King James is now the king of NBA scoring.
LeBron James became the association’s all-time leading scorer in the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, surpassing the record that six-time NBA MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had held for 39 years.
With 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter, James sank a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow – scoring his 36th point of the game and 38,388th of his career. He stretched his arms in celebration as the supercharged crowd at Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena went into a frenzy.
Officials paused the game to honor him on the court, where his mother, wife and children met and embraced him. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver congratulated him, and Abdul-Jabbar – in attendance and clapping as James neared the record – raised a basketball aloft before handing it to James as if relinquishing the scoring crown itself.
“I just want to say thank you to the Laker faithful. You guys are one of a kind,” James said into a microphone.
He asked the crowd to give Abdul-Jabbar a standing ovation.
“Everybody that’s ever been a part of this run with me the last … 20-plus years, I just want to say I thank you so much, because I wouldn’t be me without y’all.”
James scored two more points in the fourth quarter in a 133-130 loss – a disappointment for a team now two games behind the Western Conference’s final slot for the NBA’s play-in tournament. But the night – like so many moments in his career – belonged to him.
The 38-year-old needed fewer games than the legendary goggles-wearing center to hit the top of the scoring list – 1,410 to Abdul-Jabbar’s 1,560. James’ record-breaking feat is even more impressive given he’s widely considered a pass-first player in the league, recently claiming the fourth spot in the NBA’s all-time assist list.
The record fulfills one more promise that James seemed to hold when he made the jump from high school to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers as a highly touted 18-year-old hoops prodigy in 2003 – a year after a Sports Illustrated cover story dubbed him “The Chosen One.”
The accomplishment comes alongside his four NBA championships and four league MVP awards. Silver released a statement congratulating James “on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports.”
“It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written,” Silver’s statement reads.
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After the game, TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal asked James about whether he was the greatest player of all time.
“I am going to let everybody else decide who that is or just talk about it. It’s great barbershop talk,” James responded at first.
When O’Neal pressed, James said: “I am going to take myself against anybody who has played this game. But everyone is going to have their favorite, everyone is going to decide who their favorite is. I know what I bring to the table every single night and what I can do out on this floor.”
“I always feel like I am the best to ever play this game, but there are so many other great ones that I am happy to just be a part of their journey.”
James told TNT he still has more in the tank.
“I know I can play a couple more years. The way I’m feeling, the way my body’s been reacting to me throughout this course of the season, I know I can play a couple more years.”
“It’s just all about my mind. If my mind is still into it, if I’m still motivated to go out and try to compete for championships, because I feel like that’s what I can still do for any group of guys, for any franchise. I can go out there and still help win multiple championships or win a championship.”
The scoring record was “something I never made a goal of mine or set out to do – it just happened,” he said, and credited great teammates and great coaches that allowed him to be “me.”
Luminaries from the NBA and beyond, including Dwight Howard, Paul Gasol and boxer Manny Pacquiao saluted him on social media.
Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who was at Tuesday’s game and helped lure James to the Lakers in 2018 when he was the team’s president of basketball operations, hailed James on Twitter as “such an amazing man on and off the court.”
“I want to personally thank you LeBron for trusting & believing in me & the Lakers in 2018 … Everything you said you would do, you’ve done; led the Lakers to a championship, elevated the Lakers brand, & gave back to the city of LA!” Johnson tweeted.
The Miami Heat, with whom James won two NBA titles, tweeted: “Congrats @KingJames! What a time. What an accomplishment. Proud of you, #ScoringKing.”
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Matias Grez and Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.