LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on Thursday night as the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader, accomplishing the feat in a win over the Celtics. That 135-102 victory, in which James scored 35 points, sent his Cavaliers into a Finals showdown with the Warriors, giving the Cleveland star a chance to draw closer to Jordan’s total of six championships.
James went into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals needing 28 points to surpass Jordan’s record of 5,987 postseason points. He drew within one of MJ on a thunderous third-quarter dunk, then passed his childhood idol shortly afterward on a three-pointer.
James needed more games to rack up his 5,995 career playoff points, 212 to Jordan’s 179. The ex-Bull (and -Wizard, although his two-year Washington tenure yielded no playoff games) remains the NBA’s per-game postseason scoring leader, at 33.45, while James’s mark of 28.25 places him fifth, behind Allen Iverson (29.73), Jerry West (29.13) and Kevin Durant (28.44).
However, James has been a more efficient postseason scorer than Jordan, needing fewer shots (4,379 to 4,497), albeit while hitting a lower percentage (.482-.487) and taking more three-pointers (971-446). James has higher per-game numbers in rebounds (8.8-6.4), assists (6.8-5.7) and blocks (1.0-0.9).
The big thing is that, as far as his total in points goes, James has a chance to put some major distance between himself and everyone else for the foreseeable future. He’ll get at least four more playoff games this year, and at age 32 and showing few signs of slowing down, James figures to play in many more postseason contests before he retires.
As it is, the closest active players to him — Tony Parker (4,012), Dwyane Wade (3,871), Dirk Nowitzki (3,663) and Manu Ginobili (3,009) — are all nearing the end of their careers, and they aren’t all that close to begin with. The next active player, Durant, is far behind James at 2,872 playoff points, although the Golden State forward is also four years younger.
On the topic of age, the fact that James entered the NBA right out of high school, and played at an all-star level almost right away, is his biggest advantage over his historical competition. He was just 21 in his first playoff game, but was well-prepared at that point to lead his teams on lengthy runs, whereas Jordan didn’t get his Bulls out of the first round until he was 25.
After ousting Boston, James was full of praise for Jordan, saying His Airness was “almost like a god” to him when he was growing up. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Michael, just seeing what he was able to accomplish,” James said.
James, however, made sure to point out that “scoring” was “not number one” on his “agenda,” drawing a bit of a contrast with Jordan. That jibed with comments James made in December, when he said of Jordan, “He was much more of a scorer,” adding, “You recognize the dominance that someone had … but there’s no similarities in our game, at all.”
On the other hand, James acknowledged before Game 5 that topping Jordan’s overall legacy is “a personal goal of mine.” He added (via ESPN), “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”
In August, James called Jordan “this ghost I’m chasing” for greatest-ever status. Jordan’s 6-0 record in the Finals is an impossible standard for James to match, given that he has a 3-4 record, but if the Cavs star can get his fourth ring this year — a tall order against the favored Warriors, but a mountain he scaled just last year — he will certainly have scored some more points in that debate.