LeBron passes MJ for 4th on all-time scoring list

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James says his first encounter with Michael Jordan was like meeting God. Now he has taken a spot above him in the scoring heavens. James passed Jordan on Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets to move into fourth place on the NBA’s all-time points list.

Entering the day trailing Jordan by 12 points, James tied Jordan at 32,292 career points with a fadeaway 19-footer midway through the second quarter and then passed him with an and-1 layup at the 5:38 mark.

James sank the free throw to complete the three-point play and went on to finish the half with 17 points, putting him at 32,297 career points.

In anticipation of the feat, James tweeted before Wednesday’s game that moving past Jordan would be “unreal.” He also wore a pair of Nike LeBron 16s designed in the style of the Air Jordan III “white cement” model.

“I kind of take all accomplishments as they come and anytime I’m in the breath of any of the greats and, obviously, MJ being the guy I looked up to my whole life, a guy I aspired to be when I was a kid and just, I think it’s going to be pretty cool,” James said at shootaround Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know how I’ll react in the moment obviously but I think at some point I’ll be able to appreciate it, just knowing where I come from and knowing that it’s so much bigger than just me. So many kids look up to me for inspiration and when I was a kid their age I needed inspiration and MJ was that inspiration for me along with some other people. … Sometimes I have no idea how I’m even in this position to be able to sit here, play the game that I love, play at a high level and be linked with some of the greatest to ever play this game and obviously MJ being out of this world, so it’s pretty unique.”

James, 34, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in 2003 a couple of months after Jordan retired from the Washington Wizards for good at age 40, needed 117 more regular season games than Jordan to reach the scoring plateau. Yet, while Jordan has James beat in career scoring average (30.1 points to 27.1 points), James is ahead of Jordan in both rebounds (7.4 to 6.2) and assists (7.2 to 5.3) per game.

“He’s not really a scorer,” Lakers teammate Rajon Rondo said of James. “He’s a facilitator. He’s a maestro himself. He’s an orchestrator. So, for him to be on that type of list, it’s just unbelievable. I would say he does whatever his team needs, honestly. He scores, he passes, he rebounds, he blocks. He’s a stat filler. And an intangible guy.

“So, to be on that type of list, it seems like he’s on every list possible. That puts in perspective what he’s done for the game and how much impact he has on the game each and every night he plays.”

James passed Andre Miller for 10th on the all-time assists list earlier this season, making him the only player in league history to rank in the top 10 in both points and assists.

With James’ feat Wednesday, it means all of the top four scorers in NBA history played for the Lakers at some point in their careers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) is No. 1, followed by Karl Malone (36,928 points) at No. 2 and Kobe Bryant (33,643 points) at No. 3.

“Obviously it’s an incredible achievement,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Getting into the top four, approaching three, he’s going to pass three and probably get into the top two, it’s crazy to really think about.”

James passed Jordan for first place in all-time playoff points in the spring of 2017 — although he still trails Jordan 6-3 in championships. The occasion allowed James a chance to reflect on Jordan’s influence.

“I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid,” James said at the time. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve on my leg and folded it down so you saw the red part. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there.”

James and Jordan do not have much of a relationship to speak of. While James, like Jordan, has elevated his stature off the court thanks to a lucrative relationship with Nike; and James, like Jordan, has visions of someday owning an NBA franchise, the pair have keep their distance.

Part of the disconnect between them has revolved around the greatest player of all time conversation. James, on an episode of the ESPN+ series “More Than An Athlete,” said that leading the Cavs to their first title while becoming the only team in league history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to beat the Golden State Warriors in 2016, solidified his perch at the very top. “That one right there made me the greatest player of all time.”

Jordan, for his part, rejected the notion that he earned that title.

“What everybody is saying I am, I never had the chance to compete against other legends that was prior to me,” Jordan said years ago in an interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon. “I would love to have played against them but I never did. For you to say that I’m better than him, I mean it’s your opinion. It’s their opinion. I accept that as their opinion. If you ask me, I would never say that I’m the greatest player.”

Jordan had no problem, however, offering his opinion of where James ranked compared to Bryant, in comments made in August 2017 at his Flight School summer camp in Santa Barbara, California.

“Would I rank LeBron over Kobe in terms of best all-time? No,” Jordan said. “There’s something about five that beats three. Now he may be better than that, but Kobe won five championships. LeBron won three.”

While the Jordan-James debate will surely rage on for decades, James has earned the respect of his contemporaries, regardless of rankings.

“LeBron is such a great overall player that sometimes he gets overlooked as a scorer, as crazy as that is,” Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s No. 7 all-time scorer, told ESPN. “Sometimes his scoring, his clutch scoring even, is overlooked. But I think all the players know how good he is. He’s basically a one-man fast break. All these years, if you have one man back, it’s basically a basket.”

And Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who battled with James in the playoffs when James played for the Cavs and he coached the Boston Celtics, put the Lakers star in a category all his own.

“LeBron is one of the greatest players that has ever played,” Rivers said. “I’ve never compared him to Michael. I’ve always compared him to Magic (Johnson). They’re all great. I don’t do the whole who’s the better guy and all that crap. I mean, the fact that you can say Michael and Magic and LeBron tells you all that you need to know. That club is really small. It really is and he’s in that club. That just tells you… his passing, he’s had to score. But I think he’s always wanted to be a passer.”

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