On the night Kareem Abdul-Jabber surpassed Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, legendary play-by-play announcer Chick Hearn made a bold prediction.
Moments after Abdul-Jabbar thanked the crowd at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and walked off the court holding the record-setting basketball in his hands, the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers said no one will ever beat Kareem’s record.
This is exactly what Hearn said on April 5, 1984, during the broadcast of the game between the Lakers and the Utah Jazz: “[Kareem] has accomplished something that I don’t believe, I mean this sincerely, I don’t think this will happen again. If a man played every single game for 15 years, 82 games a year for 15 years and average 25 points, he would tie what’s done here tonight. But, nobody is going to play every game for 15 years. No one is in the physical shape this guy is in. And not many people can play the game for 15 years.”
For 39 years, Hearn was proven to be prophetic. Kareem’s record of 38,387 points stood for nearly four decades. But what Hearn didn’t anticipate was the arrival of a physically gifted athlete who was built like Karl Malone and could soar above the rim like Michael Jordan with the speed and agility of Julius “Dr. J” Erving. At 6-8, 265 pounds, LeBron is a real life Marvel superhero. He can do things on the basketball court mortals could only dream about. And what made LeBron Avenger-like was his consistency. He was able to maintain his physical abilities for the majority of his 20-year NBA career.
Kareem’s remarkable record has now been eclipsed. LeBron James broke basketball’s most sacred record on Feb. 9, 2023. The game between the Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder at Cypto.com Arena was paused for a few minutes after LeBron set the all-time mark with a fadeaway jumper from about 15 feet with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Chick Hearn, I’m sorry. LeBron was listening to you,” said former Laker James Worthy, who was in Las Vegas in 1984 when Kareem set the all-time mark and witnessed LeBron’s crowning achievement as an analyst for Spectrum SportsNet.
“Had Kareem come [straight] out of high school, we still might be talking about somebody breaking that record,” Worthy said.
Abdul-Jabbar spent four years at UCLA (but wasn’t allowed to play varsity as a freshman) under the great John Wooden. He won three national championships and named NCAA tournament most outstanding player three straight years. He had arguably the most dominant college career. Worthy isn’t wrong when he said had Kareem came into the NBA straight out of high school, the all-time scoring record might not be within reach this season.
A few days prior to setting the record, LeBron reflected on setting the scoring record. He compared it to Hank Aaron’s Major League Baseball home run record — a mark that was thought to be unassailable.
“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general. I think it’s up there with the home run record in baseball. It’s just one of those records that you just don’t ever see or think that will be broken,” James said on Spectrum SportsNet. “I grew up being a historian of all sports and understanding that, I don’t have the number planted in my head, the actual real number. I know it’s 38-something, but I know it’s been Kareem my whole life. So it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty cool.”
Hearn accurately painted 39 years ago what it would take to surpass Kareem. That player must play at least average 25 points per game for 15 years straight and be physically fit enough to play the majority of the 82-game grind.
LeBron checked all the boxes.
LeBron averaged at least 25 points per game (27.2 points to be exact), played at least 70 games in 13 of his 20 years in the league, and there was never a point in his career that he was not in tremendous physical shape.
As long as he can remain healthy he could possibly reach 40,000 points. He said he wants to play with son, Bronny, before he hangs up his sneakers. Bronny James won’t be draft eligible until 2024, so LeBron will at least play two more seasons.
It would be foolish to say LeBron’s scoring record will never be broken. But it’ll be a tough mountain to climb.