LeBron James is already established as one of the greatest players in NBA history, but his place in the record books is not yet close to confirmed. At just 32 years old, the Cleveland Cavaliers icon has the chance to pile up stats and near the top of the leaderboards in nearly every major statistical category. As he does so, he will pass many of the sport’s most prominent legends and reaffirm his place in history.
LeBron accomplished one of those feats on Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. With 4:28 remaining in the fourth. quarter, James went to the line for three free throws and made the first (and then missed the next two) to score his 28,597th career point and pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
LeBron came into Thursday needing 23 points to tie Shaq and scored 19 in the first half to help the Cavs to a 50-41 lead at the break. He scored two points during a rough third quarter for Cleveland but managed to tie O’Neal on a drive past Michael Carter-Williams a few minutes into his fourth-quarter rotation.
Unfortunately for James and the Cavs, those historic points came in the midst of a second-half collapse. The Bulls out-scored them 58-43 in the second half to come away with a 99-93 win.
Given his relatively young age and continued elite level of play, LeBron should be able to reach at least the top five on the scoring list before his career is through. Dirk Nowitzki is next at 30,181 points (and counting), which should be within reach in the 2017-18 campaign even if Nowitzki returns to the Dallas Mavericks for another season. Wilt Chamberlain currently resides in fifth with 31,419 points, which would take LeBron roughly 108 more games to reach at his 2016-17 scoring average of 26.0 ppg.
However, this particular move up the list of all-time scorers has special meaning. While Shaq’s game doesn’t have a great deal in common with LeBron’s mix of basketball genius and incredible athleticism, the two do have a connection as the two most dominant forces on the court of the last 20 years. Both entered the league as unprecedented physical presences who forced referees to find new ways to officiate the game.
Plus, there’s something fitting about LeBron passing Shaq on a 1-of-3 trip to the line. Maybe it was on purpose!
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