Whether King James is the GOAT may be open to debate, but breaking the all-time scoring record is the crown jewel of achievements

OPINION: Determining who is the greatest NBA player of all time is highly subjective, but there’s no disputing a statistical fact. And on the question of who is the greatest scorer of all time, there is only one right answer.

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after scoring to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar's career total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Crypto.com Arena on February 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Ranking players is a fun and infuriating aspect of sports, a combative and ultimately pointless exercise that generates endless media content for fan consumption. It’s effortless, too: Just consider everyone who ever played — competing in different eras, under different rules, conditions, and norms — and devise your list of all-time greats in numerical order.

The debate inevitably expands as generations pass, with younger athletes entering the discussion and supplanting their elders. But lines of demarcation are blurry and arguments ensue as the newcomers climb up. At what point exactly does this active player eclipse that long-retired player? And how long until players not yet conceived are vying to be No. 1?

Subjectivity is baked into such rankings, as inseparable as eggs in a cake. Each judge’s list is influenced by their personal tastes and preferences, including players’ style and backstory. Maybe you place short underdogs and overachievers above tall favorites who make the game look easy.

But there’s no disputing a statistical list, no room for emotions or inclinations to cloud the process. 

And after Tuesday game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron Raymone James is the only correct answer regarding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. End of discussion.

It’s not Kareem Abdul Jabbar (No.2), who had held the record with 38,387 points since April 5, 1984, or Michael Jordan (No.5), who’s widely considered the greatest player of all time. It’s not Wilt Chamberlain (No.7), who remains the most dominant force in NBA history. It’s not Karl Malone (No.3), Kobe Bryant (No.4) or anyone else among over 4,800 players who’ve suited up.

It’s “King James,” anointed “The Chosen One” as a 17-year-old on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The crazy thing about LeBron owning the record is he’s never fancied himself as a scorer, not even then. “A lot of players know how to play the game, but they don’t really know how to play the game, if you know what I mean,” he said as a high school junior in 2002. “They can put the ball in the hoop, but I see things before they even happen.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously hands LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers the ball after James passed Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar’s career total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Crypto.com Arena on February 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

The truth can sound like bragging when it’s simply facts. A week before overtaking Abdul-Jabbar on the scoring list, James passed Mark Jackson and Steve Nash for fourth place on the all-time assists list. Among the three players ahead of him in assists (John Stockton, Jason Kidd, and Chris Paul), none are closer than 17,000 points away in scoring.

We’ve arguably never seen a player like James, a chiseled 250 pounds at 6-foot-9, with a point guard’s vision, a shooting guard’s range, a small forward’s athleticism, a power forward’s force and a center’s gravitational effect. Yet, it’s difficult to determine what’s most amazing — producing such on-court exploits or outpacing the hype that preceded them?

Facing the most improbable projections and impossible expectations, James has put himself atop the scoring list and amidst the game’s legends. No matter where he ranks on your GOAT list — Charles Barkley has him seventh — James can rest easy with his status. 

“Hopefully I made an impact enough so people appreciate what I did, and still appreciate what I did off the floor as well, even when I’m done,” James told the New York Times. “But I don’t live for that.”

He also doesn’t wait for others to toot his horn. James is perfectly willing to do it himself.

“What I bring to the table as a basketball player … I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game,” James told the Orange County Register. “That’s just my confidence, that’s just what I bring to the table, what I possess. 

“But as far as if the scoring record gets me to another level, I don’t know.”

That’s for everyone else to consider. At 38 years old and in his 20th season, James just keeps stating his case. A four-time champ and four-time Finals MVP. A league-record 13 selections to First-Team All-NBA. The only player with 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. 

The longevity is as remarkable as the productivity. If he’s missing a step, its absence is imperceptible. James carried averages of 30.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists into Tuesday’s game. 

Most players in their prime can’t dream of those numbers; LeBron is doing it in his twilight. 

The scoring title is a wrap, but the GOAT debate is more complex. Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers splits hairs, saying James will end with “the greatest career of all time. 

“I think he’s already had it,” Rivers told reporters. “I think Michael [Jordan] is the greatest of all time, but that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron’s had the greatest career.”

If nothing else he’s scored the most points: 38,390 and counting.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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