The shot LeBron James scored to break the NBA scoring record will go down as an iconic moment in sports history.
James scored on a fadeaway jumper with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder at Crypto.com Arena and passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader with 38,388 points.
It was a shot on par with Magic Johnson’s baby hook to win Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. It matched the shot Derek Fisher made with 0.4 seconds left to win Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings. It was as big as any of the shots Kobe Bryant made in his 81-point game in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors. It was as unstoppable as any of the sky hooks Abdul-Jabbar made in his career with the Lakers.
After the game, James, who scored 38 points in his team’s 133-130 loss to the Thunder, said he wanted to add a signature touch to his record- breaking basket.
“I know a lot of people wanted me to go to the skyhook to break the record or one of my signature dunks,” James said after the game. “But my fadeaway is a signature play as well. I was able to get it and touch nothing but the bottom of the net.”
Abdul-Jabbar witnessed the record-breaking moment from the stands. He was one of several celebrities who were in attendance for the game. Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, Bad Bunny, LL Cool J, Usher and Andy Garcia were on hand for the historic moment in NBA history. Lakers legends James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Johnson, along with Dwyane Wade, who played with James on two NBA championships teams with the Miami Heat, were also in the arena for the game.
After James scored the record-breaking basket, the game stopped for about 10 minutes for a brief ceremony to commemorate the moment. James hugged his family, wife, mother and three children, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver congratulated James for breaking the record.
James thanked the Lakers fans and posed for pictures with Silver and Abdul-Jabbar.
James entered the game needing 36 points to pass Abdul-Jabbar for the scoring record. He scored 20 points in the first half of the game and added 16 points in the third quarter. His 14-foot fadeaway at the end of the third quarter was the shot that put him over the top.
“I just played the game as it is supposed to be played tonight, as I’ve always done. Didn’t press myself. … When it comes to the record I felt pretty good, good rhythm,” James said. “To break the record, I was able to get to a good spot on the floor where I am really comfortable with and get to one of my patented fadeaway shots.”
He finished the game with 38 points on 13-of-20 shooting and made four 3-pointers. He added seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
After the game, he paid homage to NBA greats, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar.
“I could be up here all night talking about these great legends,” he said.
“For me personally it’s an honor to just be named with the greats, being in the conversation with the greats who played this game before me and some of the greats that’s playing right now.”
The scoring record stood for 38 years, set by Abdul-Jabbar in 1984 when he passed Chamberlain. The 38-year-old James was born about nine months after Abdul-Jabbar set the scoring record on April 5, 1984.
Lakers forward Thomas Bryant, who was on the court with James when he broke the record, said it was “absolutely amazing.”
“It doesn’t happen in a lifetime — someone breaks the scoring record that no one thought would ever be broken,” he said.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after the game James’ teammates wanted to see him break the record, and that might have been a distraction and led to the Lakers’ loss.
“The focus was more about trying to get LeBron to the record as opposed to just playing natural basketball. We just had too many mistakes,” Ham said. “It sucks we didn’t get the win on a night like this. There’s a lot of things to pull from it, a lot of things to take away. I’m happy LeBron was able to accomplish what he accomplished.”
James has won four NBA championships, including one with the Lakers in 2020 during the pandemic. He was asked after the game how his record- breaking game ranks against other games in his career.
“Championships will always sit at the top for me because that’s just where I come from,” James said. “I don’t know where it sits. I’ve done some incredible things in this league and I hope I can do some more incredible things before I’m done.”
James, a four-time NBA MVP, is fourth in career assists, ninth in career steals, 32nd in career rebounds and 91st in career blocks. He has averaged 27.2 points per game in his 20 seasons in the NBA and is averaging 30.0 points per game this season, becoming the oldest player to average 30 points per game. He has 38,390 points in his career. He said he didn’t want to wait another game to break the record.
“Tomorrow’s not promised. I had an opportunity to do it tonight and I was going to try and make it happen,” James said. “I was super efficient and I was able to get it done.”
Mayor Karen Bass ordered Los Angeles City Hall to be lit in the Lakers’ colors of purple and gold Wednesday after James set the record.
“What you’ve done — the breaking of one of the most monumental records in sports — will be heard throughout our city and around the world,” Bass said in a video. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge an L.A. Legend — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who held this record for decades. I am so glad to see that though the record holder is changing hands, it remains in our city of champions.
“So LeBron, on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, I want to congratulate you. We are so proud of your journey thus far, and all that you will continue to do in pursuit of greatness — both on and off the court.”
Updated at 4:55 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023