Los Angeles: What was once thought to be an unbreakable record has finally been broken. LeBron James eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the most prolific scorer in NBA history on Tuesday, breaking a 39-year record that many throughout basketball believed would never be beaten.
The Los Angeles Lakers star, playing in his 20th season in the NBA, passed Abdul-Jabbar's longstanding total of 38,387 points after nailing a 21-foot shot late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James flung his arms aloft in relief as the Crypto.com Arena erupted in wild celebration at his new record of 38,388 points.
Abdul-Jabbar, sitting courtside, was among the first to congratulate James as play was interrupted to salute an iconic moment in NBA history.
"To be able to be in the presence of a legend and great as Kareem it means so much to me," James told the crowd before thanking family, friends and fans.
Thank you guys so much for allowing me to be a part of something I've always dreamed about, and I would never ever in a million years have dreamt this even better than what it is tonight
"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 Adam Silver and his predecessor, the late David Stern.
LeBron James: The man who would be King
LeBron James, blessed with unparalleled basketball skills, exceptional longevity and unafraid to use the platform of NBA superstardom, has forged a unique destiny in his quest to be the best player of all time.
For twenty years, more than half his life, the player dubbed The Chosen One by Sports Illustrated when he was still in high school has embraced excellence.
Now the top scorer in NBA history after passing the mark Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had held since April 5, 1984 - more than eight months before James was born - James continues to write his legend.
It's a tale of monumental achievements often built on harsh failures, that has placed him among sport's towering figures.
The scoring record is the latest milestone on a career that has yielded four NBA championships, four NBA finals Most Valuable Player awards, four NBA season MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals and 19 NBA All-Star selections.
Yet James' evolution into NBA royalty came after a precarious early life. His mother, Gloria, 16 when he was born, struggled as a single mother.
"I came from the projects, I saw the drugs, the weapons, the murders," James has said of his early childhood in Akron, Ohio, where he and Gloria once moved seven times in the same year.
Things changed when youth football coach Frank Walker spotted him. Impressed by James's physical abilities, Walker pointed him toward basketball, and persuaded Gloria to allow him to move in with the Walker family.
By 12, James had caught the attention of high school recruiters impressed by his power and basketball IQ.
He opted for St. Vincent-St. Mary, a predominantly white school, over John Buchtel High School, where a cheerleader, Savannah Brinson, his future wife and mother of their three children, was studying.
The choice kept James with his friends, including Maverick Carter, who today remains his partner in projects ranging from cinema to sports club ownership and which, added to James's salary and sponsorship contracts have made him the NBA's first active billionaire.
At 18 James became the youngest top pick in draft history when his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers took him number one in 2003.
He inked an unprecedented $90 million endorsement deal with Nike before he played his first professional game, and led the Cavaliers in scoring, steals and minutes played in his first season.
But he lost his first two Finals appearances - with the Cavs in 2007 and with Miami in 2011 - after deciding the previous year to "take my talents to South Beach" in a highly scrutinized free agent move announced, to some derision, in an ESPN special.
In Miami, however, James would eventually find himself surrounded by a competitive team. He won his first NBA title in 2012 and added a second in 2013 - when he garnered a fourth MVP award to go with those he won in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
His fourth straight Finals appearance ended in a heavy defeat against the San Antonio Spurs and James, vilified by Cavs fans after his departure, decided to return to Cleveland to address unfinished business.
Four more Finals appearances followed, all against Golden State. James and the Cavs lost three, the exception the Cavs' epic and unprecedented return from 3-1 down in the best-of-seven series to win the 2016 title.
James became the first player in NBA history to lead all players in a playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks as he delivered Cleveland's first NBA title and the city's first sports championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL crown.
James's soaring block of an Andre Iguodala shot in game seven remains an iconic image of his career.
"I thought I was the best player people had ever seen," James would later confide, rekindling the debate over whether he or Michael Jordan deserved that status.
Birthplace: Akron, Ohio, USA
Amateur: St. Vincent-St. Mary High
Turned Pro: 2003 NBA Draft first pick
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers 2003-2010
Miami Heat 2010-2014
Cleveland Cavaliers 2014-2018
Los Angeles Lakers 2018-present
NBA Titles: 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
NBA Finals Most Valuable Player: 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
NBA MVP: 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
NBA All-Star: 2005-2023
NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2006, 2008, 2018
NBA Rookie of Year: 2004
NBA scoring champion: 2008
NBA assists leader: 2020
Olympic champion: 2008, 2012
NBA: All-time leading scorers' list
List of the NBA's top 10 all-time leading scorers after LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for first place:
- LeBron James 38,388 points
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
- Karl Malone 36,928
- Kobe Bryant 33,643
- Michael Jordan 32,292
- Dirk Nowitzki 31,560
- Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
- Shaquille O'Neal 28,596
- Carmelo Anthony 28,289
- Moses Malone 27,409
The NBA GOAT debate revived
As LeBron James adds to his amazing legacy by becoming the NBA's career scoring leader, the debate resumes over whether he or Michael Jordan is the NBA's all-time greatest player.
LeBron James said he felt he became the "greatest player of all-time" after overcoming a 3–1 series deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Retired icon Jordan ranks fifth on the all-time NBA points list with 32,292 in 1,072 games for a record average of 30.1 points a game. James was at about 27.2 with superior assist and rebound averages.
"Air" Jordan also was a winner and Most Valuable Player in all six of his NBA Finals appearances with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. He was a five-time season MVP and 10-time scoring champion.
In a 2009 interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon, Michael Jordan briefly commented on his status in the conversation for 'the greatest of all time.'
James has won four titles in 10 NBA Finals appearances, eight in a row from 2011-2018. He was a four-time finals MVP and four-time season MVP and won his only season scoring crown in 2008.
Both captured two Olympic gold medals and each starred in "Space Jam" movies, becoming cultural icons with epic endorsement deals.
Like Jordan, James was a high-leaping, acrobatic, amazing playmaker in his younger days who adjusted his game to remain dangerous and raise the level of his teammates.
"We can enjoy one without tearing down one," the late Kobe Bryant tweeted about the Jordan-James debate in 2018. "Don't debate what can't be definitively won by anyone."