LeBron James is the all-time leading points scorer in NBA history, passing legendary centre Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles. 

Needing just 36 points to eclipse former Laker Abdul-Jabbar’s tally of 38,387, James completed the record in the third quarter of the contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I just wanna say thank you to the Laker faithful, you guys are one of a kind,” James said immediately after breaking the record.

“To be able to be in the presence of just a legend and great as Kareem, it means so much to me, it is very humbling.

“Everybody that’s ever been a part of this, run with me the last 20-plus years, I just wanna say I thank you so much, because I wouldn’t be me without y’all.

“All your help, all your passion, all your sacrifices help me get to this point.

LeBron James smiles
LeBron James is now the highest point-scorer in NBA history.(Getty Images: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

“To the NBA … thank you guys so much for allowing me to be a part of something I’ve always dreamed about, and I would never ever in a million years dreamt this even better than it is tonight so, f*** man, thank you guys.”

Loading Twitter content

After the match James, 38, told NBA on TNT that it was “surreal” and that he never set out to break the record.

“Once I saw the record get closer and closer … I said OK, it’s possible.”

But once it came, James was well aware of the target he was hoping to achieve to break the record, 38,388 — he even had it branded on the headphones he wore pre-game. 

And so were the expectant, star-studded crowd, who were kept up to date with a running tally on the main scoreboard at the Crypto.com Arena, roaring its approval with every James involvement — none more so than when James re-entered the game in the third, needing just six points.

With celebrities including John McEnroe, Jay Z, Floyd Mayweather and Denzel Washington in the crowd — as well as James’s mother, wife, daughter and sons — the supporters greeted every score with a fervent roar more in keeping with a play-off match than a regular mid-season contest. 

Former record-holder Abdul-Jabbar was also sitting courtside, as he said he would until James broke the record, adding to the doubtless sense of occasion.

James had eight points in the first quarter then was at 20 points at half-time, needing 16 in the second half to make history.

Basketballer LeBron James reaches out for a lay-up shot to the basket as defender Josh Giddey watches in the background.
LeBron James powered to the basket regularly.(AP: Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In the third, James took off, nailing 10 points in his first stint on the court, before returning with two driving lay-ups to send the crowd into raptures as Abdul-Jabbar smiled and the Thunder took a timeout. 

Abdul-Jabbar broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record in 1984 with his trademark skyhook shot but James did not reciprocate with a tomahawk slam, instead landing a fade-away jumper with 10.9 seconds to go in the third.

Basketballer LeBron James is off the ground as he lets the ball go for a shot as the other players and the crowd all watch him.
LeBron James hit a fade-away jumper late in the third quarter for the Los Angeles Lakers to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38-year-old NBA scoring record.(Getty Images: NBAE/Andrew D. Bernstein)

James stood with his arms outstretched, before celebrating with supporters and family as the game momentarily paused to allow for a presentation to take place, including a tribute video.

Abdul-Jabbar and NBA commissioner Adam Silver then presented James with a ball, a symbolic passing of the torch from one Lakers legend to another.

LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pose
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar handed LeBron James a ball after James passed his all time NBA scoring total.(Getty Images: Harry How)

“A record that has stood for nearly 40 years, which Kareem, many people thought would never be broken,” Silver said, as the crowd chanted “M-V-P” and James blinked back tears.

“LeBron, you are the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. Congratulations.”

Australian Josh Giddey almost had a massive input to the occasion, when his stray elbow caught the all-time great in the eye in the opening quarter.

But James was able to continue — and did not let up all night.

James’ record did inspire a fourth-quarter comeback from the Lakers, however, it was the Thunder who came away with the 133-130 victory.

Abdul-Jabbar praises James’ leadership

Basdketballer LeBron James looks up to the ceiling of a stadium as he throws powder in the air before a big NBA game.
The anticipation of the NBA scoring record made for a thrilling atmosphere in LA. (AP: Ashley Landis)

Lakers legend Abdul-Jabbar, who played until he was 42 years old, said James has deserved to claim his record.

“LeBron’s career is one of someone who planned to dominate this game,” Abdul-Jabbar told NBA on TNT.

“He got out of high school, he’s got the size and talent to step right into the NBA, and he immediately started to have his effect — and that’s gone for almost 20 years now.”

“You’ve got to give him credit just for the way he planned to last and to dominate.

“He led teams to three World Championships, they didn’t get there because of someone else and LeBron tagged along.

“LeBron led them. He has that indefinable essence that they call leadership.”

The question now is how many more points James can score.

Abdul-Jabbar scored his 38,387 points across 1,560 games in 20 seasons.

James is also in his 20th season, but has scored his points in 151 fewer games — and said “I know I can play a couple more years” as long as his mind was still into it.

That puts James’s average points per game of 27.2 significantly higher than Abdul-Jabbar’s 24.6.

“I think you should talk to LeBron about how he feels about trying to extend his career,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

“He’s gonna extend this record even further and it will be interesting to see how far he goes.”

If you include play-off matches, which the official NBA record does not, James had already passed Abdul-Jabbar’s total tally of 44,149 points last year.

But he now owns the official record as well — and, just as Abdul-Jabbar held the record for 38 years, 10 months and two days — before James was born — odds are James will likely keep it for several decades to come.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal asked James whether he now felt that he was the best of all time.

“Everyone’s gonna have their favourite,” James said.

“I know what I’ve bought to the table, I know what I bring to the table every single night and what I can do out on this floor.

“I always feel like I’m the best that’s ever played this game, but there’s no many other great ones that I’m just proud to be a part of their journey.”

For O’Neal, the answer was unequivocal. 

“I would have been real arrogant with it. I am the greatest of all time, I don’t wanna hear nobody else’s name again. Ever.”

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 20 minutes 9 seconds

Why basketball has struggled in Australia