Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James gestures after passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
LOS ANGELES — Bronny James stepped over to his dad’s locker and played the phone video he had taken of Tuesday night’s biggest moment. The NBA’s new scoring king tipped his head back in a rich, full-throated laugh when the audio revealed Bronny had anticipated that the historic basket would come on a fadeaway jumper.
“That’s tough, that’s tough,” LeBron James said. “That’s funny.”
For James, the greatest cost of nearly two decades in the NBA is the family time he misses. When he reached arguably the greatest individual basketball milestone of all by passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record, James’ mother, wife and three children all witnessed the coronation.
They were right at courtside in a building packed with stars and roaring fans who rose in waves of anticipation every time he touched the ball.
James has been thriving under formidable pressure his entire adult life, and this was nothing the King couldn’t handle — although the man who says he almost never cries had tears in his eyes after he made history with that nimble step-back shot in the third quarter.
“I had a moment when it happened, and I embraced that moment,” James said afterward. “Seeing my family and friends, the people that’s been around me since I started this journey to the NBA, definitely very emotional right there. Just a kid from a small town in Ohio. I had a moment there, but I don’t think it’s really hit me, what just transpired.”
When James surpassed Abdul-Jabbar’s record 38,387 points, a crowd that had roared for his every basket went the craziest of all.
“A lot of people wanted me to go to the skyhook to break the record, or one of the signature dunks,” James said with a grin. “But the fadeaway is a signature play as well.”
The Los Angeles crowd screamed and stomped with every point while James steadily surged toward the mark held since April 1984 by Abdul-Jabbar, who watched the game from a baseline seat near the Los Angeles bench.
With four championship rings and nearly every other honor available to a basketball player, the 38-year-old James closed in on this next moment in history with the confidence of a player who has been even better than anyone could have expected two decades ago when the kid from Akron, Ohio, reached the NBA.
“The expectations were all the way out to Pluto, and he went ahead and created his own galaxy,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before his team’s 133-130 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder..
The crowd was in its seats far earlier than normal in Los Angeles, and James got numerous ovations before the Lakers and Thunder got rolling. Lakers fans turned out in droves for the chance to see a once-in-a-generation achievement, with tickets going for thousands on the secondary market.
The moment was irresistible to fans like Aaron Sanchez, one of the hundreds of jersey-clad Lakers faithful patiently taking turns posing in front of the statue of Abdul-Jabbar that stands on the plaza in front of the Lakers’ downtown arena.
Sanchez shares a set of two season tickets with a few friends and family, and he already had the seats for Tuesday’s game months before anyone could predict the magic day. He turned down a friend’s offer of $200 to swap the Thunder seats, but he knew he would be out of luck if James waited until Thursday to break the record, since those tickets belong to a different friend.
“It’s basketball history, and that’s what the Lakers are all about,” Sanchez said. “LeBron is already one of the greatest Lakers ever, and getting this record in a Lakers uniform just makes it more certain. He was our leader after Kobe (Bryant) died, and he’s our leader now.”
Indeed, James has already earned a special place in Lakers fans’ hearts over his five seasons in purple and gold. Several months before he won the franchise’s 17th championship in the Florida pandemic bubble, he became a part of Lakers lore with his inspirational words and steady leadership in the wake of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash.
Inside the building, dozens of celebrities gathered to witness history: Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, Bad Bunny, LL Cool J, Usher, Andy Garcia and countless others. Dozens of basketball greats also turned out, including Lakers heroes James Worthy and Bob McAdoo along with Dwyane Wade.
The biggest star in the crowd was Abdul-Jabbar, who has verbally sparred with James in public over issues not directly related to basketball. The Lakers legend known to all as Cap wasn’t about to miss history, and he shared a warm hug with James before ceremonially exchanging a basketball in a simple, touching gesture.
Although the final score chafed him, James said he’ll never forget this stop on his two-decade journey.
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