And so, it happened.
The most anticlimactic ending in Hollywood history went down in Tinseltown Tuesday evening as LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. In fact, the only person who didn’t see this coming was LeBron James who stated that, of all the goals he set during his lifetime, becoming the league’s all-time scoring record was never on his radar.
Titles? Of course. (He has four of those)
MVPs? Certainly. (He has four of those as well)
But in his wildest dreams, LeBron never thought he’d score more points than anyone who had ever played the game. Well, he has, and his record will probably stand for a while as he’s nowhere near done setting it.
For those of us who watched LeBron James evolve as a player, his place in history is not all that surprising. He’s still doing things we’ve seen very few players ever do. Over his twenty-year career (Abdul-Jabbar also played 20), Lebron has missed very few games and has played at a high clip through most of them. As of this writing, James has played in 1410 NBA games which ranks 9th all time (KAJ ranks 2nd; Robert Parish ranks 1st) and has demonstrated no signs of slowing down. This year, James is averaging an astonishing 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds a game while shooting over 50% from the floor. He’s 38 years old playing like he’s 28 and if you can set aside your abject hatred for him and look objectively at what he’s done and still doing, you’ll find it’s quite remarkable.
I’m not here to tell you where you should rank LeBron on your all-time list of NBA players. I’m not even here to tell you that his record will stand the test of time. It might not. In terms of all-time scorers, Kevin Durant ranks 14th, James Harden 27th, Russell Westbrook 28th and Steph Curry 39th. But Kareem’s record lasted for over thirty years. It will take a player as lucky, as healthy, and as determined as LeBron to grapple that thing away from him.
Like LeBron, Kareem was not the most liked player of his generation either. Kareem was stoic, stand-offish, cerebral, and misunderstood. (Side note: he still is.) It wasn’t until some smiling kid from Flint, Michigan took it upon himself to put a little pep in Kareem’s step that fans (and teammates) started to ingratiate themselves towards the one they call Cap.
For now, and probably a good while longer, the all-time scoring leader will be another man you don’t like. Apparently, one pisses off a lot of people on the way to a scoring title.
Speaking of unliked, the well-traveled Kyrie Irving has been traded to Dallas. This news came within hours of LeBron breaking the all-time scoring record. Gone with the wind is the promise of the Brooklyn Nets, formerly comprised of Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. A team many felt might become the most offensively entertaining ever now only has Ben Simmons to show for their efforts. How the Nets went from having three Hall of Famers at the beginning of the 2021-22 season to them all playing elsewhere in 2023 is mind-boggling. Nets fans who signed a season ticket contract with the promise of something exciting must be livid. If anybody should be wearing a black hat in Brooklyn, it might be Nets GM Sean Marks.
Kyrie Irving left the Tita-Nets, landed on a life raft deep in the heart of Texas, and is now playing with arguably the best player in the league, Luka Doncic. So far, Doncic is still a league darling. He hasn’t been around long enough to alienate fans like Abdul-Jabbar, James, Irving, etc. but his career is still young. All it might take to change our minds is winning with Kyrie, or even having his back, for that to happen.
In a wide-open NBA, with no dominant team a substantial favorite, logic would have us believe that anything is possible with two players as gifted as Irving and Doncic playing alongside each other. Clearly, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wouldn’t have sought a trade for Kyrie had Doncic not signed off on the deal. To Dallas fans’ delight, these two might pick and roll defenders deep into an NBA playoff run. In a Western Conference characterized by teams full of question marks, the shrewd and title-driven Cuban pushed his chips into the middle of the table to see if the maligned Kyrie can let his play be the only thing talking.
From a natural talent perspective, it’s hard to imagine Irving and Doncic not vibing on the floor. Irving is averaging near career highs in both points and rebounds, and his assist total will most assuredly climb now that he’s playing with a man who has shown us that, at only 23 years old, he can score from anywhere, at any time.
With the bulk of us hating Kyrie, as many of us do LeBron and Abdul-Jabbar before him, the question remains how our relationship with him will evolve. Will we be happy for Luka if he succeeds with Kyrie? Will we change our minds about Kyrie? Can one universally hated player wear the black hat while we openly root for his teammate, or is our disdain for Kyrie so profound that we’ll root against Luka’s success? There is no Batman-Robin situation here as we’ve already declared one of these two a Supervillain.
Wherever you rank LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on your likeability meter, you’re probably going to stew for a little while longer as they both promise to show sustained success in the immediate future. James will be scoring king every time he takes the floor, and the more Dallas becomes a threat, the stewier we all will get.
We haven’t rooted for LeBron since his “decision.” We haven’t rooted for Kyrie since his bungled experiment in Boston. If we turn on Luka and continue doling out all this hate, we will soon run out of players to root for and black hats to assign a head to.