Once hailed as the ‘Chosen One’, LeBron James earlier this week reaffirmed his right to the tag he has carried since high school by scoring 38 points to become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
What for others may have been a millstone round the neck has never seemed to weigh heavily on those shoulders, and as he hung in the air last night, time seeming to slow down as the ball left his hands and sailed towards the hoop, everyone in the arena knew that this was the moment.
That he accomplished this feat, 38,388 points, with a fadeaway jumper from the free throw line seems poetic. This was not a shot that the 18-year-old LeBron James who scored those first two points back in 2003 could have pulled off, yet 20 years later, it is a shot that 38-year-old LeBron has mastered.
The record, held for over 38 years by the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a record many thought unbreakable, had fallen.
The Lakers would lose the game to the Oklahoma City Thunder 130-133, but the result mattered little on an historic night in Los Angeles.
Some doubted whether James would reach the 36 points needed to pass the record in this game, with most expecting that it would come on Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game set to feature the two teams which previous record-holder Abdul-Jabbar turned out for during his long NBA career.
Whilst the symbolism of the record being broken in such a game was irresistible, James was not reading from the same script.
He arrived for the game wearing sunglasses, dressed in an all-black, with a blazer and shirt, a gleaming gold chain around his neck and gold pendant fastened to his lapel. No words needed to be exchanged for it to be made extremely clear that tonight was the night.
You simply do not walk in like this unless you are absolutely sure of yourself, and when you are as great as LeBron James, you reach the level where you can know this for certain before you even arrive. Regardless of what the mere mortals on the other side of the floor hope to do to stop you, there was now no doubt of what we were about to witness.
“I had to have the mindset” he said afterwards, and every aspect of the day was aimed at ensuring that he left the arena with the record in the bag. The suit, the choice to wear his famous headband once again, the sheer number of family and friends courtside. It would have been almost embarrassing to not beat the record tonight, but there was never any doubt.
Crypto.com Arena erupted as the ball passed through the hoop, of course touching nothing but net as it did so, and the game came to a complete halt to pay homage to the kid from Akron who now stands alone as the highest-scoring player in league history.
James hugged his mother, his children, and his wife before being presented with a basketball by previous record holder Abdul-Jabbar, a symbolic passing of the torch from one Lakers’ legend to another.
He had had intended to honour ‘The Captain’ with his record-breaking shot, practicing Kareem’s iconic ‘skyhook’ shot for weeks before this game, but he made his feelings towards the man he has now passed clear after the game. “To be able to be in the presence of such a legend as great as Kareem, it’s very humbling”.
Never one to press home his achievements, speaking to TNT after the game, LeBron allowed himself a rare moment of indulgence when his arm was twisted by yet another Lakers’ legend, Shaquille O’Neal.
“I’m gonna take myself against anyone that’s ever played this game” he told O’Neal, “I know what I’ve brought to the table, what I bring to the table ever single night,
“I always felt like I’m the best to ever play this game, but there’s so many other great ones and I’m happy to just be a part of their journey”.
James downplays his individual and collective accomplishments almost as a force of habit, but on this occasion, nobody could dispute this begrudging admission of his own greatness.
A four-time NBA champion, a four-time Most Valuable Player, a four-time Finals MVP, and a 19-time All-Star, every season from 2005 to the upcoming game in Salt Lake City. A 38-year-old who can play like he’s still 25, and who will continue to push this record further and further past the marks set by the legends who now all sit below him on the all-time leaderboard.
Whilst many attempt to downplay what he has done in the sport, his on-court greatness simply cannot be disputed, and his legendary career is perfectly complemented by the way he has conducted himself away from basketball.
This is a man who has been in the public eye since his teenage years, dealing with the kind of unimaginable pressure that few, if any have ever known at such a young age.
James has coped admirably, never finding himself embroiled in scandal, using his influence to advocate for causes he believes in, and using his wealth to support those who need it, particularly in his hometown.
It is nigh on impossible to do justice to exactly what he has been able to do in his 38 years on this planet, but for tonight, regardless of your opinion on the greatest to ever play the game of basketball, the kid from Akron is indisputably the King.