Los Angeles — LeBron James stood under the basket Wednesday night with his right hand clenched, pointing one finger, and counted off — one, two, three, four. He’d just passed Michael Jordan on the league’s all-time scoring list.
At a timeout, James sat on the bench with cameras surrounding him and a video tribute playing above him. He covered his face with a towel and took the moment for himself.
“It was very emotional; very emotional,” James said. “Lot of things that was going on inside me at that point in time. I wanted to look up at the scoreboard to see what was going on up there, but at the same time I didn’t want to show what was going on behind the towel.”
James is now the fourth leading scorer in NBA history, having scored 32,311 points in his career. He topped Michael Jordan on Wednesday night, with a contested layup with 5:38 left in the second quarter. Only three players have scored more points than James — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant — and all of them spent at least part of their careers with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t know man, a lot of stuff that I’ve done in my career, this ranks right up there at the top,” James said, still emotional after the game. “The championship, just for a kid from Akron, Ohio, that needed inspiration, needed some type of positive influence, MJ was that guy. I watched him from afar. Wanted to be like MJ. Shoot fadeaways like MJ. Wanted to stick my tongue out on a dunk like MJ. Wear my sneakers like MJ. I wanted kids to look up to me at some point like MJ. Just it’s crazy, to be honest. It’s beyond crazy.”
James’ moment was a bright spot for the Lakers in an otherwise dismal day. The Lakers suffered their fourth consecutive loss, this time losing 115-99 to the Denver Nuggets. Denver led by as many as 23 points. With a scrappy effort from a reserve group led by two-way players Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams, the Lakers got to within two points of the Nuggets, before Denver pulled away again.
“I think we should start off by giving credit to what LeBron did tonight individually,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said after the game. “… For someone that’s always looking to pass first to score that many points in his career just speaks to the greatness in his game. …Unfortunate that it came in a loss, but still pretty awesome moment.”
Denver took a big lead early, but the arena’s attention fixated on James’ pending milestone. He entered the game with 32,380 points, needing 13 to top Jordan’s 32,392. James’ attention was on it, too. He attributed those jitters to his missing his first four free throws.
“He was smiling and having fun, but I think someone that studies the game and knows the game and respects the game the way he does, knowing that moment was probably a few minutes ahead of him probably did something … to him that he doesn’t normally feel in a regular season game,” Walton said.
James tied Jordan with 6:43 left in the game. His teammates had asked him how he wanted to score the basket that would push him ahead of Jordan.
“I said either a fadeaway in the post or off two feet, lean in, tongue out dunk on the break,” James said. “It’s just crazy.”
With 5:38 left in the second quarter, James scored on a contested layup as he was fouled, and passed Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
James scored again before the Nuggets called a timeout, giving the Lakers an opportunity to play a tribute video for James’ accomplishment. That’s when James retreated to the bench under his towel and teammates stood and watched.
At shoot around Wednesday morning, James said he didn’t have time to appreciate the milestones he reached throughout the course of a season, pausing to think about it only when asked about it by reporters.
But 97 minutes before the Lakers tipped off against the Denver Nuggets, he finally showed his excitement publicly.
“Can’t even front,” James wrote on Twitter. “This is going to be UNREAL!! Wow man.”
Jordan was someone James idolized. He has said the first time he met Jordan it was like meeting God.
James passed Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place on the list with a free throw against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 14. James, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Malone and Bryant are the only players in NBA history to have scored at least 32,000 points.
Last week, James became the first player in NBA history to be in the top 10 in career points and career assists.
This accomplishment, though, stood above most of the others _ with the exception of the championship he won for Cleveland in 2016. After the game his phone filled with messages from his childhood friends.
“Me and my best friends, this is all we talked about,” James said. “All we talked about is MJ. Outdoor court, we used to play outdoor ball. In the snow. In the rain in northeast Ohio and we all wanted to be MJ. We all wanted to be MJ. Every last one of us.”
Can’t even front. This is going to be UNREAL!! Wow man
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 7, 2019
LOVE MY KIDS!! Thank you guys so much and I love y’all more than you guys know and think! 🙏🏾❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ https://t.co/12CuUHNupH
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 7, 2019
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