OPINION: King James reaches the throne, NBA scoring leader and GOAT



Photo courtesy of KeithAllisonPhoto.com.

Maxwell Clark, Staff Reporter

LeBron James officially passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time NBA scoring leader on Feb. 7 in front of a sold out crowd in Los Angeles. James needed 36 points to pass Jabbar’s career total of 38,387, and it only took him until the end of the third quarter to accomplish the feat.

The NBA stopped the game to commemorate the historic moment. James hugged his family, who was sitting courtside. He was also greeted at half court by Jabbar and commissioner Adam Silver, who took pictures with him. James gave a speech to the cheering crowd and seemed to be at a loss for words.

“F**k man, thank you,” James said.

The game proceeded after about 10 minutes. The Lakers went on to lose the game, 133-130, after almost mounting a double-digit comeback. James ended the game with 38 points.

With King James now sitting atop the throne as the all-time scoring leader, is he now crowned the greatest basketball player of all time? I believe so.

First, let’s take a look at his career achievements up to this point. LeBron is obviously number one in points, but he is also number four all time in assists and 32nd in rebounds. James has four MVPs, championships and finals MVPs, 19 All-Star appearances, 18 All-NBA team selections and six All-Defensive team selections. The kid from Akron also has the most points in playoff history.

James’ dominance can not be understated. Making eight straight finals appearances is something that is almost impossible to do in the modern era of the NBA. LeBron is one of the few players who is truly positionless, and he has impacted the team’s success everywhere he has gone.

So who compares to LeBron? The first name everyone loves to bring up is Michael Jordan. Jordan is six-for-six in his finals appearances, which is the biggest knock against James, who is four-for-ten, according to Jordan fans. LeBron has more points, assists, rebounds, 3-point field goals and blocks, as well as a higher field goal percentage than Jordan. James also did not leave for a full season to play poorly in minor league baseball.

James passed Abdul-Jabbar in points, so he has also sparked a debate. Abdul-Jabbar has one of the more impressive resumes until you put into context the years in which he played. Jabbar entered the league when there were only 17 NBA teams. For half of the 1970s, there were no 60-win teams, which has only happened a couple of times since then. The competition was a lot worse as well. Abdul-Jabbar played his first seven seasons before the NBA merged with the ABA. The likes of Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin were still in the ABA during that time. While he did play against some hall of famers and legends, he also went against players who might not even be able to make the G League today.

LeBron’s play style most resembles that of Magic Johnson. Magic is the better passer, though LeBron is higher all time in assists. Passing is really the only edge that Johnson has on James. Johnson’s career being cut short is tragic because we can’t compare their legacies properly. Magic was never the scorer that LeBron is. Johnson was a winner though, but had the benefit of joining an LA Lakers team that was already competing for championships. LeBron was drafted to a Cleveland team that was far away from any playoff chance.

Now, let’s dissect LeBron’s career.

LeBron James was one of, if not the most hyped up high school recruit the basketball world has ever seen. People were comparing the 17-year-old to Jordan before he graduated high school. In a pre-draft interview with NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, James was told that if he couldn’t make the hall of fame, he would be a bust. The Akron, Ohio native was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft class, taken straight out of high school by the team in his home state. The Cleveland Cavaliers gave James the keys to the organization at 18 years of age. That is more attention and pressure than many people will receive in a lifetime.

James had a stellar rookie season, averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. The Cavs just missed the playoffs that season with a record of 35-47, an 18-win improvement from the year prior. James’ rookie campaign was the only year of his career that he did not make the All-Star team, but he capped off the season by earning the rookie of the year award.

A couple years later in the 2005-06 season, James led the Cavs to their first playoff appearance since 1998. LeBron had stellar performances throughout the playoff run, but the team could not get it done and was beaten by the Detroit Pistons in the conference semifinals. The next year is when LeBron James and the Cavaliers took off. James took the franchise to its first finals appearance in its 36 years of history. The team ultimately lost to the dynasty that was the San Antonio Spurs.

