Audio Dispatch: The NBA's new scoring king
In honor of the great Grant Wahl, I voiced a Substacked audio essay on LeBron James' historic chase of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record ... and the insufficient attention we're giving it
With LeBron James just 36 points shy of surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, I wanted to do something different and special on this Newsletter Tuesday.
LeBron is poised to pass the ace Substack columnist later tonight when the Lakers play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder. If it doesn’t happen tonight, he will do so Thursday when the Milwaukee Bucks visit (the arena I am determined to keep calling) Staples Center.
Yet the timing, I’m afraid, is less than ideal. We’re also entering the last 48 hours of NBA Trade Season, which has prevented us from spotlighting LeBron’s incredible achievement as much as we should be.
The great Grant Wahl, as many of you know, wrote the first Sports Illustrated story on LeBron in 2002 that dubbed him The Chosen One. Some lesser-known but significant (to me) trivia about Grant: He also did some wonderful audio posts on his Substack that always made me envious. He would land in some far-flung city somewhere in the world to cover a U.S. men’s or women’s national team game and immediately record a short audio entry for his audience to give them a spoken feel for where he had just arrived.
I plan to start doing more of those in the future and felt like this was the ideal time to give Substack’s audio functionality a whirl with an essay about the history we’re about to witness.
There has been a slew of wonderful written pieces in recent days from a number of my colleagues about LeBron’s looming achievement, but in general I feel like we’ve been rushing the hoopla here because everyone (me included) is so wrapped up in the trade deadline. I hate that.
Having witnessed the Channel 9-in-L.A. TV broadcast of Kareem supplanting Wilt atop the scoring mountain as a teenager in 1984, I will never forget how huge that all felt. LeBron has legitimately exceeded pretty much every expectation for his career, which is saying something given the hype Grant detailed as far back as LeBron’s high school days, but I don’t think anyone ever expected him to do this.
And he’s surely going to take his eventual point total into the 40,000s if he indeed plays a “few” more seasons as he vowed last week.
Enclosed, then, are 10 good minutes of audio pontificating from your ever-nostalgic essayist about LeBron chasing Kareem … and competing head-on with the trade deadline … and, of course, what all this means for the never-ending GOAT debate.
Click here to give it a listen:
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I don’t even remember where or how I got this picture/screencap, but I had to throw it in here on this momentous occasion. It’s a shot of the media scrum from LeBron’s very first NBA game in Sacramento on Oct. 29, 2003.
I think — stress think — this was the pregame media gaggle, but I’m less sure of that. I attempted to find my ESPN.com story from that night but needed help from Trusty Editor Royce Webb to track it down when I couldn’t find it.
LeBron’s 25 points are not what I remember most from that night. The takeaway that sticks with me with most is how the Kings’ various established veterans, like Vlade Divac and Peja Stojaković, came away mesmerized by how good (and poised) James looked at a mere 18. He was the most dangerous player on the court that night.
“We were all amazed,” Stojaković told me this week. “And the hype for his first game was unreal for that time.”
On April 5 of that year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passed Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA's all-time leading scorer. On Dec. 30 of that year, LeBron James was born in Akron, Ohio.
Wilt held the all-time scoring record for more than 18 years ... and Kareem will have held it for nearly 39 by the time LeBron passes him this week.
Kareem retired at age 42. LeBron, who turned 38 in December, said last week that he intends to play into his 40s.
James is averaging 30.0 points per game this season to rank as the NBA's No. 7 scorer entering Tuesday's play. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 23.4 points at age 38.
James has had nine games this season in which he has scored at least 36 points and, as stated, needs 36 more to pass Abdul-Jabbar. The closest active player to James on the NBA's scoring charts is Brooklyn's Kevin Durant with 26,684 points.
Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA and James will pass him in his 20th season.
According to research from The Associated Press' irrepressible Tim Reynolds, LeBron James was behind 2,708 players on the NBA's all-time scoring list after scoring 25 points in his NBA debut at Sacramento on Oct. 29, 2003. James has since passed 2,707 of those players.
This is LeBron's fifth season as a Laker. He played with Cleveland for seven seasons in his first stint as a Cavalier, but his next two stops (four seasons in Miami and four more in his return to Cleveland) were shorter than his Lakers tenure.
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