LOS ANGELES — It’s not just that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has stood alone for more than three decades. It’s that his spot has been so much higher than anyone else.
Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with 38,387 points, nearly 7,000 ahead of the nearest challenger at the time – Wilt Chamberlain. Even Karl Malone, the long-time No. 2, wasn’t within 1,000 points when he finally hung it up.
Only one man had ever crossed the 38,000-point plateau. Until Sunday night.
With a 20-foot jumper in the first quarter for his sixth basket of the night against the Philadelphia 76ers, James became just the second player in NBA history to score at least 38,000 points. It was at the start of a scoring tear for James, who was 8 for 9 from the field in the first quarter while scoring 16 points.
Public address announcer Lawrence Tanter honored James with a read-out during a first-quarter timeout. At first, James seemed to not react – but he allowed himself to crack into laughter as Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers came over to offer a congratulatory hug.
Rivers has coached some of James’ fiercest opposing teams in his career, noting playfully that he is probably one of few coaches with “good memories” of playoff success against James with his Boston Celtics teams that reached the NBA Finals multiple times against James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Rivers also had the benefit of watching the end of Abdul-Jabbar’s career as an opposing player, seeing firsthand the big man’s legendary skyhook that “ruined basketball for 20 years.”
James entered Sunday night averaging a team-leading 29 points per game for the Lakers, the seventh-highest mark in the NBA this season, but to Rivers, James’ achievement is all the more impressive because he’s had to adapt as a bucket-getter.
“LeBron has done it so differently to me, because LeBron is not a natural scorer,” Rivers said. “LeBron is a playmaker, and he got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out to his greatness.”
At his season-long pace, James is roughly on track to pass Abdul-Jabbar in 13 or 14 games. If James plays all games and stays on track, that would align with either a Feb. 9 home game against Milwaukee or a Feb. 11 road game at Golden State. But James has also missed 10 games and has yet to play more than nine games in a row this season.
James is likely to have quite a bit of time and space at the top himself. The next-closest “active” player, Carmelo Anthony (28,289), is nearly 10,000 points behind James and has not played this season (though he has not officially retired). Kevin Durant is at No. 16 (26,684 points), but the 34-year-old’s progress has been slowed by injury in recent seasons. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have yet to crack the top 30.
DAVIS HITS COURT FOR PREGAME WORKOUT
By all accounts, Anthony Davis is still a ways away from suiting up for the Lakers again with a pesky right foot injury that has kept him out for the past month. But early arriving Lakers fans were treated to a hopeful glimpse at Davis doing some light shooting on the court Sunday afternoon.
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Davis did some spot-up shooting and took on James for a very brief one-on-one ahead of their game against the 76ers. He donned a sweatshirt and jeans on the bench for the game itself, but it’s the most on-court work Lakers fans have been able to see since he was hurt on Dec. 16. The Lakers are hoping they’ll get Davis back in the lineup by the end of the month, but have still offered no public timeline on his recovery.
“Right now he’s basically been relegated to staying in the halfcourt but just, once we see him running and then, coming in the following day just to see how his body responds to it,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “His foot in particular, how it responds to an increased workload within the workout.”
The Lakers are expected to get Austin Reaves (hamstring) and Lonnie Walker IV (knee tendinitis) re-evaluated this week after about two weeks without the guards. The Lakers also missed veteran guard Patrick Beverley for a second straight game with a non-COVID illness. Ham said he was not yet sure as of Sunday if Beverley would be available for the Lakers’ game against Houston on Monday night.