Will LeBron James Ever Pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Looking At Other NBA Records

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With Stephen Curry recently breaking the NBA’s 3-point record, it’s time to examine other key milestones.
The 3-point career record fell. So what’s next?

Stephen Curry brought the spotlight on major NBA records over the last few weeks when he chased and then assumed ownership of a cherished mark. But while the 3-point record is nice, it’s not recognized as the record with the most value or prestige or weight. Consider that the 3-point shot is only 42 years old and if not for a dramatic shift in the game — most players and coaches first treated the 3-pointer as a gimmick when it was introduced — it wouldn’t be as popular as Curry made it.

This brings us to LeBron James. He has a solid chance at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record. That’s bigger. Also, as a testament to his greatness and longevity, LeBron ranks high on the list of other career marks as well. He should finish in the top 10 in scoring, rebounds and assists. When his career is finally over, LeBron can cite his place on those all-time lists to make his case as the greatest of all time.
LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Here’s a look at the other major career records, where they stand at the moment, and whether any are in jeopardy.
(NOTE: The stats for the active leaders are through Dec. 16)

POINTS: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 38,387

Active leader: LeBron James, 35,811

Summary: This is, of course, the Holy Grail of career records, because the purpose of the game is to put the ball through the hoop, right? If LeBron stays reasonably healthy, meaning he doesn’t suffer an injury serious enough to keep him benched for an extended period of time, he will catch Kareem. It could happen at the backend of next season at the earliest. And then, that LeBron record will require the next player to enter the discussion as the greatest player of all time, a player who’ll need durability as well as talent, much like LeBron. You’re talking at least a dozen years averaging between 25 and 30 points a game, for starters.

MINUTES: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 57,446

Active leader: LeBron James, 50,686
Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons
Summary: Again, assuming good health, this is reachable for LeBron. The last time he played 82 games, he had over 3,000 minutes. The compacted NBA schedule of the last two seasons caused by coronavirus hasn’t helped, though. If LeBron doesn’t catch Kareem, someone eventually will, because medical advancements and better fitness programs and diets are allowing players to extend careers. The only other active player in the top 25 is Carmelo Anthony, who’s 24th on the list (42,521 minutes).

FREE THROWS MADE: Karl Malone, 9,787

Active leader: LeBron James, 7,640

Summary: “The Mailman” beat a path to the line throughout his career, and gradually became a better percentage shooter as he approached his 30s. He also holds the record for most attempts with 13,188. The question now is: Will the new rules hamper LeBron’s chances? Actually, the rule changes seem to have a harsher effect on James Harden, who’s No. 2 on the active list with 6,744. LeBron is an average shooter, just 73.4%, and his trips to the line have steadily decreased over the last six-plus seasons, mainly because he’s attempting more 3-pointers and therefore reducing the chances for drawing fouls.

ASSISTS: John Stockton, 15,806

Active leader: Chris Paul, 10,558
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Summary: Even if he averaged 500 assists — and he has only topped that total once in the last four seasons — Paul would need to play roughly 10 more years to pass Stockton. That should explain the high degree of difficulty in supplanting the Utah Jazz legend. Stockton’s record is one of those not-in-my-lifetime marks. Understand that the player who tops him would need to play heavy minutes per game, rarely take nights off, and be durable enough to last around 20 seasons. Also, he’d need to have at least one Hall of Fame scorer as a teammate, as Stockton did with Karl Malone. Plus, if that’s not discouraging enough, the point guard position has changed, to where most today are scorers more than distributors. Therefore: Good luck. There are only three players (Kevin Porter, Isiah Thomas) who reached 1,000 assists in a single season and those two did it once … Stockton did that seven times. It needs to be mentioned that LeBron is in the career top-10 at 9,814, with 10,000 assists in sight, which, given that he’s a forward, is astonishing.

REBOUNDS: Wilt Chamberlain, 23,924

Active leader: Dwight Howard, 14,405

Summary: It’ll take a special big man to claim a Wilt record, as most of his marks are unfathomable. He achieved those marks because he played in a far different era, one that favored size, one that was easy for him to dominate. As long as there are missed shots, there will be rebounds to collect, so even if the style of play evolves and changes, rebounds won’t suddenly become scarce. That said, the player who tops Wilt probably hasn’t been born yet. DeAndre Jordan sits at 10,012 and LeBron at 9,852.

BLOCKS: Hakeem Olajuwon, 3,830

Active leader: Dwight Howard, 2,209

Summary: This underlines how superb Olajuwon was as an all-around, both-ends player. This sometimes gets lost when folks draw up a top-10 greatest players’ list. Olajuwon was hardly a one-dimensional player — much like Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is right now, for example — and found the energy and effort to excel defensively as well as offensively. Speaking of Gobert: He is still in his prime, has 1,278 blocks (DeAndre Jordan has 1,488 but isn’t in his prime) and is the premier shot-blocker in the game at the moment. Yet he has far to go to catch “The Dream.” This record is attainable but only by a player who’s savvy defensively right from the start until the end of his career, and not many rookies bring those chops; it’s a learned skill.

STEALS: John Stockton, 3,265

Active leader: Chris Paul, 2,389
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Summary: Once again, Paul is chasing the ghost of Stockton, and if Paul ever grabs this record, it would truly be a steal. Meaning, it’s unrealistic. Paul has averaged 105 steals over the last four seasons, and using that as a benchmark, he’d need to play roughly eight more seasons. Amazingly, Stockton led the league in steals only twice in his 19-year career. But, just as with the assists record, Stockton was tremendously consistent, and keep in mind he didn’t become a full-time starter with the Jazz until his fourth season. LeBron has 2,093 steals, Andre Iguodala 1,743, and Russell Westbrook 1,658.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting

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