In his increasingly realistic quest to claim the NBA’s all-time scoring title, LeBron James entered Saturday’s nationally televised game needing 18 points to eclipse Kobe Bryant for third on that list.
Bryant scored 33,643 points in 1,346 games and 48,637 minutes over 20 seasons. It took him 26,200 field-goal attempts.
With a layup in the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers, James surpassed his fellow Los Angeles Lakers superstar in 105 fewer games, almost 1,000 fewer minutes and three fewer seasons, requiring nearly 2,000 fewer field-goal attempts to hit his mark.
He did so while sporting an homage to Bryant on his sneakers.
After the bucket, 76ers coach Brett Brown called timeout, and the Philadelphia home crowd gave James an ovation.
Bryant responded on Twitter by congratulating James on the achievement.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
James finished the night with 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But it wasn’t enough to notch a win as the 76ers rode big games from Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris to a 108-91 win while Joel Embiid continued to sit with a finger injury.
Simmons tallied 28 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals, while Harris totaled 29 points and eight rebounds.
LeBron’s legacy vs. Kobe’s
If anyone is still arguing Bryant is the better player, it is impossible to build a statistical case against James. James is now officially better than Bryant at his best skill — scoring. The current Lakers legend entered Saturday’s tilt with 50/34/74 shooting splits (58.6 true shooting percentage), while his predecessor ended his career with 45/33/82 splits (54.1 true shooting percentage). To put that in perspective, James could miss his next 3,000 shots and his field-goal percentage would still edge Bryant by 0.1 percent.
James long ago surpassed Bryant in career rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He owns all the same advantages in the playoffs, too, except for the one that matters most. Bryant retired with five rings, while James is stuck on three. The Lakers are the current favorites to win the title this season, according to MGM Resorts International Race & Sports Books.
Lakers fans who watched Bryant in L.A. for 20 seasons may cling to the rings in this debate, at least with their hearts, even if James has more Finals MVPs. You wonder how James would have fared with prime Shaquille O’Neal on the Cleveland Cavaliers team he carried to 61 wins at age 25. But I digress.
Can LeBron catch Kareem?
Back to base statistics. James could become the first member of the 30,000/10,000/10,000 club. He has repeatedly said he wants to play either with or against his son, Bronny, a prep phenom who is three years away from becoming draft-eligible (four if the proposed lower draft age is not approved for 2022). That gives James plenty of time to add to current career totals of 9,211 rebounds and 9,126 assists.
The real question, though, is whether James can catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career record of 38,387 points. James entered Saturday’s game needing 3,302 points to catch Karl Malone for second on the all-time list and 4,761 points to match Abdul-Jabbar. James averaged just over 2,000 points per season over his first 16 campaigns, and he never scored fewer than last year’s injury-plagued 1,505.
If James were to play an average of 60 games over the next four seasons and score 20 points per game, he would become the NBA’s new scoring champion. He is currently averaging 25 points a night.
So, you’re telling me there’s a chance.
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