LeBron James took the microphone at center court under a spotlight on Thursday night, and all the fans who guessed wrong rose to unleash a mighty roar.
Two days after James became the NBA’s scoring king, the achievement was still a thrill to him. In a pregame ceremony, he got to share it with the Lakers faithful who bought tickets one game too late to see it in person.
James paused to gather his thoughts while the three scoreboard ribbons running the circumference of the Lakers’ downtown arena all rotated the same message: “LeBron James — NBA All-Time Leading Scorer.”
“As I sit up here and look at this thing going around right now, it’s just so surreal to me,” James said. “But the one thing I know for sure is that I’ve never cheated the game of basketball. And I would never cheat the game of basketball, because it’s given so much to myself. It’s given so much to my family.”
Two days after he broke the record, James was still basking in the achievement of a lifetime — and even the fans who bought tickets for the Lakers’ meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks instead of their game against Oklahoma City on Tuesday night got a memory for their efforts.
The Lakers held a brief ceremony to recognize James, who was sitting out their first game since the record to rest his sore left foot and ankle.
Moments before James took the court, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offered his thoughts on James’ place in the game’s history after breaking Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387 points, a mark that had stood for nearly 39 years.
“The game has had eras, and LeBron, without a doubt, is the greatest player of his era,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “And that era is right behind that of Shaquille (O’Neal), Michael Jordan. There are people that dominated the game, and then there are people that capture everybody’s imagination. I think that’s what Michael Jordan did. Everybody wanted to be him, to do what he did.”
Abdul-Jabbar noted the folly of the so-called G.O.A.T debates, noting that eras in basketball vary wildly.
“How many people in here saw Sweetwater Clifton play? I didn’t. Most of us didn’t,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He was awesome, but that was back in the early ’50s, without the 24-second clock. ... I think the reason they have sports bars with all those TVs is so people can go in there and argue like this, because we’re not going to find out.”
James’ place in the game’s history is already secure as he attempts to revive the Lakers’ playoff chances deep in his 20th NBA season. James’ left ankle has periodically forced him to miss games this season, including six since November.
On court in a sharp suit, James was in a reflective mood: He recalled the Christmas before his fourth birthday in 1988 in Akron, Ohio, as the moment he fell in love permanently with the game when his mother, Gloria, bought him a kiddie hoop and a small basketball.
“From that moment on, I knew that orange sphere was something that I always wanted to be a part of my journey,” James said. “Who would have known? Someone said on social media that that was the biggest investment in the history of mankind. A $20 Little Tikes hoop could turn into what it’s turned into today. Mom, thank you so much.”
James was also in an appreciative mood with his mother in attendance alongside his three children and his wife, Savannah.
“That’s my starting five right there,” James said. “Savannah ... she’s the real MVP, if you want to be completely honest. She’s the all-time leading scorer, if you want to be completely honest. My boys would say they are the all-time leading scorers, but I don’t think Savannah will allow that tonight.”
James then addressed the Lakers’ fans, who have embraced a longtime rival ever since he arrived in 2018. He assumed an exemplary public leadership role for the franchise in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death in 2020 — and later in the year, he led Los Angeles to its 17th championship.
“My family is everything to me, and you guys over the last five years have become family to me as well, so thank you to the Laker faithful,” James said. “You guys are unbelievable, and every night I step on the floor, I truly understand what it means to represent the Los Angeles Lakers.”
James’ absence and the Lakers’ flurry of trades over the past two days left them with only nine players in uniform when they faced the powerhouse Bucks.
Los Angeles traded away Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones while acquiring D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba and Davon Reed.
The moves are an attempt to salvage another disappointing year for James and the Lakers, who have foundered at the back of the Western Conference pack all season long with Anthony Davis struggling through his annual injury problems. The 13th-place Lakers fell to 25-30 with their 133-130 loss to Oklahoma City on James’ historic night.
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