LeBron James Becomes NBA’s All-Time Scoring Leader

What was once impossible, then inevitable, has now happened.

The basketball star LeBron James, subject of a post the very first day of OTB‘s existence while still in high school and a whole lot more since, has broken a record many thought unbreakable: Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s 39-year-old scoring record.

NYT (“LeBron James Breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s N.B.A. Scoring Record“):

Lakers forward LeBron James is the leading scorer in N.B.A. history after breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career record of 38,387 points, a feat that once had seemed impossible for anyone — but James has become known for making the improbable part of his routine.

He broke the record on a fadeaway 2-point shot in the final seconds of the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. James extended his arms out like he was flying as he jogged back toward the other basket. Then he raised them up and looked up into the stands at the thousands of people who had come to see him make history.

He paused for a second, bent over, rested his hands on his knees and smiled as his family and friends jumped out of their seats in celebration and joined him on the court. He had tears in his eyes.

“I felt like I was sitting on top of the arena tonight,” James said in his postgame news conference. He added, “I can probably count on my hands how many times I’ve cried in 20 years, in happiness or defeat.”

James said Tuesday night’s tears came because he could not believe what was happening.

The record had seemed to be set in stone, untouched for decades even by greats like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. But the 38-year-old James, in his 20th season, is still pouring in points as one of the best players in the N.B.A. Since the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003, he has made thousands of dunks, fadeaways, free throws, 3-pointers, hook shots and everything in between. And now, with his latest act of defying the odds of his age, James will bolster his supporters’ claims that he, and not Jordan, is the best player ever.

To be sure, it’s a different game than it was for most of Jabbar’s career. The rules have been written to favor scoring, with the incredibly physical defensive styles of yore outlawed. And the 3-point line, now at the forefront of the game because of analytics, didn’t exist until halfway into Jabbar’s tenure and was considered a gimmick (Jabbar only had 1 his whole career; James is at 2237 and counting). Further, James was able to enter the NBA right out of high school, while Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) had to spend four years at UCLA first.

James also had to endure challenges Jabbar didn’t. The NBA postseason, which James has participated in just about every year—going to the Finals ten times—is longer. Plus, he’s represented his country in three Olympics and a FIBA World Championship, demands that pro players didn’t have in Jabbar’s day. Crucially, those postseason baskets don’t count toward this total, which is for regular season games only.

While both Jabbar and James achieved their milestone the same way—by being great longer than other players’ bodies were able to sustain—James is much closer to his peak than Jabbar was in his final years. Indeed, James is still the best player on his team and, on many nights, still the best player in the league.

Even more impressively, unlike Jabbar, James isn’t even primarily known as a scorer. Indeed, he’s known for being unselfish—sometimes, to a fault. He’s fourth on the all-time assists list, with 10354; Jabbar is 48th, with 5660.

Regardless, it’s quite likely James plays another three seasons at a high level. If so, he should easily put the scoring record over 40,000. The closest active player to him, Kevin Durant, is almost 12,000 points behind him and poses no threat.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. EddieInCA says:

    George Mikan
    Wilt Chamberlin

    All retired as Lakers while holding the all time NBA Scoring record at the time.

  2. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    Pictures from when Kareem broke the record show that Wilt wasn’t overjoyed about it.
    Kareem – far more gracious.

  3. Slugger says:

    Congratulations to James; an amazing career.
    I was never a Lakers fan, but seeing Kareem, Magic, and James Worthy last night reminded me of how great it was for the Celtics to beat them.
    Nice of the Thunder to earn the W last night.

  4. Mister Bluster says:

    @EddieInCA:..George Mikan

    I was 3 years old in the Spring of 1951 when the Rochester Royals won the NBA title. My dad was the Sports editor for the Eastman Kodak company newspaper Kodakery. He got two free tickets to every sporting event in town. By the time the Royals moved from the Edgerton Park Arena to the new Rochester War Memorial in 1955 I had seen the Royals play at least once at Edgerton Park, maybe twice. Can’t remember who the Royals played in those games but I do remember my dad mentioning the names of Mikan, Bob Cousy and Bobby Wanzer among others. Might be why he took me to those contests. I saw the Royals at the War Memorial too. I suspect my dad might have bought me a program for those events and told me to hang on to them. Good luck with that.
    In 1957 the Royals moved to Cincinnati. Then in 1972 the franchise relocated and played as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings since the KC American League baseball team were the Royals.
    By the time they left the Midwest in 1985 they were the Kansas City Kings.
    My NBA Champion Rochester Royals today dribble up and down the court as the hapless Sacramento Kings. I often wonder if the 1950-1951 NBA Championship Banner hangs from the rafters of the Golden 1 Center in the State Capital. Maybe some day I’ll get to stop by and see.

  5. DK says:

    @Mister Bluster: What cool memories!

  6. EddieInCA says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    So cool.

    And don’t look now, but your Kings have a great young team and a great coach. I expect them to contend next season for the western division title.

  7. dazedandconfused says:

    Now I owe my brother $10. A bet made 8 years ago when, in an argument as to who is the GOAT, I asserted that LaBron could not have a very long career. The man is huge for his quickness, I was convinced his body would break down and this was the mark we settled on. I have never made a bet more sure winning, as Kareem’s record seemed impossible to break…for anyone…ever.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dazedandconfused: And guess what else? This record will fall eventually, and probably in fewer than 39 years.

  9. EddieInCA says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I don’t think so.

    1. The modern NBA has too many back to back games, and most players will not have the longevity that LeBron has had. LeBron spends a reported $1M per year, just on keeping his body healthy to keep playing. Kobe reportedly spent the same amount before he retired. Most players don’t have that kind of dedication.

    2. Of current players, only Kevin Durant, #14 (26K points), James Harden, #27 (24K points), Russell Westbrook, #28 (24K points), Chris Paul, #38 (21K points), Steph Curry, #39 (21K points), and DeMar DeRosan, #40, (21K points), are in the top 50, and none of them will even get to 35K points, much less the record Lebron will end up with.

    3. Lebron has at least 3-4 seasons left, at least. Hes’ going to end up with north of 45K points. That record is going to stand for a long time. A player who averages 25 points a game, playing all 82 games for 20 seasons, would only end up with 41,000 points. Lebron will pass 41,000 points in the 2024-2025 season assuming he stays healthy and wants to continue to play.

    If that record is going to fall, it’s will be a player who hasn’t been born yet.

  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    I’m a 90s era NBA snob. King James has been the only reason I watch Pro Basketball. Very happy to see all his work and dedication pay off. The guy truly is a joy to watch play Basketball

  11. EddieinCA says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    90’s were good. Bulls ruled.
    80’s were better. Lakers – Celtics – Pistons battling it out every year.

    While I love what King James has done over his career, I was, and will always be, a Kobe guy. But props to King James, and I hope he’s able to get that fifth ring before he retires. I know to some people, MJ will always be the GOAT, I actually have Jordan at #5*, and I have LeBron ahead of him.

    Tim Duncan
    Bill Russell
    Larry Bird

  12. dazedandconfused says:

    I’ve seen that cited before, that LBJ spends a million a year on his body. What I can’t imagine is what the heck does he buy with that million? Keeping a chef and a bevy of trainers as full time staff shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred K….at most…and what does a bevy of trainers do in a 40 hour week for him? Sure can’t work him out that much.

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    The Joker is about the only guy I try not to miss these days.

  14. steve says:

    Cam Thomas is averaging 45 points now that he is starting. He is 21 y/o. Should pass Lebron in his mid 30s. 🙂


  15. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @EddieinCA: Wilt is my GOAT also! I actually sat down and did a list some years ago. Wilt, MJ, Bron, Kareem, Duncan was who I believe my top 5 were from the perspective of a talent scout. LBJ is a better player than MJ for sure but MJs ability to score, on ball defend, and create space for a shot inside a phone booth gives him a slight edge over Lebron. Fantasy GM-wise I’d take Lebron over MJ as personal preference. I like players that make the right plays vice scoring machines like MJ and Kobe

  16. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @dazedandconfused: Beautiful player, I sometimes think is he want we were told a healthy Arvydas Sabonis was before he got to the NBA. He was still a great player on one leg

  17. anjin-san says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    One of the things that give Jordan the edge over James in the GOAT sweepstakes in my mind was Jordan’s sheer will to win.

  18. anjin-san says:


    The Joker is about the only guy I try not to miss these days.

    The Warriors did a great job on Jokic in last year’s playoffs. Of course, at this point at least, Denver is a much stronger team overall this year. The Dubs greatly improved their chances of a deep playoff run by reacquiring Peyton yesterday. Then again, Phoenix and Dallas are much stronger – at least in the short run – after recent moves. It should be a very interesting postseason. The loser yesterday seems like Memphis, for standing pat with a team that is not as good as it thinks it is.

  19. dazedandconfused says:


    It’s those no-look dimes he throws…sometimes through traffic.