LOS ANGELES — With the Lakers heading to Sacramento this weekend and LeBron James needing less than 500 points to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time mark of 38,397 points, James reflected on when he scored his first NBA points in the Kings’ house.
“I knew I was ready right now,” James told ESPN in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I knew I belonged to the biggest league in the world. But I didn’t know what to expect. And I was just super nervous. I didn’t know how my first basket was going to happen.”
Three minutes and four seconds into his first NBA game on October 29, 2003, James made his first NBA shot – a jump shot in a dribble, 16 feet from the basket along the baseline.
“It’s actually a bit of a tough shot too,” James said. “But I was so, so nervous with excitement. Nervous, I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to let people down.”
James has racked up nothing but achievements – and points – since then. He’s on a tear as he approaches Abdul-Jabbar’s record, averaging 33.7 points on 57.8% shooting in his last 12 games, including 25 points on 10 of 19 shooting in the Friday night’s 130-114 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Not bad for a guy who has long argued he’s not a goalscorer.
“I mean, I know how to put the ball in the hole,” James said. “When I say I’m not a goalscorer, I mean it in the sense that it’s never been the part of my game that defines me. … But there’s an argument to that. When you watch from how long this record has stood and the great Kareem, able to accomplish something like this.
“But that won’t be for me to discuss because I’ve never felt that way.”
Abdul-Jabbar has held the torch as the league’s top scorer since April 5, 1984 – almost nine months to the day before the birth of James, who turned 38 last month.
Unlike Abdul-Jabbar, whose signature skyhook is frozen in time in bronze like a statue outside Crypto.com Arena, James said picking a move from his offensive repertoire wasn’t such an obvious choice.
“It’s not like I have a Dirk one-legged signature [Nowitzki] fadeaway or a patented Michael Jordan fadeaway or a Kareem skyhook or a [Hakeem Olajuwon] Dream Shake,” James said. “I think the one thing people always talk about is my transitioning tomahawk dunk.”
James is still playing above the edge as his career progresses, but his team is no longer playing near the top of the standings. LA missed the playoffs in two of James’ four seasons with the Lakers and is 18-21, 12th in the Western Conference.
“I want to win. [The losing is] not good with me,” James said. “I don’t like having accomplishments, and I don’t feel good, when it comes to a losing effort. … So while we’re sitting here right now as a franchise and as a sub-0.500 team – we’ve been playing good basketball lately, but we want and I want to win at the highest level. Breaking records or setting records or passing greats in a losing effort has never been in my DNA.”
To illustrate his point, James explained how he decided to sit out the last five games of last season to treat an ankle injury after LA had already been knocked out of the playoffs, rather than come back and play two. more games just for playing enough of the season to be eligible to win the scoring title. James averaged 30 points per game in his 19th season.
“Me being on the floor, trying to get the score LeBron talks Kareem pursuit, staying great at 38 in games that don’t matter, it was so corny to me. So I was like, I’m not even going [to play]”, he said. “So it never mattered to me unless it was about winning.”
While it’s been 10 years since he won the last of his four regular season MVPs in 2013, James is still proud of the opposing defenses that are preparing to stop him as one of the best players in the league.
“Being able to come out and still be the focus of my opponent’s scouting reports lets me know I’m still playing at a high level,” he said. “I want to keep playing at championship level and still be respected every time I hit the ground as a threat for every minute I play.”
James still has two years left on his contract with the Lakers. Although he has repeatedly expressed his hope that the Lakers can find a way to field a more competitive team around him for the twilight of his career, there is another goal that he prioritizes above all else.
“I gotta be on the floor with my boy, I gotta be on the floor with Bronny,” James said of his eldest son, currently a senior in high school, who wouldn’t be eligible to play in the NBA until 2024 – 25 season according to the rules of the collective agreement in force.
James has expressed that desire before, saying how he hoped to team up with his son in the league. However, he slightly adjusted that stance on Friday.
“Either in the same uniform or in a match against him. I don’t mean like [guarding one another all game] – because he’s a playmaker and I’m a, at this point now, I’m playing center or whatever the team needs me to do,” James said. “But I would love to do all the Ken Griffey Sr. and Junior stuff. That would be ideal, that’s for sure.”
James said he and Bronny aren’t actively discussing that future possibility, but he knows it’s something his son is also interested in.
“I ask him what his aspirations are and he says he wants to play in the NBA,” James said. “So if he wants to do it, he has to work on it. I’m already here, so I’m just waiting for him.”
And then there will be another NBA first bucket for the James family to get nervous together.
James, referring to his career points tally, said with a laugh: “He’s got a long way to go to join me.”
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