LeBron James may be only a few years from breaking one of the NBA's most hallowed records. Among the people rooting for him to do it is the owner of said record.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told NBA reporter Marc Stein that he would be "excited" to see James top his NBA all-time scoring record of 38,387 points, comparing it to Roger Bannister's four-minute mile:
LeBron James is right around 3,000 points behind you for the NBA's all-time scoring lead. If he can put a couple more injury-free seasons together, he has a real opportunity to pass you. How would you feel about that?
Kareem: I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.
The 36-year-old James currently sits in third on the NBA's all-time scoring list, having passed Kobe Bryant in the 2019-20 season.
How long will it take him to reach first on the list? Let's break it down.
How close is LeBron James to breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record?
After last season, James sits at 35,367 career points in the regular season, which comes out to 3,020 points short of Abdul-Jabbar. Utah Jazz great Karl Malone also remains ahead of him at 36,928 points.
We can try to calculate how long James will need to score 3,020 points in a few ways. If you take his scoring average across his entire career, which comes out to 1,964 points per season, it would take him 1.54 seasons to reach Abdul-Jabbar. That would mean a date around early-to-mid Jan. 2023 would be the time to watch and potentially reserve some Staples Center tickets.
James is 36 though, so it might not be helpful to use seasons from his 20s to predict his future output, especially when he seems on track for less ball-handling than usual after the arrival of Russell Westbrook. If we take the scoring output of, say, his three-year career with the Lakers — which bakes in a pandemic and the longest injury break of his career — you get 1,443 points per season.
That rate comes out to 2.09 seasons for James, which means we're looking at late 2023. If you want to do this by games rather than seasons, his scoring average of 27 points per game (26.99771 to be a little more exact), that comes out to 111.9 games. Do the Lakers-only standard, and it comes out to 116.5 games.
Obviously, this all goes out the window if James gets injured or sees a major change in circumstances, but the bottom line is that James can reach Abdul-Jabbar with just two healthy seasons, which is in itself a testament to James' longevity considering he would be at least two years younger than Abdul-Jabbar when he retired.
We could also entertain the thought that James is much closer than we think if you factor in playoff points, in which James is already the all-time leader. Throw in his 7,631 points and Abdul-Jabbar's 5,762, and he's only 1,151 points back.
Either way, it looks like Abdul-Jabbar will be proud.