LeBron James breaks NBA all-time points-scoring record

Los Angeles Lakers star, in his 20th NBA season, passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 39-year record of 38,387 points.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates after scoring to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer
James celebrates after breaking a record many in the sport long thought could not be broken [Mark J Terrill/AP Photo]

LeBron James has eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the most prolific scorer in NBA history, breaking a 39-year record that many believed would never be beaten.

The Los Angeles Lakers star, playing in his 20th season in the NBA, passed Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 38,387 points after nailing a 21-foot shot late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

James flung his arms aloft as the Crypto.com Arena erupted in wild celebration at his new record of 38,388 points.

James’s family, including his mother, his wife and their three children, took to the floor as play was stopped for about 10 minutes to salute an iconic moment in NBA history.

Abdul-Jabbar, a Lakers great who was sitting court-side, held the ball aloft, then handed it to James, the ceremonial passing of the torch. James wiped tears from his eyes, and then addressed the crowd.

“To be able to be in the presence of a legend as great as Kareem it means so much to me,” James told the crowd before thanking family, friends and fans.

“Everybody that’s ever been part of this run with me these last 20 years, I just want to say I thank you so much because I wouldn’t be me without all your help, all your passion and all your sacrifices to help me get to this point.”

James also paid tribute to NBA Commissioner David Silver and his predecessor, the late David Stern.

“Thank you guys so much for allowing me to be a part of something I’ve always dreamed about,” he said, “and I would never ever in a million years have dreamt this even better than what it is tonight.”

James scored 38 points in the Lakers’ 133-130 loss to Thunder, putting him atop the career scoring list with 38,390 points.

One of the ‘most hallowed records’

Abdul-Jabbar, whose record had stood since April 1984, paid tribute to James after the game.

“LeBron’s career is one of someone who planned to dominate this game. And it’s gone for almost 20 years now,” he said. “You have to give him credit for just the way he played and for the way he’s lasted and dominated.”

More tributes poured in after the game, including from US President Joe Biden.

“LeBron, congratulations. With your whole heart and soul you broke a hell of a record,” he said.

“You elevated the game. More than that, like Kareem, Bill Russell and others who came before you, you challenged and inspired the nation to be better, do better and live up to our full promise.”

Lakers legend Magic Johnson said he never thought Abdul-Jabbar’s record would be broken.

“It means more to myself and to our fans because you’re wearing that purple and gold and broke it as a Laker,” he said.

Very few have gotten close to breaking Abdul-Jabbar’s record. Karl Malone retired 1,459 points behind Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant was 4,744 points shy, and Michael Jordan was 6,095 points away.

No active player is within 10,000 points of James, who is under contract for two more years and is on pace to become the league’s first 40,000-point scorer sometime next season

Silver said James had beaten one of the “most hallowed records” in the sport.

“It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written,” he said.

James is behind only John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul on the all-time assists list and is the only member of the NBA’s triple-quintuple club: at least 10,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists.

He will almost certainly be the NBA’s all-time leader in earnings whenever he retires; when adding in the $97m he will make over the next two seasons, he will be past $500m in on-court salary alone. He is a 19-time All-Star selection, tying an Abdul-Jabbar record. If he plays on February 19 in Salt Lake City, he will set a record for appearances.

“Me personally, I’m going to take myself against anybody that has ever played this game,” said James after setting the record.

“I know what I brought to the table. I know what I bring to the table every single night and what I can do out on this floor, so I always feel like I’m the best ever to play this game.”

NBA’s all-time top scorers

  1. LeBron James – 38,390 points, 1,410 games
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 38,387 points, 1,560 games
  3. Karl Malone – 36,928 points,1,476 games
  4. Kobe Bryant – 33,643 points, 1,346 games
  5. Michael Jordan – 32,292 points, 1,072 games
  6. Dirk Nowitzki – 31,560 points, 1,522 games
  7. Wilt Chamberlain – 31,419 points, 1,045 games
  8. Shaquille O’Neal – 28,596 points, 1,207 games
  9. Carmelo Anthony – 28,289 points, 1,260 games
  10. Moses Malone – 27,409 points, 1,329 games
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies