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LeBron James’ path to 40,000 career regular-season points


6.23.2003
Drafted No. 1 overall by Cleveland Cavaliers


10.29.2003 at Kings

Baseline midrange jumper over Brad Miller for first NBA basket
8:57 left in first quarter
Career point total: 2

Everything was ready. The players were on the court, the referees
had the ball, and the fans were in their seats. But the start of James’ first game was halted
because the earlier nationally televised game on ESPN had run long. In those moments of limbo, James
sat on the scorer’s table and chewed his nails, every eye in Arco Arena on him.

The Cavs
were in Sacramento for two days before the game, and James had been antsy. That afternoon he had
lunch with Moses Malone, who told him stories about his rookie season to help pass the time. “A year
ago I was watching this at the start of the season. Now I’m finally here. It’s a dream,” James said
that night. “This will never get old. When it does, that’s when I’ll stop playing.”

The
nerves never showed. James was under control from the start, moving smoothly. He grabbed a rebound
90 seconds in and ran the offense to set up Ricky Davis for a layup. Then three minutes in, he came
off a screen set by Carlos Boozer and had a sliver of an opening along the baseline. Boozer was open
rolling away from the screen, but James wanted the shot. He leaned back to create room and took it
from a tough angle. The ball ripped through the net. The Cavs’ bench roared as James ran past. The
rookie would make his first three shots and finish the quarter, his first, with 12 points, two
rebounds, two assists and three steals.


ESPN


03.27.2004 vs. Nets

Uncontested breakaway dunk for first career 40-point game
Two seconds left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 1,441

“His reputation certainly preceded him,” Kerry Kittles told ESPN
of a young LeBron James, who was playing just the 69th game of his career. The Nets had faced James
twice earlier in his rookie season, winning those two games by a combined 35 points. So when it came
time for the third meeting, they thought they were prepared.

After getting off to a slow
start with only two points in the first quarter, James caught fire, dropping 11 in the second, 12 in
the third and 16 in the fourth — the final two coming on a breakaway dunk with 1.9 seconds left to
make him the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in a game.

“He is
a force that moves in, around and through you with such lightning speed and physical dominance that
there is little you can do to stop him,” Kittles said. “I remember a convo with team president Rod
Thorn about the final play. When asked if I could have fouled him to prevent the inevitable, I
answered with full confidence, ‘Not a chance. Not a chance.'”


ESPN


02.03.2005 at Heat

Breakaway dunk over Damon Jones
2:08 left in third quarter
Career point total: 2,726

Just a few months after this game, Damon Jones would end up on the
Cavaliers, where he eventually made the winning basket to clinch LeBron James’ first playoff series
win. Later, after retiring, he served as an assistant coach on James’ 2016 title-winning team in
Cleveland. But when the names LeBron James and Damon Jones are mentioned, this will always be the
first play that comes to mind.

“I’m sitting there in the defensive stance by our bench
and he tries to throw a lob pass over the top — a skip pass over the top — and I intercept it and
I give it up to Jeff McInnis in transition and all I’m hoping is that he throws it back to me,”
James told ESPN of the play. “And once he throws it back to me, I’m telling myself, ‘I hope
this guy don’t jump. I hope he don’t.’ Because I’m a nice guy. But I’m going to punish him if he
jumps. And he jumped and that’s probably one of the best plays I had made up until that point of my
career.”

Even though the game was played in Miami, the dunk ignited the crowd, which
included a young Beyoncé.

“Destiny’s Child was sitting courtside at the scorer’s
table when that happened,” James said. “I don’t know if they had an album coming out or whatever,
but they was sitting courtside at the scorer’s table and I looked over and saw their reaction. And
for a 19-year-old kid at that point and time and to look at Destiny’s Child and see their reaction
at that dunk, I was like, ‘Oh, s—!’ I took [my facemask] off and smiled. Smiled at the crowd. It
was in their direction too, that’s for sure.”


ESPN


02.20.2005
Plays in first NBA All-Star Game


01.30.2008 at Trail Blazers

Reverse layup between LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy
0.3 seconds left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 9,614

“That was a great game. A big-time game, actually,” James said.
“That’s when B-Roy was one of the best 2-guards in the league at the time.”

Roy, who made
the first of three straight All-Star teams later that season, missed a 3-pointer that would’ve put
the Blazers up four with five seconds left, giving James one last chance to give the Cavs the
win.

“I looped up to the top, we just ran one of our loop plays — our ‘loop ice’ is what
we called it at the time,” he said. “I got it on the right wing, and I was able to drive and get all
the way to the left side. I was kind of shocked that they allowed me to get all the way to the left
side of the rim to make the game-winner. But that was a big moment for me, obviously, but a big win
for our team too.”


ESPN


02.27.2008
10,000
Becomes youngest player to score 10,000 career points


01.23.2009 at Warriors

Long 2-point jumper from left wing over Ronny Turiaf
0:00 left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 11,833

James had made a few game-winners in the final seconds by this
point, but this was his first true buzzer-beater. On the play, Warriors coach Don Nelson had put his
best defender, Stephen Jackson, on Cavs center Anderson Varejao, and Ronny Turiaf on James. Nelson
expected Varejao to set a screen for James, as was typical in those situations, and the defenders
could switch. When James saw the alignment, he altered the play and went a different direction,
resulting in an isolation shot over Turiaf for the win.

ESPN


02.20.2009 at Bucks

Deep 3-pointer from right wing over Ramon Sessions
9:29 left in third quarter
Career point total: 12,203

For the first six seasons of his career, LeBron James was a
below-average 3-point shooter (32.8 percent on 4.1 attempts per game). But every once in a while,
he’d get hot from beyond the arc — and this was a prime example. After scoring 25 points in the
first half, James came out on fire in the third, making four consecutive 3-point shots — each one
deeper than the last — the last in the face of then-Bucks guard Ramon Sessions.

“I was
thinking he was going to shoot and playing for that and he still hit it,” Sessions told ESPN.
“I don’t know how much he finished with that game, but you could definitely tell he had it
going from deep. For him to settle in transition like that is not like LeBron. I thought I was in
the right spot. He shot that deep. And 3s wasn’t a big deal back then like that either, so for
somebody to come down and shoot four in a row. Now you look at it like, ‘Oh that’s just the NBA.’
But back then, nah, that wasn’t the NBA. It’s one of those things where he was in the zone and
everybody was watching.”


ESPN


07.08.2010
“The Decision”: James announces he’s taking his talents to South
Beach


12.06.2010 at Bucks

Uncontested breakaway dunk off bounce pass from Dwyane Wade
8:36 left in first quarter
Career point total: 15,760

Truth be told, this would be one of many routine Wade-to-James
dunks from their four-plus years as teammates if not for Wade’s reaction shortly after dropping the
pass, which led to the photo that defined what Joakim Noah called the “Hollywood as Hell”
Heat.

“That’s an iconic photo in sports. Forever,” James said. “I mean, listen, we’re two
of the most explosive guys out in the open court ever seen in the NBA. And that was just one of
those times and one of those plays where I was running the floor and him having court vision, when
he dropped it off to me he already knew what was going to happen before it happened. It was just
like, ‘We here. And we’re here to do something special.'”


ESPN


01.29.2012 at Bulls

Baseline dunk over John Lucas III
5:02 left in first quarter
Career point total: 17,896

In the final year of Brian Scalabrine’s playing career, James,
then with the Heat, caught a first-quarter lob while leaping over 5-foot-11 Bulls guard John Lucas
and finished the dunk.

“He jumped over John Lucas’ head. I’m not kidding,”
Scalabrine said while searching YouTube on his phone for visual evidence. “John Lucas was right
there, and LeBron jumped over him and just dunked it. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever
seen in my life.”

Was Scalabrine able to contain himself on the Chicago bench?

“No, I went crazy,” Scalabrine said. “Like, his feet went over his head. Not like Vince
Carter when he spread eagles. LeBron’s feet were higher than John Lucas’ head. It was incredible.”


ESPN


06.21.2012
Defeats Thunder 4-1 to win first NBA championship, Finals MVP


01.17.2013
20,000
Becomes youngest player to score 20,000 career points


03.18.2013 at Celtics

Alley-oop dunk over Jason Terry
5:22 left in second quarter
Career point total: 20,780

The pair had a rivalry dating to 2003, when Terry hit James with a
flagrant foul when Terry played for the Hawks. It reached a new level in 2011 during the NBA Finals,
when Terry trash-talked James throughout the series and confidently predicted James would wear out
when the Mavericks were down 2-1 to James’ Heat. Terry, who was great in the series as James was a
primary defender, proved to be right.

But on this play, Terry had no chance. It was a
three-on-one break after a turnover, and Terry never saw James coming as he slammed home a perfect
lob pass from Norris Cole. James was given a technical foul for lording over Terry, who had fallen
to the floor. But James’ reaction got even better. The next day, James verbally dunked on Terry
again when he said: “I reviewed [the dunk], and it was one of my best. The fact that it happened to
J.T. made it that much sweeter because we all know J.T., and he talks too much sometimes. I’m glad
it happened to him.”


ESPN


12.25.2013 at Lakers

Alley-oop dunk over Nick Young
3:49 left in first quarter
Career point total: 21,775

“First of all, it’s always great playing at Staples Center,” James
said. “And then you add on the fact that it’s Christmas, that was just a great
moment.”

James has faced the Lakers on Christmas Day three times in his career, all at
Staples Center, and all in a winning effort, so it’s no surprise he remembers those games fondly. In
this particular meeting, Kobe Bryant was out because of an injury, putting Nick Young in the Lakers’
starting lineup — and directly in the path of James on this highlight-reel effort.

“From
the time me and D-Wade got together, I just told him: ‘Just throw it anywhere, I’ll go get it.
Anywhere you throw it, I’ll go get it.’ And that’s what it was,” James said. “He just started
throwing things places that it was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to catch this one,’ and then
I ended up going to get it and that was another instance where he just flicked it over his head, and
I like Swaggy P, too. I hated that he had to be at the end of that.”


ESPN


03.03.2014
Scores career-high 61 points vs. Bobcats


07.11.2014
Announces return to Cleveland in first-person letter in Sports
Illustrated


11.28.2015 vs. Nets

Running baby hook shot over Brook Lopez
One second left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 25,349

With Kyrie Irving out while recovering from knee surgery, there
was no question whose hands the ball would be in for the final possession of this surprisingly
competitive game against a Nets team that would go on to win only 21 games that
season.

“We fought them tooth and nail and it was a game we should have won,” Jarrett
Jack told ESPN. “It was a tie ballgame and [James] went to this rocking, Magic Johnson-like
hook shot and won the game for them. It was cool for them, it was a great shot for
him.”

Jack, who was on the far side of the lane to cut off the pass to the corner as
James floated up the game-winner, said the Nets actually defended the four-time MVP well on the
play, but he just came up with a better shot.

“He’s a load regardless, but when he gets
into the paint, he’s like really, really difficult to deal with,” Jack said. “I thought we forced
him into a good shot but obviously (laughs), he made it so it was something that he probably had
practiced before, a shot that he was comfortable with and he was able to knock it down.”


ESPN


06.19.2016
Posts triple-double in Game 7 vs. Warriors to end Cleveland’s 52-year
title drought


02.06.2017 at Wizards

Falling out-of-bounds 3-pointer over Bradley Beal
0.3 seconds left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 28,052

Even James acknowledges that this shot — which was so instantly
iconic that the NBA immediately started using it in an ad campaign — wouldn’t have happened if not
for his own compounded mistakes seconds earlier.

“The banked 3 wouldn’t have happened if
I would have made the layup that I traveled on,” he said. “I got all the way to the lane, I made the
right move against John Wall and my feet just got caught up. And because I traveled is why I missed
it, because it threw me out of my rhythm.”

Thankfully for NBA fans, James did miss that
layup, because it gave him a chance to put up a shot that looked a lot like pure luck, but was in
fact the work of extensive practice.

“We had worked on that play weekly. All the time,”
James said. “Kevin always being the trigger man, because of his ability to throw that outlet pass
full court and I’m always working on different angles and different shots in practices. The most
difficult shots you can take. And that was the best way for me to get that ball up there was for me
to turn and go glass. So, I was just hoping I didn’t step on the sideline because I was right there
and I was hoping I didn’t step on the sideline and I was hoping I didn’t tiptoe the 3-point line and
his pass led me right where I needed to go.”


ESPN


11.03.2017 at Wizards

Post-up fadeaway jumper over John Wall
52 seconds left in fourth quarter
Career point total: 29,048

James had scored 56 points to set the Cavs’ record for a single
game in only his third season in the league. He topped that effort by a single point on this night,
scoring his final field goal with less than a minute left, then adding the ensuing free throw to
match Kyrie Irving’s team record of 57 points. The final basket came on a post-up in the lane, the
kind of play James didn’t make often early in his career.

“Well, I mean, it’s just the
evolution of my game,” he said. “You go from seeing me getting a dunk over Damon Jones in transition
to me going all the way to my 15th season and making a turnaround fadeaway in the post, that’s just
the whole transformation of my game. How I improved over the course of my career. So, there’s never
been a ceiling too high or I’ve never put a ceiling on what I can accomplish.”


