Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Writes Thoughtful Reaction to LeBron James Breaking His Scoring Record

It's a graceful look at a sporting milestone

LeBron James
LeBron James thanks fans after post game interviews after a game where he attained the NBA scoring title against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Last night, LeBron James broke the record for points scored in the NBA, eclipsing the previous record of 38,387 points set decades earlier by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In instances where record-holder and record-breaker are both alive, there’s often some commentary by all parties involved, no matter the sport. But in the case of this record, things are a little more complex, as Abdul-Jabbar has publicly criticized James several times in recent years, including over past comments James had made regarding COVID-19.

Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on the matter in a comprehensive essay posted to his Substack. It acknowledges the speculation among many observers of the sport about what Abdul-Jabbar might react when this day came; it also includes a fairly spot-on Lord of the Rings reference.

In the end, Abdul-Jabbar’s take on things was even-handed, thoughtful and gracious. “It’s as if I won a billion dollars in a lottery and 39 years later someone won two billion dollars,” he wrote. “How would I feel? Grateful that I won and happy that the next person also won. His winning in no way affects my winning.”

Abdul-Jabbar also addressed Magic Johnson’s speculation on how he might react to James surpassing his record — clarifying that, contra Johnson, his priority is his life right now, not what he did in the past. “If I had a choice of having my scoring record remain intact for another hundred years or spend one afternoon with my grandchildren, I’d be on the floor in seconds stacking Legos and eating Uncrustables,” he said.

He also addressed James’s comments that the two men haven’t had much of a relationship. This, Abdul-Jabbar writes, is the case, and something he said that he regrets. “I established my scoring record in 1984—the year LeBron was born,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “When he started to make a name for himself, I was already pretty removed from the NBA world.”

The essay ends with a statement of support for James — and commentary on the ways in which the two men are more similar than they’re different. As Abdul-Jabbar succinctly writes, “LeBron makes me love the game again.”

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