miami Heat played the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 10, 2012, in Oakland, California.
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
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Getty Images
LeBron James reacts after dunking the ball as his Miami Heat played the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 10, 2012, in Oakland, California.

James lived in rarefied air even before he started his pro career directly out of high school, heralded as the game's next great player. Now he occupies the top spot on a list that, after Abdul-Jabbar, runs to Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Add Dirk Nowitzki and Wilt Chamberlain, and you have the only seven NBA players to score more than 30,000 points.

James has one of the most complete stat sheets among the NBA's all-time top scorers, averaging 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game.

As he takes over one of the sport's most widely revered marks, James is one of just 10 players to play in at least 20 NBA seasons. Over that span, he's gone to the NBA Finals 10 times, with the last of his four titles coming in 2020.

James racks up elite stats, but his Lakers struggle

The points record is a testament to an athlete's scoring ability, but also to their stamina and long-term durability. And in James' case, his statistics show his unprecedented versatility.

James is one of just seven NBA players, and the only non-point guard, to amass more than 10,000 career assists. On that short list, he's also the only player with more than 22,000 points.

Among currently active players, the Lakers forward leads in career rebounding and is second in steals.

This season, James has endured more losing than at most points in his career, with the Lakers mired in the lower half of the Western Conference. His star teammate Anthony Davis has missed significant time due to a stress injury to his right foot.

As he pursued Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record, James also recently joined the legendary Lakers center atop another NBA category, when James was selected to his 19th NBA All-Star team. He's slated to be a captain in that game, which will tip off Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]