LeBron was unable to win a championship in his first stint with the Cavaliers, but before he left, he achieved back-to-back MVPs, six All-Star appearances and led the team to multiple deep playoff runs. LeBron won his first MVP at the age of 24. Arguably his greatest teammate during this time was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a career 13 points-per-game and seven rebounds-per-game player. LeBron had no help in those years, so in an exclusive interview with ESPN in the summer of 2010, James decided to take his talents to South Beach. LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to create one of the most popular big threes in NBA history.

His first year with the Miami Heat ended in disappointment. Miami lost to the Dallas Mavericks after the latter went on one of the most impressive playoff runs by a team seen as the underdog. In 2011-12, LeBron and the Heat flipped a switch. James won back-to-back MVPs again in 2012 and 2013, and won two Finals MVPs, with the Heat winning the championships in both of those years. Miami tried for a three-peat in 2014 but fell short against the Spurs and their rising star, Kawhi Leonard.

In the 2014 offseason, LeBron decided to do something that would change his legacy forever. He went back to Cleveland in an attempt to win his hometown team a championship. LeBron formed another big three with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, bringing hope back to the city of Cleveland. The Cavs went to the finals in his first year back, but lost to the dynasty that became the Golden State Warriors. The next year, the Warriors had the greatest regular season record of all time, losing only nine games. The rematch was set in the NBA finals and after the Warriors took a 3-1 lead, it seemed that the Cavaliers were out of the series.

The Cavs blew out the Warriors in games five and six. Game seven was one of the most anticipated finals games in recent history. LeBron, Kyrie and the Cavs were up against all odds. No team had ever come back from down 3-1 in the NBA finals. James finished the game with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, and pulled off one of the most iconic plays in NBA history. We all know the call by announcer Mike Breen. With the game tied at 89, James’ chasedown block on Warriors forward Andre Iguodala kept the Cavs’ hopes alive. The Warriors went scoreless in the final two minutes as LeBron James led his hometown team to its first championship in franchise history.

LeBron cemented himself in 2016 as one of the greatest playoff performers the league has ever seen. The Cavs tried to repeat the next two years, but with the addition of Kevin Durant to the Warriors, no one could compete. The Cavs lost two straight finals before LeBron decided it was best to change teams. LeBron decided to go to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers were filled with injuries in LeBron’s first season, and they traded many young players for Anthony Davis in the 2019 offseason as they attempted to go all in. James and Davis won a championship together in 2020 after the pandemic hit. The Lakers went to the NBA bubble, where they played the entire playoffs in a gym with no fans. Some people say that it is the hardest championship to win, as no family or guests were allowed in the bubble until the second round of the playoffs. It was strictly basketball — with some other activities — for every player. There is a mental toughness that is required to go deep in the bubble, and LeBron and the Lakers were able to win the championship with ease over his former team, the Miami Heat.

The Lakers have not had as productive a year since the 2020 season. But that does not go against LeBron’s legacy. The Lakers’ front office did a terrible job building around their two stars.

One of the reasons LeBron James is the GOAT is because of his ability to get better as he has gotten older. James has adapted to the forever changing game better than anybody in the league. LeBron’s 3-point attempts have grown steadily since his rookie season, with only a couple dips, and his percentage has improved with it.

LeBron is one of the first superstars during the social media era. With socials on the rise and sports talk shows becoming even more popular, James had to deal with things that no famous athlete had to go through before the 2000s. Something that is understated when you look at legacies is that James has been a polarizing figure for many throughout the world.

LeBron James’ durability has been under fire a lot in recent years due to load management. James has been one of the more reliable pieces in the NBA since he entered. In his first 15 seasons, James never missed more than 20 games a year. Lebron’s load will continue to be managed, but that shouldn’t be the biggest knock on him. The King has a lot of gas left in his tank, and he plans to play with his older son, LeBron James Jr., before he retires. James would have to play at least until he is 40 to make that a reality.

James’ career is far from over. He will keep adding to his stat totals, further cementing himself as the greatest basketball player the world has ever seen.