LeBron James’ scoring record chase: When will the Lakers star pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

On April 5, 1984, over 18,000 fans gathered to see Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar break the NBA’s all-time scoring record set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1966. Abdul-Jabbar, 37, went 10-of-14 from the field while grabbing five rebounds and three assists in a 129-115 victory over the Utah Jazz, capturing the mark Chamberlain set within seven career seasons. Almost 40 years later, LeBron James is expected to break the NBA’s historic record after already being the youngest player to reach several scoring thresholds.

James is already one of two players ranked in the top NBA’s all-time top 30 in career points and assists. The other? Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (No. 15 in points, No. 8 in assists).

Check back here for updates on James’ performances this season as The Athletic will be tracking his chase to be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Last update: Jan. 16, 9 am ET

How many points is LeBron from passing Kareem?

364 points.

When is James expected to break the record?

Feb. 9 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks at Crypto Arena.

(This projection is based on James maintaining his 29.2 points per game season average and not missing any games due to injury and/or rest.)

Most recent notable performance

The four-time NBA Finals MVP crossed the 38,000-point threshold on Jan. 15 against the 76ers, scoring 35 points on 15-of-23 shooting in a 113-112 loss. He also added 10 assists and eight rebounds.

It took 1,399 games for James to join Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to score 38,000 career points.

How has LeBron been scoring this season?

James’ 29 points per game would be the highest single-season scoring average by any player in their age-38 season or older, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 23.4 PPG in 1985-86 at age 38. With a 43-point outing against the Hornets on Jan. 2, he joined Michael Jordan (two instances) as the only players in league history with consecutive 40-point games at age-37 or older. — Hunter Patterson

LeBron’s scoring style in 2023

He is shooting a career-best 80.2 percent on shot attempts from within 3 feet of the rim. James had a mark of 76.1 percent on such shots during his first four years with the Lakers.

On the season, James leads the NBA with six fast break points per game, on pace for his highest single-season average since 2013-14 (6.1), his final season with the Miami Heat. — Tobias Bass

How does LeBron’s career compare to Kareem’s?


(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images)

Basketball has changed tremendously since Abdul-Jabbar last played in an NBA game in 1989. The six-time league MVP set the career scoring mark via his patented skyhook, arguably the most unstoppable shot in NBA history.

James’ path to the all-time scoring record will look much different than his predecessor, and it’s quite obvious why: 3-pointers.

The impact of long-range shooting within the NBA has grown since the league embraced 3-pointers during the 1979-80 season. How has that affected James’ path to the top of the NBA’s scoring list? During Abdul-Jabbar’s final season in 1988-89, NBA teams averaged 6.6 3-point attempts per game. This season, James is averaging 6.7 3-point attempts on his own.

Despite the differences in overall game, both players are grand examples of what it means to age gracefully within a respective sport. In 2020, upon winning his fourth NBA championship, James tied Wilt Chamberlain (both age 35) as second-oldest Finals MVP in league history, leaving both behind only Abdul-Jabbar (age 38 in 1985).

James’ versatility makes his path to NBA scoring king a pleasant surprise. He is one of five players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists over a respective career. The others are Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Luka Dončić.

Abdul-Jabbar’s dominance came by way of simply dominating the paint. He and Shaquille O’Neal are the only players to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and shoot 55 percent overall. — Patterson

Seasons

  • James: 20 (and counting)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 20

Career averages

  • James: 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 50.5 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from 3 and 73.4 percent from the free-throw line (as of Jan. 15).
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.6 blocks, 55.9 percent from the field, 72.1 percent from the free-throw line.

