With LeBron James eclipsing Kareem’s scoring mark, Lakers fans need to take a moment to enjoy the moment
It makes sense that the only thing here in Los Angeles with the real power to temporarily freeze and silence all the drama created by a LeBron James team in disarray is, in fact, a LeBron James act of utter greatness.
This season, the Lakers have emitted a hum of humdrum basketball — a low-frequency of frustration sent out by so much mediocrity and angst: The Russell Westbrook drama. Anthony Davis‘ now past-tense but still impactful stretch of injury. The future first-round draft picks that will or won’t be traded. LeBron’s constant, passive-aggressive attempts to force his team’s hand in the matter, sparking one rival GM to snipe at CBS Sports, “Everyone knows he wants those picks traded for help — he should just do what anyone would and have the guts to say so out loud.”
This LeBron-led Lakers team is 24-28, a lowly 13th in tight Western Conference, is a team of possibility — like so many others toggling between lottery spot, play-in or a outright playoff berth — are encased in the noise of a King James team falling below his supposed royal standard.
But that noise, for a moment at least, is about to be paused. Because LeBron’s lifelong pursuit of Michael Jordan is about to get supercharged by chasing down another all-time great.
Just 89 points from now, as you surely know, LeBron will reign as the NBA‘s all-time leading scorer. That moment will shift the Lakers from a team of letdowns to one again reaching out and touching the very cusp of hoops greatness.
For at least one night, banality will get swapped for bravado. Frustration for festivity. A sense of mediocrity-at-best for a moment of real, deserved basketball glory.
Will it be enough freedom from angst — enough joy, and positivity — to spark a Lakers revival and a run between now and season’s end? Maybe. Maybe not. An NBA championship probably won’t follow.
But a reminder of a feeling — of the purple and gold sitting at the center of the basketball universe, of the game’s most talked about team again emanating from downtown L.A., of the entire NBA turning its often jaded and jealous eye toward the Lakers — will surge again, even if temporarily.
Winning, of course, is cool. But so is watching a Laker great hold sports history in his hand.
Casually but with confidence, Lakers sources speculate that, come what may, LeBron will and always was going to break this record underneath the rafters where No. 33 resides. He’s now on pace, at his current rate of scoring, to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387 points at home next week.
Those within the Lakers organization expect their star to put up enough points in the next two road games in Indiana and New Orleans to ensure Kareem’s mark is eclipsed at home against Oklahoma City next Tuesday, or — more likely — two days later in a nationally-televised game versus Milwaukee, which is both Kareem’s original NBA team and the club of the Bucks‘ current star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’ll oppose LeBron as the All-Star Game’s other captain later this month.
That torch being passed will come along with a needed reprieve from what has been a long season and, for a moment, a brief respite from so much noise.
Russ’ let’s just “have fun” disconnected for LeBron? Settle it later. The brutal roster construction? History don’t care. The AD-as-Humpty-Dumpty anxiety? Worry about it later. The officiating? Not even they can blow a whistle (or fail to) on this one. What LeBron is about to pull off is truly, utterly astounding.
The Lakers, its fans and the rest of us can just enjoy this moment while we stow the curiosity about what will happen six weeks — or six months — from LeBron’s 38,388th point.
There is precedence for this, for a Laker great weaving magic from an otherwise disappointing season.
On April 13, 2016, a 17-win Lakers season neared its merciful end. I was at Staples Center that last night, Kobe Bryant’s last, and any jokes or snark or skepticism of that season evaporated as Kobe rolled back the years and rolled up the points — 60 of them.
That was his mark, the number that as the game went on felt inevitable, shot after shot, one reminder after another of Kobe’s place in the game and how such a beautiful moment can blossom in all its splendor even in the most unkempt garden of a season.
It was a goodbye, yes, and so different than what LeBron will claim when he becomes the new standard-bearer for the NBA’s all-time scoring record. But the effect can be the same: A disappointing Lakers season can still have a moment of awe from an all-time great connecting with their all-time greatness, lighting up the arena in a way losing teams rarely do.
On that night, Kobe sat in a crowded post-game press conference, beaming joy, beaming greatness, surrounded by so many journalists hypnotized by what he’d just done and how it encapsulated such a remarkable, glowing career.
Something similar awaits us all in the coming week. And once LeBron has done it — once he takes over the top spot, and the glow of what it means washes over the league for one historical night — perhaps a similar kind of joy can re-calibrate this Lakers season, however long that feeling lasts.