LeBron James Credit: Bill Moore photos

It was ironic and apt symmetry. 

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James made history during Black History Month on Tuesday night when he broke the inimitable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record. With the 75-year-old Jabbar in attendance at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, James hit a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow with 10.9 seconds remaining in the third quarter of his team’s matchup with Oklahoma City Thunder to surpass the former Milwaukee Buck and Laker great. 

Jabbar’s mark of 38, 387 points was established on April 5, 1984, eclipsing the remarkable Wilt Chamberlain, another Laker. It stood for nearly 39 years. The 38-year-old James, who in his 20th season in the league, now has 38,390 and counting. The closest active player to James on the all-time scoring list is the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, who at 34 years old is No.14 with 26,864 points. 

James was showered with adulation by the sellout crowd with his mother, wife, children, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, among others, taking part in the celebration. The 7-foot-2-inch Jabbar raised the record-setting basketball high in honor of the 6-foot-8-inch James before presenting it to him. It is a footnote that the Akron, Ohio, native’s accomplishment came in a 133–130 Lakers loss, dropping them to 25–30 and 13th place in the 15-team Western Conference. 

“I just want to say thank you to the Laker faithful,” James said. “You guys are one of a kind. To be able to be in the presence of such a legend as great as Kareem—it’s very humbling.” His recognition came during a roughly 10-minute break in play after he set the record.

The subjective debate as to who is the greatest basketball player ever perpetually and superfluously rages on social media, in barbershops, in high school cafeterias, and on sports talk shows. It is irrelevant and unprovable. It is borderline asinine to argue that Bill Russell, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson would not be dominant in today’s era because of how they played. The game was vastly different in the 1960s and 1970s than it is in 2023, and common sense dictates the trio would have evolved and adapted. 

More profound and significant than the basketball comparisons between Jabbar and James, who both were child prodigies and exceeded the lofty expectations placed upon them, is the impalpable social and cultural threads that connect them. Jabbar, a son of Harlem, distinguished himself as an intellectual and racial justice activist as a young man. 

His formative years coincided with the radical Black Power Movement and seminal Civil Rights Movement, and were shaped by a spiritual conversion to Islam in 1971 at age 24. The six-time NBA champion and six-time NBA MVP renounced his birth name Lew Alcindor and became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, meaning “the noble one, servant of the Almighty.” 

James has used his global platform to speak out against injustices, such as the murders of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014, and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in 2020. In 2018, he founded the I Promise School in Akron, an elementary school serving at-risk children. He is also a co-founder of More Than A Vote, an organization advocating for the voting rights of African Americans. 

The legacies of Jabbar and James will extend far beyond scoring records. Both have endeavored to improve society as much as they have the game of basketball.

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