NBA Championships

  • James: 4 (2020, 2016, 2013, 2012)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 6 (1988, 1987, 1985, 1982, 1980, 1971)

Finals MVP awards

  • James: 4 (2020, 2016, 2013, 2012)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 2 (1985, 1971)

Regular-season MVP awards

  • James: 4 (2013, 2012, 2010, 2009)
  • Abdul Jabbar: 6 (1980, 1977, 1976, 1974, 1972, 1971)

All-NBA team selections

  • James: 18 (13 first teams, three second teams, two third teams)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 15 (10 first teams, five second teams)

All-Defensive team selections

  • James: 6 (five first team, one second team)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 11 (five first team, six second team)

All-Star selections

  • James: 18 times (tied with Kobe Bryant for the second most ever)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: 19 times (NBA records)

NBA scoring leader

  • James: Once (2008)
  • Abdul-Jabbar: Twice (1972, 1971)

LeBron’s highest-scoring regular-season games

1. March 3, 2014: 61 points vs. Charlotte Bobcats

2. Nov. 3, 2017: 57 points vs. Washington Wizards

3. March 5, 2022: 56 points vs. Golden State Warriors

4. March 20, 2005: 56 points vs. Toronto Raptors

5. Feb. 20, 2009: 55 points vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Who else could break Kareem’s (soon to be LeBron’s) record?

It’ll be an uphill battle for anyone who dares to try.

THEA recent ESPN sitdown interviewJames listed the following players when asked who he believes could pass him one day, assuming they could “be available on the floor” long enough: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of the five, Durant is the most immediate threat, as he’s just over 11,000 career points behind Abdul-Jabbar and still near the top of his game. He is currently 16th on the all-time scoring list.

There are currently six players currently on an NBA roster who have already scored at least half as many career points as Kareem: Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry. (A seventh, Damian Lillard, is just below that threshold).

Five other active players have maintained a point-per-game average of 24 or more through at least 250 games played: Doncic, Embiid, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and Anthony Davis. (Davis averages exactly 24 points per game for his career, while Devin Booker is just under that threshold at 23.7 points).

If anyone surpasses James, chances are it’ll be one of those 15 players. — Mike Prada

What other notable records does LeBron have?

James is currently the NBA’s all-time leader in combined regular-season and playoff points, with 45,655. He’s also scored in double digits in 1,129 consecutive games, an NBA record. He’s crossed the 20-point threshold in a game 1,162 times in his career, the most in NBA history.

He is the youngest player to…

  • Score 30 points in a game (18 years, 334 days)
  • Score 40 points in a game (19 years, 88 days)
  • Score 2,000 points in a season (20 years, 111 days at the end of 2004-05 season)
  • Average 30 points in a season (21 years, 110 days at end of 2005-06 season, 31.4 PPG)

And the oldest player to …

  • Average at least 30 points in a season (37 years, 101 days at the end of 2021-22 season, 30.3 PPG)
  • Record at 30-point triple-double (37 years, 81 days on March 21, 2022 at Cleveland Cavaliers)

Other career records within sight include career field goals (second behind Abdul-Jabbar), most games scoring at least 30 points (second behind Michael Jordan) and career regular-season minutes played (third behind Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone). — James Jackson

How long will LeBron keep playing?

James has been planting the seeds for playing with his son, Bronny, for a couple of years. Bronny is a senior at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif., meaning he won’t be eligible to play in the NBA until 2024-25, his father’s age-40 season.

In a recent interview with ESPN, he softened his stance on playing on the same team as Bronny, instead saying that he’d settle for playing in the same game as his eldest son. Bronny is currently the No. 34 prospect in his class, according to both ESPN and 247Sportswhich indicates he might not be an obvious one-and-done candidate.

In a December interview with German journalist Maximilian Haupt, Lakers guard Dennis Schröder, speaking in German, said that James told him he wants to play for five to seven more yearsup to age 45. That’s notable because James has long revered Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who is still playing in the NFL at 45.

James pushed back on that characterization a couple weeks later.

“I don’t have a number,” James said. “I know as long as my mind stays in it, I can play at this level for a minute. Now, that’s up to my mind. My body is going to be OK because if my mind is into it, I will make sure my body is taken care of and I’ll continue to put in the work.”

Considering the level James has played this season and the way he takes care of his body in the offseason, he should be able to play like an All-Star for at least two more seasons. Depending on Bronny’s development, the 2024-25 season, James’ 22nd, will potentially be his last.

But as he’s shown throughout his legendary career, it’d be foolish to count out The King defying Father Time. — Jovan Buha

(Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

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