Passing Kareem is LeBron's Greatest Legacy
Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Move over, Cap, there’s a new scoring champion in town. LeBron James now holds the NBA’s all-time scoring record after pulling up for a fadeaway jumper in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. LeBron came into the game needing 36 points to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark, and he got 38. The new top scoring number is 38,390 - and still counting.
It was a magnificent moment for one of the NBA’s most magnificent players. Since coming into the league at the tender age of 19, LeBron has put together a resume that rivals not just the greatest ever in the NBA, but one of the great sports resumes in all of sports history. Here’s a quick rundown of his accomplishments: a 19-time All Star, 18-time All-NBA selection, six-time All-NBA defensive team selection, four-time NBA MVP, four-time NBA Champion, four-time NBA Finals MVP, ten NBA Finals appearances, and now, the feather on top of what can only be described as the most jaw-droppingly majestic cap in the universe is all-time NBA points leader.
Though the Los Angeles Lakers failed to beat the Thunder, the night belonged to LeBron. He’s had many, many amazing and memorable moments, but none quite encapsulates the tremendous all-around quality of LeBron’s career like this - and ironically, it’s the all-around nature of his game that makes this new record so incredible.
If you ask some bystander about LeBron James and what makes him so great, one of the first things you’ll probably hear is his astonishing physical traits. He’s a super-human-sized locomotive. He’s an unstoppable force in a league without many immovable objects. Standing at 6’8” and listed at 250 lbs, with a mind-boggling combination of speed, strength and coordination, LeBron is one of the most physically imposing players in NBA history - and that’s saying a lot in a league that’s seen giants like Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain dominate over the years.
LeBron wouldn’t be LeBron if it wasn’t for his freakish physical ability. But there have been many fantastic athletes throughout the years who couldn’t last five minutes on an NBA court. LeBron’s athleticism gave him the tools to succeed, but it was his skill that allowed him to dominate.
You see, LeBron can do a lot. He can score at the rim, he can score from the mid-range, and he can score from three-point-range. He can face you up, post you up, or straight muscle his way past you. He can score in the half-court and he can score in transition. If there’s a way to put that orange ball in a basket, LeBron’s mastered it.
But scoring is just a small part of LeBron’s skill set, even if it’s the skill that’s likely cemented his status in the NBA’s pantheon of greats. It’s his passing that’s arguably his greatest skill (he's fourth all-time in assists!). Whether it’s rifling a pass through traffic to a cutter or a no-look to the spot-up shooter in the corner, LeBron has always had a tremendous feel for finding his teammates in the right place at the right time. He’s a facilitator first, which makes the fact that he now owns the scoring title even more amazing.
And it’s not just passing, either. LeBron can defend, he can rebound, he can block shots and he can move without the ball. He’s been a leader on every team he’s been a part of, whether that was as a young player trying to make his mark with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the front man of the Miami Heat Big 3 Era, as the homecoming king in his return to Cleveland, or as the elder statesman with the LA Lakers. Name a facet of the game, and LeBron’s found a way to be great at it. He’s the greatest all-around player in NBA history. No one’s affected the game in more ways and at a higher level.
So go ahead and crown King James. He deserves it. This is an achievement that cannot be diminished and needs no embellishment. Many thought Kareem’s record would never fall. Well, now it has.
This will be LeBron’s ultimate legacy. Sure, he has ten Finals appearances and made the Finals with three different teams. Yes, he beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors, and came back from down 3 - 1 in the Finals to do it. But being the NBA’s scoring leader is about a longevity of excellence, not just one moment, and LeBron’s durability is nearly as impressive as his raw ability to put the ball in the hoop.
Quick, how many titles did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar win? If you said six, congratulations, you know your NBA history. But ask an NBA fan who was (prior to yesterday) the NBA’s all-time scoring champ, and they’ll tell you it’s the Big Fella Kareem.
Michael Jordan will always be MJ. He went six for six in the NBA Finals with six Finals MVPs. With the way the Lakers are currently constructed, it’s unlikely LeBron can ever match that (although they did add D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline). But even though MJ is widely considered the best player of all-time, LeBron will now have something that even His Airness can’t eclipse.
The debate between MJ and LeBron will rage for years to come. But no matter who you favor, what’s undeniable is the remarkable endurance that’s allowed LeBron to succeed in the NBA for 20+ years. Keep in mind, he’s 38-years-old right now, and yet he’s still scoring and facilitating like he’s in his twenties. People have been suggesting lately that Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks is next in line to surpass LeBron’s scoring record, but he has nearly fifteen more seasons to go before he approaches that territory. LeBron’s new record isn’t falling any time soon, and he still has a shot at the all-time assist record and most all-time wins by a player. The King finally has his crown - and even MJ can’t tarnish this one.