LOS ANGELES — LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain — another all-time great who joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the latter stages of his career — for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
James tied Chamberlain on an and-1 runner with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter and passed him on the ensuing free throw. James finished the game with 44 points — his first 40-point game of the season and the most by a Laker since Kobe Bryant scored 60 in his career finale — and he now has 31,425 points for his career. James added 10 rebounds and nine assists in Los Angeles’ 126-117 win at Staples Center.
“When I’m able to do what I love to do, and do it at this level — and even being mentioned with the greats that have ever played this game — it just always brings me back to my hometown of Akron, [Ohio],” James told ESPN’s Dave Pasch on the telecast after the game. “And knowing where I come from, knowing how hard it was to get to this point — it’s just never being in satisfied mode. I give it all to the man above for giving me God-given abilities. I’m taking full advantage of ’em. And then my coaching staff and my teammates throughout these 16 years so far, have gotten me to this point.”
James said the ball and his jersey from the game would be sent to his I Promise School in Akron for display.
James put Chamberlain in the same category as Shaquille O’Neal — the No. 8 all-time scorer — as a phenomenon to be reckoned with.
“One of the most dominant forces we ever had in our game along with Shaq,” James said. “One of the greatest Lakers ever to play the game. One-hundred-point scorer. One of the greatest scorers, rebounders to ever played this game. Multisport, [multi]dimensional type of athlete. People had never seen something like that in that era. So, just dominated in all walks of life. Not only just basketball, but just period.”
Next up on the career scoring list is James’ childhood hero, Michael Jordan, in fourth place with 32,292 points. If James maintains his season scoring average of 26.4 points and doesn’t miss any games because of rest or injury, he should pass Jordan in late January.
Other than Jordan, the names ahead of James on the list have ties to the purple and gold. The top three scorers in league history all played for the Lakers at some point in their careers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) is first, Karl Malone (36,928 points) is second and Bryant (33,643 points) is third. Including Chamberlain and James, five of the top six scorers in NBA history played for the Lakers at some point.
James shot 13-for-15 from the foul line against the Blazers — a season high in attempts — but Lakers coach Luke Walton said his star deserved even more. Way more.
“He takes a beating out there, he really does. He takes a beating every time he drives, and you have to put hands on him. You have to put elbows into him because of his size and strength,” Walton said. “He probably — if you looked at video — he could probably shoot 100 free throws a game if everything was called, but it was the same when I played with Shaq. Shaq used to get fouled a lot and not get free throws, but he does a great job of playing through that either way and making plays.”
Tyson Chandler took exception to some of the hits Portland laid on James — Jusuf Nurkic made contact with James’ head and CJ McCollum was called for a flagrant foul 1 for hooking James’ arm and pulling the forward to the floor.
“I just don’t like to see any of my teammates get hit like that, especially a vet like LeBron who has taken enough hits throughout his career,” Chandler told ESPN. “You don’t like to see that at all. I thought it was a little aggressive after the foul, which is what upset me.”
Nurkic pantomimed a child crying after the McCollum foul while James was on the floor.
“He goes in and he draws contact, a lot of times he’s so big and strong it doesn’t look like much, but it is, they’re fouls,” Chandler continued. “He’s earned the respect [of the league] to get those type of calls. He’s not one of those guys who is going in there and [exaggerating contact] every play, so maybe that’s why [he doesn’t get the calls].”
Chamberlain, of course, had to deal with his own set of unfair circumstances as the league widened the lane so he could not straddle it to avoid a three-second violation and also created offensive basket interference to prevent him from scoring the ball when it was on the rim — something in which he specialized.
“Well, it’s part of what makes working for the Lakers so amazing,” Walton said when asked about James passing Chamberlain. “You have this history here. … For him to be up there speaks more to what he’s done over his entire career, obviously, as a player. The fact that he’s in a Laker jersey as he does anything more just adds to the legacy of what the Lakers are.”
Walton then shared an anecdote illustrating the dominance of the man known as “The Big Dipper.”
“I’ve heard great Wilt stories from being around the Laker organization, including where in practice he would just take the ball and put it in the paint because he said, ‘That’s an automatic two points, so I’m not going to waste my energy jumping if I get it in the paint,'” Walton said with a smirk. “So there’s some good Wilt stories around the halls of the Lakers. But just one of the all-time dominant players our game has ever seen.”
Some of James’ young teammates were left to marvel at his dominant performance.
“It’s surreal, it’s surreal sometimes,” Brandon Ingram said. “You don’t really think about it sometimes until it actually happens, and you notice you’re playing with the greatest player in the world.”
“I grew up watching him do that so it was pretty cool being on the floor with him,” Lonzo Ball added. “Just being out there, I didn’t know that he had the numbers he had tonight. But obviously he had a great game, and the stats showed it.”