On April 5, 1984, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Nearly 38 years later, LeBron James is on a mission to become the new scoring leader, with only the esteemed Abdul-Jabbar standing in his path.
Saturday night, James drove to the basket for an uncontested lay-up and climbed up to number two on the all-time scoring list, passing the Hall of Famer Karl Malone. While that in and of itself deserves praise, the celebration will be short. LeBron will now set his sights on Kareem, who like himself proudly wore the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers.
So when can basketball fans start to prepare for LeBron’s next and potentially greatest milestone? Truthfully, you won’t have to wait as long as you think.
LeBron James is the second-highest scorer in NBA history
With 36,909 career points entering Saturday, James trailed Malone by only 19. By the time the final buzzer sounded in LA’s 127-119 loss to the Washington Wizards, the King’s 38 points brought him to 36,947 for his career, good for second on the all-time points list.
James, who has averaged 27.1 points across 19 seasons, has methodically passed some of the NBA’s greatest scorers. On March 7, 2019, Jordan advanced past Michael Jordan with his 32,293rd point to move into fourth place. On Jan. 25, 2020, LBJ scored his 33,644th point to slip by Kobe Bryant for third place — just one day before Bryant’s tragic death.
While LeBron has the benefit of more games played than someone like Jordan, he’s actually in line with many of his peers in terms of games played. The Akron, Ohio native has suited up for 1,363 games, just 17 more than Kobe. Yet the King has over 3,000 more points and counting than the Black Mamba. He also has fewer games under his belt than Malone, who finished his 19-year career with 1,476 regular-season contests.
LeBron now has 197 games to go before he ties Kareem, a little less than two-and-a-half seasons assuming the 37-year-old remains healthy.
When will LeBron James pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer?
For a guy who’s never been considered a “pure scorer”, James certainly has a lot of points. But that’s what happens when you combine consistency and longevity, two of the King’s most prized possessions.
LeBron hasn’t averaged fewer than 25 points since his rookie season. If there’s ever an anomaly, it’s in seasons like this where the superstar scores more than anyone expects. So with no signs of slowing down, the Lakers star should pass Kareem in no time, right?
There is at least one complication. In three of the last four seasons, James has missed 27, 27, and 18 games for LA. Considering he missed more than eight games once in his first 15 seasons, it has certainly slowed his journey toward passing Abdul-Jabbar. But it hasn’t stopped it.
James is averaging around 26.7 points over his last three seasons. So let’s assume that’s what the ageless wonder will score moving forward. But let’s also assume he misses around 24 games, which admittedly sits on the conservative side.
That means in a full 82-game where LeBron averages 26.7 points across 58 contests, he’ll score approximately 1,548 points. For reference, James only trails Abdul-Jabbar by 1,440.
So when can we expect the King to take Abdul-Jabbar’s crown? With 11 games left this season, that means we could see a healthy James break the record as soon as New Year’s Day, right around LA’s 40-game mark. If he misses a few games late this season or early next, you can expect to see LeBron reach the target by next season’s February All-Star break or even a little earlier.
In other words, we’re less than a year away before LeBron James strengthens his GOAT argument even further.
LeBron is already going to shatter one of Kareem’s records this season
Unless James can average just under 131 points a game for the rest of the season (doubtful, but not impossible), Kareem will remain the NBA’s point leader through the summer. But the six-time MVP should already prepare to relinquish another record in the coming days.
With 29.7 points per game, LeBron is easily going to set the record for most PPG in year 19. The previous record-holder was Abdul-Jabbar, who at 40 years old averaged 14.6 points in 1987-88, his 19th NBA season.
LeBron should really have his sights set on MJ. Just before retiring for the second time, a 35-year-old Jordan won the scoring title in 1997-98. If James wins this year’s scoring title, he’ll officially become the oldest player to lead the NBA in points for a single season.
Love him, hate him, it doesn’t really matter. Prepare for LeBron James to sit atop the record books in the very immediate future.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.