LeBron James shut down the NBA on Tuesday. Even the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was paused.
With 38 points in the Crypto.com Arena, James climbed to 38,390 in his regular season career, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s long standing record of 38,387.
The four-time champion has been the league’s preeminent star during stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat and the Lakers.
Now, in all of basketball history, he stands alone.
It’s a remarkable achievement and only gets more impressive when you dig into the numbers behind James’ new record.
Beat the thunder
The Thunder may have put a minor damper on James’ big night by winning Tuesday’s game, but the 38-year-old actually has more career points than Oklahoma City’s entire active roster combined (21,900).
Indeed, the Thunder is just one of five rosters James can improve, along with the Indiana Pacers (36,515), the Orlando Magic (33,164), the San Antonio Spurs (32,364) and the Houston Rockets (28,642).
If James hadn’t crossed the line on Tuesday, he would have made it against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday – and that would have been fitting, too.
James has scored more runs against the Bucks (1,751) than any other team. In fact, the Thunder (994) is the team he has scored the third fewest against – only more than against the Lakers (829) and the Cavaliers (580), two teams he represented.
The Lakers forward scored at least 1,000 points against each of the other 27 teams, while scoring 1,000 in each of his 20 NBA seasons. That is another record that he takes from Abdul-Jabbar (19).
James would no doubt have enjoyed this legendary performance at home, but he has actually scored more points on the road (19,251 in 694 games) than at home (19,139 in 716).
Unsurprisingly, though, Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is the arena that has seen the most James points (11,670). The Lakers’ Crypto.com Arena (4,649) swept ahead of the Heat’s Miami-Dade Arena (4,613) into second place on Tuesday.
Wade’s helping hand
In that LA home crowd, across from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, was Dwyane Wade, a two-time title-winning teammate from James’ on the Heat.
Wade also joined James for a season with the Cavaliers and, although now retired, has helped lead more points for the new all-time leader than any other player (776).
Eric Snow (630) is second on that list, with Mario Chalmers (591) third and Mo Williams (501) fourth, followed by Kevin Love (486) and Kyrie Irving (469).
Russell Westbrook has only been playing with James in LA since 2021, but he is ninth at 375. Anthony Davis (269) is 11th and Chris Bosh (267) is twelfth.
Ricky Davis assisted James’ first NBA points and 42 total. Davis, who retired in 2010, was the first of 148 different players to assist James.
But most of James’s points are unaided, of course. With his 26,855 unsupported points alone, he would rank 13th on the all-time list, ahead of Kevin Durant (26,684), who is second to the Lakers man among active players.
James scored 10,882 points from layups, 8,074 from two-point jump shots, and 8,047 from free throws. Of the rest, 6,711 are from three-pointers, 4,190 from dunks, 310 from hook shots, and 176 from tip-ins.
Another Lakers record
The record was achieved with a fadeaway jersey, and several members of Lakers royalty were in the house to see it, including Abdul-Jabbar.
James succeeded Abdul-Jabbar as the seventh other player to lead the NBA in all-time scoring since the end of the league’s inaugural season in 1946–47.
Four of those seven have now represented the Lakers, with James and Abdul-Jabbar joined by George Mikan (1952-53 to 1957-58) and Wilt Chamberlain (1965-66 to 1983-84). Chamberlain took over the record while a Philadelphia 76er, before playing for the Lakers.
Chamberlain succeeded Bob Pettit, one of the remaining three not to play for the Lakers. Joe Fulks, the leading scorer in the NBA’s inaugural season, and Dolph Schayes are the others.
Luka Doncic, only 23 and with 8,531 points in 311 career games, is perhaps the most credible challenger to James’ crown. James had 8,319 points in 311 games, although he was only 22.
Matching James’ longevity is a huge ask; either way, he’ll be number one for a very, very long time.
The time spent at the top is a record that Abdul-Jabbar can at least hold for now, with a whopping 14,187 days ranked first. The NBA was just 13,671 days old when he took the record, meaning he led the league for more than half of its existence.
Even more to achieve
That’s not Abdul-Jabbar’s only goal to go, with the 75-year-old leading after 57,446 minutes played. James (53,743) is third, while he ranks ninth in games played (1,410) – a stat led by Robert Parish (1,611).
Abdul-Jabbar is also the man to beat for MVP awards, with six, and James’ four now seem unlikely to be added given his age and the Lakers’ woes.
However, James would have to pass Abdul-Jabbar for All-Star selections as the pair is tied at 19, with the modern great already leading 13 All-NBA First Team selections.
In the playoffs, James already topped the charts for points (7,631) and games played (266), though the “GOAT” debate will continue as Michael Jordan has the lead in Finals MVPs (six to James’s four).
Among players with 500 or more games, Jordan (30.1) is also the leading man for points per game in the regular season, even though James (27.2 ranks fifth) averages 30.2 this year, the second-highest grade in his career.
At that rate, even if James can’t reel Jordan in, he should be able to build up a sizable buffer for any contenders to his new crown.