When LeBron James scored his sixth point on Tuesday during the Los Angeles Lakers' game at Brooklyn, it meant he had reached 36,387 in his career.
That put him 2,000 points shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Start the countdown. It's no longer a question of if James will pass Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, but when. At his current pace, it’s possible that James may move into the No. 1 spot by this time next season, maybe even a bit earlier.
“As I’ve continued to climb the ranks, it is natural, human, to look at it and see where you are and see if it’s even possible, see if you’re capable,” James said.
It’s more than possible.
He’s more than capable.
James is going to get a taste of what it’s like to catch Abdul-Jabbar in the next few games. When talking about official records, such as all-time scoring leaders, the NBA sticks solely to regular-season games and doesn’t add playoff totals to the mix. Add Abdul-Jabbar’s playoff games to his total, and he scored 44,149 points.
James scored 33 on Tuesday in a win over the Nets, pushing his overall total — including playoffs — to 44,045 points. Another three, four, maybe five games should be all it will take for James to have scored more points than anyone in NBA history. It won’t be the official record. But on at least one list, James will be No. 1 in scoring very soon.
“He has a skillset that already has been well documented ... a pass-first guy who can lead the league in scoring," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, James’ former coach for four NBA Finals trips and two championships with the Heat.
Ah, the passing. Don't overlook that.
James is now 77 assists shy of 10,000 in his career. He’s about to be the first triple-quintuple player in NBA history, the first with at least 10,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. He hit the rebound milestone last week; he’ll probably hit the assist milestone sometime between now and the All-Star break. He could have had the scoring record long ago if he had turned down more of those assist opportunities.
“I’ve never chased a record in my life,” James said. “I’ve never said, ‘OK, let me see if I can get this record, let me see if I can get that record.’”
While there may not have been intent, technically, he’s been chasing them since Day 1.
He was tied for 1,157th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after his rookie season. Moved into the top 500 after three seasons. Cracked the top 250 by Year 5. Was in the top 100 by the eighth season, the top 50 a year after that. By Year 14, he was in the top 10. And Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn marked exactly two years since he moved into the No. 3 spot on the all-time scoring list by passing Kobe Bryant.
“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames. Much respect my brother,” Bryant tweeted that night, the final one ever sent from his account.
Bryant died the next day in the helicopter crash in which eight others, including his daughter Gianna, also perished. Bryant played in 1,346 regular-season games. James played in his 1,346th on Tuesday.
“Hall of Fame player,” Spoelstra said of James. “Hall of Fame person.”
Spoelstra has long said — and he’s not the only one to believe this — that James is like none other, and the numbers back that up. There are 48 players who have scored 20,000 points; 43 who have grabbed 10,000 rebounds; 38 who have handed out 6,000 assists; 40 who have made 2,000 3-pointers. Some players are on two or three of those lists.
James is the only one on all four.
“For a pass-first type guy, I just think that’s staggering,” Spoelstra said.
And this climb up the charts isn’t coming with James, now 37 and in his 19th season, sputtering to the career finish line. He’s putting up MVP-type numbers, at times single-handedly trying to keep the Lakers afloat while they sputtered around the .500 mark and waited for Anthony Davis to return to the lineup. Davis made his comeback Tuesday, after missing 19 of the Lakers' last 21 games with a knee problem.
James is averaging 29.1 points, on pace for his highest average since the 2009-10 season. The record for anyone in their 19th season or later is a 22.3-point clip by Bryant in 2014-15; James is going to smash that. The record for anyone age 37 or older in a season is 23.4 points by Abdul-Jabbar in 1985-86; James is going to smash that, too.
James' 33 points on Tuesday also was his 18th consecutive game with at least 25. Nobody, this late in a career, has ever come close to doing that. Bryant had a 17-game streak in Year 17.
James is making it look easy.
“I don’t need to score 30 a night, but I’m in one of the best zones offensively I’ve been in in my career,” James said. “And I don’t plan on stopping. That’s just how I feel. I feel fantastic.”
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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