If there ever was a subdued moment to a monumental milestone, LeBron James passing Michael Jordan for fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list is it.
The Los Angeles Lakers are mired in a disappointing post-All-Star stretch in which their playoff hopes have all but disappeared.
Such is the level of turmoil that has overshadowed the Lakers season, the first with James. He probably wishes he could have chosen happier times in which to pass the mark. Had he not been injured, this would’ve happened earlier this season, and had he not been injured, the Lakers wouldn’t be in 10th place in the Western Conference.
James was 12 points behind Jordan headed into Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets. He scored his 13th point on a driving bucket just past the midway point of the second quarter to pass Jordan. James drew the foul and hit the free throw for the three-point play.
GET MORE NBA: Exclusive content in our Click & Roll newsletter
Regardless of the Lakers’ season, it is still a special for James. All of the players who have played in the NBA, just three have scored more than James, and he recognized the significance.
About 2½ hours before the game, James, who grew up idolizing Jordan tweeted, “Can’t even front. This is going to be UNREAL!! Wow man.”
If James plays the remainder of the season, he will finish with around 32,740 points, which means he will pass Kobe Bryant (33,643) for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list next season, leaving him behind Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).
But as James has said several times, he doesn’t consider himself a scorer.
“No, I’m not,” he told USA TODAY earlier this season. “I’ve been telling myself ever since I was a little kid that if I ever got to this point in my life and this career, that I would never be defined by just being a scorer. If you take scoring away from me, I told myself I would still be able to make an impact on the game.
“That’s just who I am. I’m an all-around basketball player. I’m not a scorer, I’m not a passer, not a rebounder. I can do everything.”
Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like scoring. He does. Especially on the road.
“Quieting the crowd, that’s the ultimate,” James said. “It’s a close game and you’re able to hit a couple of buckets to silence the crowd and make the opposing coach call a timeout late in the game, I enjoy that more than anything.”
So then, how did he accumulate so many points?
“I’m just taking advantage of my opportunity,” he said. “I’ve continued to work on my game.”
Specifically, James has improved his jump shot, especially his 3-pointer.
“Teams just can’t dare me to shoot like they did when I was younger before I was confident in my shot because I had not put enough reps in,” James said. “But I’ve worked on it and trusted it no matter how many times I’ve missed. I can miss four, five of them in a row at this point in my career, and I’ll still take the next one because of the work I’ve put into it.”
In the past two seasons, James has passed Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Dirk Nowitzki and Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.
James said it’s surreal to see his name alongside those players, who are either in the Basketball Hall of Fame or will be inducted.
“I just appreciate the GOATs of this game,” James said. “They set the standard of what it means to be great. For me, I try to show my appreciation for them laying the path before me and representing this league with the utmost respect.”
He also has gratitude for those close to him.
“Every time I make an accomplishment, it’s not for me,” James said. “It’s for my family, for my friends and ultimately, for my hometown because we’ve been a part of this journey from the beginning. We all came in this together.
“I never thought I’d get to this point. I have no idea how I’ve done it, but I’ve taken full advantage and the man above gave me a God-given gift and I’ve never disrespected the process along the way or taken it for granted.”
Earlier this season, James used a television show he produces to state he believes he is the best player in basketball history. Yet while he is up there with the finest of all time, and passing Jordan will only strengthen his credentials, he has been unable to produce top form as his franchise’s playoff hopes have continued to dwindle.
Thank you! You’re almost signed up for
Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.
But for a moment on Wednesday, James, the Lakers and the NBA had reason to celebrate.