LeBron James added another impressive entry to his bulging collection of assorted records and statistical milestones on Tuesday after becoming the youngest player in NBA history to amass 30,000 points.
The 33-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers superstar had firmly established his place in the pantheon of basketball greats long before he sank the 20-foot jump shot at the end of the first quarter of his team’s 114-102 loss to San Antonio.
With that scoring milestone passed, few would bet against James ultimately finishing his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and overtaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the current points leader with 38,387.
To do that, James will need to play another five seasons and average around 20 points per game. Provided he stays free of injury — and James has been one of the most durable players in the NBA during his glittering 14-year career — that points total is well within reach.
Long-time friend and team-mate Dwyane Wade is certain that James will finish his career as either first or second on the points list.
“I’ve always said I think he will end (No.) 1 or 2,” Wade said this week.
“By knowing his drive, I think from there it’s just about his health and as he’s getting older how much he wants to go and try to get that. I think he will.
“Once he looks at it and says, ‘That’s only 8,000 away at some point let me see what I can do,’ I think he will try to go get it.”
– ‘A special moment’ –
James, meanwhile, who has always made it clear that he places championships above personal milestones, nevertheless took a moment to reflect on his entry to the 30,000 club, which until Tuesday contained just six other players — Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Dirk Nowitzki.
“Just a special moment,” James said. “I just started thinking about everything.
“My journey from being a kid who first picked up a basketball when I was 5 years old to first playing organized basketball when I was 9 all the way up to this point.
“I give a lot of thanks to a lot of people. It’s something I never set out to do.”
While Abdul-Jabbar’s points record could one day be in his sights, James would prefer to boost his tally of NBA titles.
So far he remains stuck on three, and his finished on the losing side in the NBA Finals five times. That contrasts sharply with Jordan, who won all six of his NBA Finals during the Chicago Bulls dynasty.
– Chasing a ghost –
“My motivation,” James said in a 2016 interview, “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”
So far this season, it looks likely that James will have to wait for his fourth NBA championship: Cleveland’s campaign has been blown off course in recent weeks, with the team losing 10 of their last 13 games.
More worryingly, a steady stream of headlines from the Cavaliers locker room has painted a picture of in-fighting and discord behind the scenes.
Cleveland remain third in the Eastern Conference standings so are firmly in the playoff picture.
And while James’ personal stats are impressive — averaging 26.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 8.6 assists — they have not necessarily helped the Cavaliers.
For the first time in his career, his team have fared better when he is not on the court, with a differential of +3.7 points compared to -1.1 points when he is playing.
If Cleveland continue to struggle, it could ultimately lead to a second departure from the Cavaliers. After signing a three-year $100 million contract in 2016, James has an opt out this year, which has fuelled speculation that he may seek pastures new.
His purchase of a second mansion in Los Angeles last month has prompted talk of a possible move to the Lakers, who are struggling to recapture former glories after years at the foot of the Western Conference.
In the short-term however, a move to the Lakers is unlikely to get James closer to his goal of another championship ring.
That reality could tempt James into looking towards a more established franchise, with the Houston Rockets touted as one possible option.