LeBron James

LeBron James surpasses 40,000 career points as NBA legend burnishes legacy

Author: Editors Desk, Dennis Romero Source: NBC News
March 3, 2024 at 07:49
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James acknowledges fans after scoring to become the first NBA player to reach 40,000 points in a career during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Los Angeles.Mark J. Terrill / AP
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James acknowledges fans after scoring to become the first NBA player to reach 40,000 points in a career during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Los Angeles.Mark J. Terrill / AP

LeBron James surpassed 40,000 career points during Saturday night’s home game between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, further solidifying his place in the NBA record books. 

James, who has held the pro-basketball league’s record for most career points since last year, was within 9 points of the achievement going into the game. A layup in the second quarter had James reach 40,000 points, and another layup ensured he surpassed the mark.

When James reached the history-making number, L.A. fans jumped to their feet. Amid a subsequent timeout, a brief ceremony was held, and a video commemorating some of James’ achievements, "LeBron James 'Scoring King' Career Mixtape," was played at the venue.

The player with four NBA championships on his resume said it was a "special" moment when he looked toward his daughter, 9-year-old Zhuri, as he realized he made history with the first layup.

"My daughter was just clapping, and you know like pumping her arms up in the air," James said during a postgame news conference. "So that was a super cool moment. Blew her a kiss, she blew one back to me."

James finished the game with 26 points, but the night’s glow was fleeting, as the Lakers fell 114-124 after the defending champions went on a 9-point run late in the fourth.

James' presence on the hardwood wasn’t a certainty Saturday night. 

On Friday, the NBA echoed a report by LakersNation.com stating that the Lakers had listed James as questionable for the Nuggets game because of pain and swelling in his left ankle. But James has been known to play, and play well, regardless of how he's listed.

Lakers fans basked in another James high mark, but play for his home state's Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as for the Miami Heat, contributed to his career total. 

With another milestone, his 40th birthday, coming later this year, James' superlative performances have come amid what is retirement age for almost any pro athlete.

In February, James became the first NBA player to start in 20 All-Star games, this year as captain of the West. He scored 8 points in a self-limited 14 minutes of play as the East prevailed 211-186.

“The most important thing for me is definitely my health,” James said at the time.

He's played more minutes than any other NBA player, past or present, and upon his expected return next season, he'll match Vince Carter, eight-time All-Star and retired Toronto Raptors guard-forward, for most seasons: 22.

But despite the plethora of accomplishments, he still has professional goals.

James has said he wants to play in the NBA with his sons, University of Southern California combo guard Bronny, a college freshman, and Sierra Canyon School shooting guard Bryce, a high school sophomore.

On Feb. 7, 2023, James scored his 38,388th point in a home game against the Oklahoma Thunder, surpassing former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 points. The achievement elevated him to the all-time top scorer position.

After Thursday's Lakers win over the Washington Wizards 134-131 in overtime, James suggested reaching 40,000 is another metaphorical offspring of his career — precious, but not nearly as significant as his first-born, besting Abdul-Jabbar's total.

"No one has ever done it," he said of scoring 40,000 career points at the postgame news conference on Thursday. "For me to be in this position at this point in time in my career, I think it’s pretty cool. Does it sit at the top of the things I’ve done in my career? No. Does it mean something? Of course. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t it?"

Remaining the league's all-time points leader isn't guaranteed. 

Among today's top 10 career scorers, there's only one other active player — Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns — who had 38,113 points through Friday and, at 35, may have plenty of points ahead.

A number of younger players may be building a challenge to James' record as the world considers his legacy, as well.

Slovenian forward-guard Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks was the 2023-24 season's leading scorer. On Christmas night, a 3-pointer against the Phoenix Suns pushed him past 10,000 career NBA points. On Wednesday, he turned 25.

The Oklahoma City Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 25; the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo, 29; the Cleveland Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell Jr., 27; and Durant completed the list of the season's top-five scorers.

On Thursday, James' 31-point performance helped the Lakers prevail against the Wizards, and it got him within nine points of the 40,000 points mark.

At the postgame news conference, James noted that he still has the job of all-time scorer, and he made it clear he will defend his fortress of points.

"It was never a goal of mine when I came into the league, like I wanted to be the all-time leading scorer," he said.

"But I’m still playing, so ...," he trailed off. 

"It’s going to continue to go up," he said of his career total, "until I’m done playing."

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