LeBron James attained the ultimate state of being an attacking force sometime along his way to becoming the NBA all-time leading scorers
“Early on, it was a lot of just speed and leaping and then figuring it out,” James recalled in January, reflecting on his career the day after tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in league history with 38,000. “And as you grow wiser, you say, ‘Teams know they can focus on these things, so how can I make sure I am unguardable and can always put myself in a position where I do what I want to do rather than what the defence wants me to do?”
When opposing defences targeted the vulnerabilities in James’ game during regular-season defeats and playoff series exits, the future four-time MVP and the four-time champion were given a cheat sheet to know what to focus on.
“There was a moment when I lacked a low-post game.”I wasn’t a low-post threat,” James said. “There were times when I wasn’t a mid-range threat. There were times when I wasn’t a danger to anybody. You could nearly lure me into doing things I wasn’t very good at times.
“I’ve developed to the point where I do anything I want on the floor. And then I shoot where I want to take.”
Consider how much James’ game has grown as a scorer over the course of his 20-year NBA career, as well as the tremendous evolution of professional basketball as a whole. When the league began in November 1946, the Boston Celtics had more players shorter than 6 feet (three) than taller than 6-6. (two). A narrower alley existed. There were no dunks. No 3s. The box score didn’t even include rebounds, assists, blocks, or steals.
It did, however, keep track of the points and who was accountable for them. As James approaches the scoring peak – he needs less than 300 points to break the record – here’s a look at the six players who have gone before him.
The years given for each player are the years in which he led the scoring list.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: from 1984 until the present
Magic Johnson gave Abdul-Jabbar an admission permit on April 5, 1984. He took position along the baseline with his back to the basket, swung his right foot back as if about to make a move into the paint, then twisted back away from the lane to launch his iconic skyhook over his right shoulder when he was 12 feet from the hoop. The ball landed in the goal.
On that day, he eclipsed Chamberlain as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a record he has held for almost 40 years.
The fact that Abdul-Jabbar had 7-4 Utah Jazz centre Mark Eaton protecting him and made him ineffective as a defender with a delicate flip of his wrist out of Eaton’s reach further added to his devastating move.
After achieving the record, Abdul-Jabbar played five more seasons with the Lakers, adding over 7,000 points to his total before retiring. The additional points proved insurmountable decades later, when Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Dirk Nowitzki surpassed Chamberlain’s 31,419 total but ran out of time before surpassing “The Captain.”
Abdul-Jabbar 38,387 points came from his physical attributes, standing 7-2, an NBA all-time leading scorer, that was secured by his technique. But it was also a feat of endurance, as he pounded his body on the hardwood until he was 41 years old. He concluded his career with three NBA Finals trips and two championship rings in his last three seasons while continuing to devote himself to the sport.
Overall, he averaged 24.6 points per game, shooting 55.9% from the field and 72.1% from the foul line, and made precisely one 3-pointer.
Wilt Chamberlain: from 1966 until 1984
Chamberlain is the NBA’s Paul Bunyan, having achieved so many inconceivable feats on the floor that it sounds like mythology.
Do you have a season average of 50 points? Wilt was the one who did it.
Have you ever scored 100 points in a game? That is also true.
Against Bill Russell, of all people, you grab 55 rebounds? Yup.
How about averaging 48.5 minutes each game over the course of a season when games are only 48 minutes long? Or topping the NBA in assists as a centre one season when positionless basketball was unheard of? Or how about playing 1,045 games in his career and never fouling out? Chamberlain accomplished all of this.
He is a genuine game-changer in the NBA, as the league essentially modified the size of the lane because Chamberlain’s legs were so long he could straddle the old key, keeping his feet outside the paint to avoid a three-second violation by camping oneself that close to the basket.
With four MVPs, two championships, and 13 All-Star selections, his scoring prowess may be the most astonishing aspect of his illustrious career. Chamberlain won the scoring championship seven times, averaging more than 35 points per game six times, and he concluded with a lifetime scoring average of 30.066 points per game, just slightly above of Michael Jordan’s 30.12 career average, giving him the league’s second-highest scoring average.
Bob Pettit: from 1964 to 1966
“The Bombardier from Baton Rouge,” the No. 2 choice in the 1954 draught out of LSU, lived up to his hype as a prospect, having an illustrious career. Pettit led the St. Louis Hawks to the 1958 NBA championship, scoring 50 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a series-clinching 110-109 triumph in Game 6.
Pettit was a two-time MVP and scoring champion. In each of his 11 seasons, he averaged 20 or more points a game, peaking at 31.1 in 1961-62. Every year he played in the league, he was an All-Star, and he was awarded All-Star MVP four times. He was a 6-9, 205-pound power forward who depended on a hook shot that predates Abdul- Jabbar’s. He turned 90 this month and was a well-known visitor at last year’s All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, when he was recognised as a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Dolph Schayes: from 1958 until 1964
During his 15-year career, Schayes was a big guy with a soft touch, topping the league in free throw percentage three times and shooting 84.9% from the line overall.
The 12-time All-Star won a championship with the Syracuse Nationals in 1955, setting off a six-year streak in which he averaged more than 20 points per game during his heyday. As a 6-8, 220 pound power forward, he earned his position as the league’s most dangerous scorer by durability and consistency, leading the NBA in games played four times and minutes played twice. Danny, his son, went on to enjoy an 18-year NBA career.
George Mikan Early 1950s
The NBA advertises itself via its stars, and Mikan was its protostar, earning five rings in seven seasons and dethroning Fulks on Nov. 8, 1952, after the two had played hot potato with the record four times in March of that year. Mikan was more than his horned-rimmed spectacles, firm handshakes, and eccentric No. 99 shirt. In his first three seasons, the 6-10 centre averaged more than 27 points per game and scored a career-high 61 points in January 1952.
Joe Fulks: from 1946 through the early 1950s
He was the first to hold the NBA scoring championship, earning it back-to-back with the Philadelphia Warriors in his first two seasons in the league. In his eight-year career, the two-time All-Star and 1947 champion scored 8,003 points while playing power forward and stood 6-5, 190 pounds.
Fulks won the scoring championship his sophomore season with a 22.1-point average on 29.3 field goal attempts per game, indicating that the league was a different place back then. This season, 23 players have averaged more than 22.1 points per game, but none have come close to Fulks’ shot attempts. Luka Doncic leads the way with 22.7 attempts per game, with James close behind at 22.6.
James will soon be the NBA’s leading scorer and, like Abdul-Jabbar after passing Chamberlain, will just add to his own record with two more seasons on his Lakers deal, keeping him in the league for at least 22 seasons before calling it quits. It might be another 40 years before another name is added to this illustrious list.