Game Day: A history lesson for LeBron James, Lakers

Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday, Jan. 7, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

LeBron James’ pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record is only one of the Lakers’ cares these days. Maybe this case of competing priorities isn’tunusual, though: It was this way when Kareem broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record.

In other sports news:

One lawsuit was dismissed, but Mater Dei High (Santa Ana) faces new legal trouble as a basketball coach is accused of attacking a referee.
The Clippers needed a strong fourth quarter to beat the depleted Nets and complete a 4-2 trip.
The Ducks came out of the All-Star break and lost in Dallas as Arcadia-born Jason Robertson scored the Stars’ first shootout goal.
The Sparks think new forward-center Azura Stevens can “blossom into a star.”
JSerra, Huntington Beach, Orange Lutheran, Harvard-Westlake and Notre Dame top the first CIF Southern Section baseball rankings for the season that opens Saturday.

James needs 36 more points to break Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA regular-season record of 38,387. If he doesn’t get it tonight at Arena against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’ll almost certainly get it Thursday night in another home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

But the day before he seeks basketball’s greatest individual record, LeBron was talking about other issues facing the Lakers and making headlines when he said in an ESPN interview that he’s “disappointed” they didn’t acquire Kyrie Irving before the Nets sent the All-Star guard to the Dallas Mavericks in advance of Thursday’s trade deadline.

With two months left to secure a playoff spot by finishing in the top six in the Western Conference or a play-in tournament berth by finishing seventh through 10th, the Lakers are 13th at 25-29. A win over the Thunder (25-28 and 12th in the West) would move them up one spot. A win over the Bucks (37-17 and second in the East) would make a statement.

If there’s any doubt it would be good to get the record out of the way as soon as possible and be able to focus on the team’s other goals, there might be a lesson to learn from when Abdul-Jabbar was on the cusp of eclipsing Chamberlain’s record of 31,419 points.

It was Thursday, April 5, 1984, and the Lakers were facing the Utah Jazz in Las Vegas, where the Jazz played 11 “home” games that season. The Lakers were winning comfortably in the fourth quarter, and Kareem was one basket away from the record. During a timeout, coach Pat Riley asked Kareem if he wanted to go for it then, or come out of the game and save the historic moment for the next night’s game against the Kansas City Kings in front of Lakers fans at the Forum.

This is documented in the game story written that night by Mitch Chortkoff, the late, beloved reporter whose coverage of the Lakers for the Daily Breeze spanned more than 40 years.

“I’d rather get it done,” Kareem told Riley.

He got it done after taking a pass from Magic Johnson near the baseline to the right of the basket, sinking a skyhook from 15 feet over double-team defense by Mark Eaton and Rickey Green with 8:53 to go in the game.

“I could have saved it for (the game) in the Forum,” Kareem told writers in Las Vegas, “but it’s better to get this behind us so we can concentrate on winning a world championship. After all, that’s why we play.”

For LeBron, too, the record should be something to savor and put behind him.

Leading the West, the 1983-84 Lakers went on to clinch the conference title, but they lost the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

As Chortkoff’s stories from back then detailed, the week Abdul-Jabbar broke the record wasn’t easy for the Lakers or for him.

They’d lost by 28 points in San Antonio on the Tuesday, and getting into Las Vegas and to their hotel on the Wednesday was complicated by a culinary union strike in the city. There were questions about why Chamberlain didn’t go to Las Vegas to see his record fall, but he legitimately had other obligations in Los Angeles. Wilt did make it to the Forum to help celebrate Kereem’s achievement before the Friday game.

In that Friday game, a Lakers win, Kareem added 22 points to his total before the week’s final headache struck. Kareem ran into Kansas City forward Mark Olberding’s elbow, and the blow above his left eye knocked him to the floor, seemingly unconscious. He was able to walk to the locker room, but he missed the next game, his scoring crown askew.

Records of this magnitude deserve undivided attention from participants and onlookers. But that’s a luxury Kareem and the Lakers couldn’t afford then and LeBron and the Lakers can’t afford now.

Lakers beat writer Kyle Goon and columnists Mirjam Swanson and Jim Alexander will be at Arena tonight to cover what could be a historic moment – and whatever other stories intrude — for SCNG readers and for posterity.

Follow their updates on Twitter (@kylegoon, @MirjamSwanson, @Jim_Alexander) and keep up on the Southern California News Group’s coverage of the Lakers and LeBron James’ record chase online by clicking here.


Lakers and LeBron host a Thunder team that’s winning at a .600 clip over the past month (7 p.m., SPSN, TNT).
Ducks, fresh from taking West leader Dallas to a shootout, face conference trailer Chicago (5:30 p.m., BSSC).


The newsletter asked: Did NASCAR pique your interest by bringing a race to an unusual quarter-mile oval at the L.A. Coliseum for a second time on Sunday?

Twitter user @RamilyWood responded: “Yes, but last season was better. So many cautions. It’ll be better with fewer cars.”


Where does LeBron James rank among the greatest basketball players of all time? Is LeBron or Michael Jordan the GOAT? (Read a comparison of their careers.) Or is it Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or someone else? Answer by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).


“Which team was playing the finale of a long road trip?” – Janis Carr (@janiscarr) after the Clippers won the fourth quarter and the game at Brooklyn last night to close out a six-game eastern swing.

1,000 WORDS

Sharing the spotlight: The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, left, and Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes shake hands before speaking with the media together as Super Bowl week began last night in Phoenix. The game Sunday will be the first Super Bowl with two Black starting quarterbacks. Photo is by AP’s Ross D. Franklin.


Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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