King James: Crown fits LeBron, ‘The Man In The Arena,’ as he breaks NBA scoring record | Opinion

Mark J. Terrill/AP

LeBron James downplayed the G.O.A.T. conversation, and whether Tuesday night had won the debate in his favor for all time. “Barbershop talk,” he called the chatter we love so much in sports over who is the greatest ever.

Then he pretty much said he was.

It was OK. He earned the right to crow a little. To exhale. To reflect. To savor this moment that was all his, and the impossible life that has surrounded it.

“If I was the GM of a franchise I was starting up and I had the No. 1 pick, I would take me,” James said — something so logical it didn’t even sound like bragging. “That’s just because I believe in myself, what I bring to the table, a guy that’s been able to transform his game over the course of 20 years, be able to play any position in this league, excel at any position. I can play one through five. I’ve led the league in assists. I’ve been able to do whatever it is this game has wanted me to do and also transform my game as well.”

Go, King:

“So many great players that have played this game ... but I can’t take nobody over me.”

This man was given the nickname, the crown, before he ever had the right to wear it. He has been “King James” since his freshman year in high school in Akron, Ohio.

It was preposterous that any kid might live up to such a nickname, even the burden of carrying it. But this one did. With ceremony it was minted as official for the Los Angeles Lakers’ regally aging star, the king on his home court surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s career scoring leader Tuesday night.

Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points had stood alone on top for 38 years.

LeBron was 9 months old then. Tuesday night his career total was 38,390 when the game ended. James scored 60.2 percent of his points for the Cleveland Cavaliers, 20.6 percent for the Miami Heat and 19.2 percent (and counting) for the Lakers.

If the argument was always LeBron-or-Michael, it usually was James supporters on the defensive, having to explain why they thought he was better than Jordan.

Now that has changed. Jordan fans must present their case why James isn’t the greatest ever. Didn’t take the all-time scoring record to change that perception, but, as debates go, it’s a heck of a starting point.

It was a 14-foot fadeaway jumper that earned the record and stopped the game. (Fadeaway. Imagine. James should be doing just that by now, at 38. Fading away. Instead, decline is not evident. He is averaging 30.2 points per game.)

The game stopped for 10 minutes to honor him. The commissioner was there. So was Abdul-Jabbar. Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, Bad Bunny, LL Cool J — all there to witness history. LeBron’s old Heat running mate Dwyane Wade was there, too. All of his family. High school teammates, too.

“Everything just stopped. It gave me an opportunity to embrace it and look around and seeing my family, the fans, my friends,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I probably can count on my hands how many times I have cried in 20 years, either in happiness or in defeat. So that moment was one of them when I kind of teared up a little bit. It was ‘I can’t believe what’s going on’ tears. This ride has been fantastic.”

James was such a singular phenomenon that ESPN televised his high school games, a first. Expectations were such, if he merely turned out to be really good, he would have fallen short. The opposite of Tom Brady, who famously was a sixth-round draft pick selected 199th overall out of college, greatness was not only expected of James, but required.

He did not disappoint. He reached impossible expectations — then exceeded them.

LeBron writes five words on his sneaker before every game: The Man In The Arena.

It is a phrase from a speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910, a year after he had left the White House.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Roosevelt famously said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...”

Said James on Tuesday night: “Tonight, I actually felt like I was sitting on top of the arena when that shot went in, and the roar from the crowd. I’m not sure if I would be able to feel that feeling again, unless it’s a game-winning Finals shot.”

The man has dominated in his arena for 20 years, with the nickname that used to seem audaciously presumptuous until it fit him just right.

King James.