LOS ANGELES — Was it too forward, maybe, when LeBron James went out to the floor for early warmups on Tuesday night wearing headphones with 38,388 printed on them?
Or was it just a case of being prepared for the moment?
A night of high anticipation, with a media contingent of at least a couple hundred and a full house of 18,997 on hand in downtown L.A., reached its intended conclusion with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter of the Lakers’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And it ended appropriately, too.
LeBron took a pass in the post, backed down OKC’s Kenrich Williams, and then unleashed his own unstoppable shot, a 21-foot fallaway jumper that found nothing but net and pushed his career point total to 38,388, one ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“I know a lot of people wanted me to go to the skyhook to break the record, or one of my signature dunks,” James said with a smile. “But the fadeaway’s my signature shot as well.”
And yes, I plead guilty. I speculated in this space last week that when it came time for the record points, maybe LeBron would emulate Kareem and toss up a skyhook, but this was better. When Kareem set the record in April of 1984 against the Utah Jazz, he also did so with his signature shot.
LeBron needed 36 points coming in, had 20 by halftime and dispensed with any suspense in the third quarter, delighting a crowd that came to attention every time he touched the ball, roared when he scored, groaned when he didn’t and all seemed to have their phones out to record the historic shot on video.
Was there some urgency to get it done Tuesday night?
“Well, yeah, because my boys (friends) are on the redeye tomorrow, so I had that mindset,” he cracked, then added: “Tomorrow’s not promised, and if I had an opportunity to do it tonight, I was going to try to make it happen. And I mean, I was still super efficient. I wasn’t out there just gunnin’. I was super efficient. And I was able to get it done.”
During the brief on-court ceremony that included NBA commissioner Adam Silver, James exchanged hugs with his wife and mother and then with a smiling Abdul-Jabbar, accepted the ball from the former record-holder, then prompted the fans to “give a standing ovation to the Captain.”
He also had a bleepable moment at the end of his address to the crowd – “(Expletive), man, thank you guys” – but I think we can cut him some slack.
And you know who might have been saying (expletive) for a different reason? Those people who put their tickets to Thursday night’s game against Milwaukee up for sale.
According to a release sent out by StubHub on Tuesday afternoon, the secondary market price for the OKC game was trending 50% higher than the Lakers’ season average. The Milwaukee game resale price was 70% above the norm.
You set your price and take your chances, I guess. Safe to say those prices are coming down, fast.
Those fans who showed up Tuesday night could have been forgiven for being less than fully engaged when LeBron didn’t have the ball. There were times his teammates seemed equally unengaged, in fact, in what was to become an otherwise dreary 133-130 loss to OKC, something a team fighting for a play-in spot can ill afford.
Fans did groan when LeBron passed the ball early on, but that was a sign that this was not going to be a case of loading up for a single-minded assault on the record. Instead, this was LeBron doing what LeBron does, and has done his entire career. He finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, and the Lakers were a plus-8 when he was on the floor. The rest of the starting lineup was a combined minus-25.
“You know, if you think about it, a guy who’s about to eclipse the all-time scoring record is also top five in assists,” Coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “That speaks volumes. It puts him right there at the top of the list in terms of greatest of all time. To be able to do both is a huge example of how he plays the right way, tries to involve others and not just, you know, advance himself in terms of scoring the basketball. Just put the team in position, whether it’s him or his teammates, to get buckets.
“When you empower your teammates the way he’s done throughout the course of his career, he’s made his teammates threats within where people have to account for them. And when (the opponents) have to account for others that you’re on the floor with, it allows you to operate more effectively with less traffic.”
During a break early in the second quarter, the Lakers recognized LeBron for moving past Steve Nash and into fourth on the all-time assists list on the recent road trip. Curiously, the response was muted, but maybe that’s because assists weren’t what these people came to see.
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With the corner video boards keeping a running tally – “Chasing History” was the heading – LeBron had eight points after a quarter, and picked up a pair of and-ones within 34 seconds early in the second quarter, added a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with seven minutes left in the first half and was 3 for 4 on free throws later in the period. He failed to get off a shot to beat the buzzer on one last drive downcourt to end the half.
He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull within eight points of the record with 7:53 left in the third, scored on a layup off a Russell Westbrook pass to pull to within six with 5:11 left, came out for a couple of minutes for a breather, scored on a lob from Westbrook with two minutes left in the quarter to move within four and scored on a layup off a feed from Lonnie Walker IV with 1:06 left to come within two.
And then: History.
As for the game? OKC led 76-66 at halftime and maintained the lead throughout the second half.
So on this night, LeBron’s chase of the record seemed to be the bright, shiny object that obscured the larger issue: The Lakers as currently constituted very well might not be playoff caliber, and what happens before the trade deadline on Thursday at noon might determine whether said chase of the record will be the highlight of another disappointing season.
LeBron James hits the fadeaway jumper to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer! #ScoringKing pic.twitter.com/P5LyTZAZn3
— NBA (@NBA) February 8, 2023
38,388 points. Record-breaking.#PhantomCam x #ScoringKing pic.twitter.com/1l70kqmJb1
— NBA (@NBA) February 8, 2023