LeBron James reaches 40,000 points to extend his NBA career scoring record

James’ combination of longevity and sustained excellence is what makes it entirely likely he could be the only player to ever reach 40,000 points.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James reached 40,000 points Saturday night, still going strong in his 21st NBA season as he tries to put the career scoring record out of reach.

James drove past Michael Porter Jr. and hit a layup with 10:39 left in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 124-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets for the historic basket.

“Being the first player to do something, it’s pretty cool in this league, just knowing the history, the greats that’s come through the league, and then you see some of the greats on the floor tonight, it was great to compete,” James said. “But for me, the main thing, as always, is to win, and I hated that it had to happen in a defeat.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) scores as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1), defends, becoming the first NBA player to reach 40,000 points in a career, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

James did it in 1,475 regular-season games, reaching double-digit points in each of the last 1,205 of them. He has largely avoided major injuries in that time, while also playing another 3 1/2 seasons worth of games in the playoffs en route to four titles in 10 NBA Finals appearances, all with unfathomable pressure placed on him to be the next transcendent player before ever stepping on the court as a professional.

“For the first time in a long time, I’ve seen the commercial that was played before my first game,” James said. “I think they mentioned all the greats to ever play the game of basketball, like Big O and Michael and Kareem and Kobe, and forgot who all else was in that commercial. And then it was like, ‘the next one, LeBron James.’

“I didn’t see that commercial when it happened, but when I was watching it today, I was like, ‘what the hell?’ That expectation on an 18-year-old kid like that, that was insane to think about.”

Even with those expectations, James put in the work and has now accomplished something that seemed impossible.

James’ relentless march saw him pass the previous record of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points on Feb. 7, 2023 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

All that scoring happened without James’ necessarily wanting that to be his trademark. He is fourth in career assists with 10,847, picking up another nine against Denver, and his average of 7.35 per game ranks in the top 25.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who spent five seasons with James as an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005-2010, saw an early dedication from James in all areas. It was already a priority for James to keep himself in peak physical condition, even if the run to the scoring title was an unforeseen outcome back them.

“I remember being in Cleveland, him being in the weight room with our weight and strength coaches, and there’s no way he’s doing what he’s doing at this stage of his career if he is not putting a ton of time into his body, his diet, his sleep, all those things that really matter,” Malone said before the game.

James’ combination of longevity and sustained excellence is what makes it entirely likely he could be the only player to ever reach 40,000 points.

To put the feat in perspective, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will need to average 25 points over his next 1,057 appearances to join James at 40,000 points. That would be nearly 13 full seasons without injuries or any other unforeseen circumstance, all the way past age 41 without a drop in production for the two-time MVP.

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Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic seems like the most reasonable candidate to make a serious push, as his career average of 28.51 points per game is third in league history behind Michael Jordan (30.12) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.07). But Doncic will need to keep it up for 1,022 more games to match James, a timeline pushing into the 2036-37 season barring interruption.

“There’s just certain things that you just don’t think that’s going to happen,” James said. “I guess for years people said Kareem’s record wouldn’t be broken. I was able to eclipse it. But like I said, you have to have some really good luck, you have to play the game at a high level for a long time, and then we see.”

As to whether James might ever take up residence in the 50,000-point club, a conservative estimate of 25 points per game from here on out — essentially matching what he has been producing in his 21st professional campaign at 39-years-old — while playing 55 outings each coming season would put him at the doorstep in 2031-32.

Malone wouldn’t rule it out.

“Really, when you take a step back, you just have to marvel at the longevity. But he’s just not playing at this. He is playing effectively,” Malone said. “I’m sure for him, that’ll be his decision down the road probably in five, six years. ‘Am I still playing effectively?’ And he is.”

If anyone would even dare to make a charge at the impossible, it could only be King James.

“I come to work and prepare and prep, mentally, physically, spiritually every single night when it’s time to play, and I just try to go out and contribute,” he said. “Been able to do it for 20-plus years, including this year. When I come on the floor and feel pretty good, I feel I can make plays.

“Still able to do the things that I was doing 10 years ago. And some things I was doing 20 years ago, which is weird to say.”

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