LOS ANGELES — History was made at a Lakers game, as has often been the case over the decades. It’ll be a long time before this type of record-making night is replicated.
LeBron James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by scoring 38 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.
James became the new No. 1 on a 14-foot turnaround near the left side of the free-throw line with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
James ended the night with 38,390 career points, while Abdul-Jabbar had 38,387 points.
The Lakers, however, lost to the young, irreverent Thunder, 133-130, in what could simply be described as par for their season so far. The Lakers (25-30) remained 13th in the Western Conference and fell 1.5 games behind the Thunder in the standings.
More on the loss later. The night belonged to history.
The writing was penciled onto the wall when James scored 20 points in the first half. It became ink at halftime when James was overheard asking his sons if he should break the record.
“Go ahead and get it?” he said to teenagers Bryce and Bronny, sitting in courtside seats. “All right, I’ll get it.”
Back-to-back three-pointers early in the third quarter brought James within eight points of the record and virtually guaranteed it would fall Tuesday. Then he made a driving fastbreak layup and scored on an alley-oop to move within four of Abdul-Jabbar.
Lonnie Walker IV set up James for a fastbreak layup that moved him two points shy of the mark.
Then, finally, came the record-setting fadeaway, an unassisted effort with Kenrich Williams trying to guard James.
“I’m just a kid from Akron, Ohio,” James told Spectrum SportsNet after the game. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
“I’ve sacrificed a lot and the [biggest] thing that I’ve sacrificed is time with my family — time away from my kids, time away from my wife, my mom, etc. etc It takes a lot of dedication. You lose out on a lot of fun, but I’m a disciplined guy and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way," James continued.
The game was stopped nine minutes for a ceremony at midcourt. An emotional James tried to blink back tears. He was unsuccessful.
James hugged Abdul-Jabbar, who was in attendance, and also NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Then he spoke for about two minutes.
“I just want to say thank you to the Laker faithful. It means so much to me,” he said before complimenting Abdul-Jabbar by referring to his nickname. “Please give a standing ovation to the ‘Captain.’ Please.”
He also thanked his wife, three children and friends, not to mention the NBA itself for allowing him to score more than any player ever. Then he returned to the fans.
“I wouldn’t be me without you all,” he said.
The game resumed shortly after that. The Lakers trailed, 104-99.
James scored 38,387 points in substantially fewer games — 1,410 vs. 1,560 for Abdul-Jabbar — but had the benefit of the three-point line his entire career and took advantage of it by gradually improving his outside shot.
Abdul-Jabbar preferred to roam in and around the low post and was outscored overwhelmingly by James at the three-point line, 6,711 to 3. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar made only one shot behind the arc of his entire career — against Phoenix in February 1987, two months before his 40th birthday.
James has averaged more points per game than Abdul-Jabbar, 27.2 vs. 24.6, and shows no signs of slowing down at age 38. He has carried the Lakers numerous times this season and was averaging 30 points a game before Tuesday, tied for third most in his 20-year career.
Abdul-Jabbar became the all-time leading scorer in April 1984 by passing Wilt Chamberlain. He played until he was 42 years old, retiring in 1989.
As for the game, the Lakers trailed by 15 but caught the Thunder at 116-116 early in the fourth quarter. From there, though, the Lakers couldn’t stop Oklahoma City.
Come to think of it, the Lakers couldn’t stop the Thunder most of the night.
Oklahoma City scored 76 points in the first half, a far-too-generous sum for a team stuck in the middle of the pack in offensive rating. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 points on the night and rookie Jalen Williams added 25. Former Lakers forward Mike Muscala made four three-pointers and had 16 points in 17 minutes as the Thunder improved to 26-28.
The Lakers committed 20 turnovers, including six from Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook (27 points) was the only reliable Lakers scorer beyond James. Anthony Davis had a quiet 13 points in 31 minutes. Newly acquired Rui Hachimura had 14 points.
The Lakers need to change something very quickly to turn around their season.
“Win games. Simple,” a deflated Davis said.
Lakers guard Dennis Schroder said earlier Tuesday that the Lakers were aiming to be 19-9 over their final 28 games. It seemed like a reach for a team four games below .500 before Tuesday’s tip-off, though the Lakers finally had the benefit of a fully healthy team with the return of Austin Reaves from a strained hamstring. The Lakers also had the 12th easiest remaining schedule coming into the game.
But the Lakers lost, meaning they must go 19-8 to hit Schroder’s proposed mark. There’s a lot of work ahead if that’s to happen.
The record-setting night will never be forgotten. The Lakers can only hope their season won’t be forgotten as well.