Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is on the cusp of passing Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.
At his current pace this season, James will need to play in two more games to move past Abdul-Jabbar. If he doesn’t miss any games, James is projected to pass Abdul-Jabbar when the Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 9 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
James is averaging 30.0 points per game this season. In his most recent outing, he scored 27 points in a 131-126 loss at the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.
Abdul-Jabbar, 75, has been the NBA’s all-time leading scorer for more than 38 years; he surpassed Wilt Chamberlain’s career total of 31,419 points on April 5, 1984. When he retired in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar’s career points total was regarded as one of the league’s most unbreakable records.
Before James, Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone came closest to threatening the record, retiring with 36,928 points in 2004. Kobe Bryant (33,643 points) and Michael Jordan (32,292 points) retired without mounting serious challenges to Abdul-Jabbar’s throne.
James is on track to break the record in fewer games and with a higher career scoring average than Abdul-Jabbar. James has played 1,409 games during his 20-year career and boasts a 27.2-point scoring average. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points in 1,560 games across 20 seasons with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’m kind of in awe of it,” James said in September. “Wow. To sit here and know I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, things that people said would never be done, it’s super humbling for myself. It’s super cool.”
Though Abdul-Jabbar has criticized James in recent years for his position on covid-19 and for dancing during games, the hoops legend said in April that he was “all for” James breaking his scoring record and that “there’s no envy there.”
James has enjoyed two big advantages over Abdul-Jabbar: a head start and the three-point shot. After spending four seasons at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar made his NBA debut at 22 in 1969. James entered the NBA straight from high school in 2003 and made his debut at 18.
The NBA didn’t incorporate a three-point line until 1979-80 — Abdul-Jabbar’s 11th season — and the 7-foot-2 center made just one three-pointer during his career. The 6-foot-9 James, by contrast, has connected on more than 2,200 three-pointers so far.
The 38-year-old James has made steady progress up the all-time scoring charts, passing Chamberlain in November 2018, Jordan in March 2019, Bryant in January 2020 and Malone in March 2022. Given that James is under contract through the 2024-25 season and that he has given no indication that he plans to retire, the four-time MVP has a chance to surpass 40,000 points and put significant distance between himself and Abdul-Jabbar.
Remarkably, the closest active player to James’s total is Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who ranks 14th all-time with 26,684 points. Given that Durant is 34 and has suffered a string of injuries in recent years, he is unlikely to seriously challenge James’s record.
Among the NBA’s younger generation, Luka Doncic probably has the best chance to make a run at the scoring crown, but the 23-year-old Dallas Mavericks guard has said there’s “no way” he will be the all-time scoring leader “because I’m not playing that much.”
James is already the NBA’s all-time leading postseason scorer with 7,631 points, topping Jordan (5,987), Abdul-Jabbar (5,762) and Bryant (5,640).