ESPN


01.23.2018
30,000
Becomes seventh player in NBA history to score 30,000 points


07.01.2018
Announces in news release that he is signing with the Los Angeles Lakers


10.18.2018 at Blazers

Steal and breakaway slam dunk
9:22 left in first quarter
Career point total: 31,040

James made his Lakers debut on the road, like he had 15 years earlier when making his NBA debut for the Cavaliers. And for his first points as a Laker, he turned back the clock to 2003 with a throwdown slam that was eerily reminiscent to one from his very first game. He followed it up with a nearly identical slam less than 20 seconds later.

“I was right there, first row,” said Lonzo Ball, who came off the bench in what was his NBA debut. “[Two] of the best two plays I’ve ever seen.”


ESPN


03.06.2019
Passes Michael Jordan for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list


01.25.2020 at 76ers

Driving layup over Shake Milton
7:23 left in third quarter
Career point total: 33,644

James had been a Laker for only a year and a half when he made history by surpassing arguably the greatest Laker ever for third place on the career scoring list, doing so in Kobe Bryant’s birthplace of Philadelphia.

James inscribed his sneakers with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” in gold marker before the game, showing respect for the former Lakers great.

“It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from,” James said after the game. “The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend [in 2002]. It’s surreal.”

What made the moment more surreal is what happened a day later. Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in California. The last tweet he’d ever sent came hours earlier when he’d congratulated James on his accomplishment: “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644”


ESPN


02.06.2020 at Rockets

Breakaway reverse windmill dunk
8:35 left in third quarter
Career point total: 33,746

Less than two weeks after Bryant’s death, James paid an unintended tribute to the late Lakers legend with a breakaway dunk in the third quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets.

The slam by James, a double-clutch reverse off an outlet pass from Avery Bradley, appeared to be a carbon copy of a dunk Bryant threw down on Nov. 18, 2001, against the Sacramento Kings — from the approach to the launching spot to the side of the court at Staples Center being the same.

“Ever see the movie ‘The 6th Man’?” James asked two nights later. “Kobe came down, put himself in my body and gave me that dunk on that break.”

James said that although he saw Bryant complete that dunk countless times during his 20-year career, he was not planning to mimic it going into the Houston game.

“I didn’t really predetermine that either until I jumped,” James said. “I just jumped and kind of figured it out, and then … it’s crazy how it’s the same exact dunk, the same exact hoop that Kobe did [it on] — what, 19 years ago or something like that? That was nice.”


ESPN


10.11.2020
Wins his fourth NBA championship, leading the Lakers to a title in the bubble in Orlando


02.18.2021
35,000
Becomes third player in NBA history to score at least 35,000 points


03.19.2022 at Wizards

Uncontested layup off pass from Stanley Johnson
5:21 left in second quarter
Career point total: 36,947

It was only fitting that James passed Karl Malone as the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer doing what The Mailman did thousands of times — cutting to the basket, receiving a pass and scoring on an uncontested driving layup.

“Just to be part of this league the many years I’ve been a part of it and being linked to some of the greatest who’ve ever played this game and guys I’ve ever watched or studied or read about or aspired to be like … I’m just always lost for words for it,” James said. “It’s an honor for myself, for my hometown, for my family and friends to be able to live these moments throughout this journey. And that’s exactly who I do it for.”

While James said that even after passing Malone he wasn’t thinking about catching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s top spot, his longtime friend and then-Lakers teammate Carmelo Anthony certainly was.

“When I was younger, I used to think, ‘Ain’t nobody catching Karl Malone. Nobody catching Kareem.’ … Now to have the chance to be the No. 1 all-time scorer in the history of the NBA, somebody who been doing it for 19 seasons at an all-time high, and somebody who just embraced the moment. He’s been doing that his whole career.”


ESPN


02.07.2023 vs. Thunder

14-foot fadeaway jumper over Kenrich Williams
10.9 seconds left in third quarter
Career point total: 38,388

James, who averaged 28.9 points during the 2022-23 season, entered the night needing 36 to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. With a star-studded crowd, including Abdul-Jabbar himself, on hand in Los Angeles, James made it a mission to get those points that night.

And with a 14-foot jumper late in the third quarter, James had officially scored more points in the regular season than any other player in NBA history.

“The scoring record was never, ever even thought of in my head because I’ve always been a pass-first guy,” James told ESPN earlier that year, with the record fast approaching.

The game was stopped for about 10 minutes while James hugged his family, including his wife, mother and three children, and participated in a brief ceremony with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Abdul-Jabbar, who watched the game from a baseline seat near the Lakers bench.

“A lot of people wanted me to go to the skyhook to break the record or one of the signature dunks,” James said with a grin. “But the fadeaway is a signature play as well.”


ESPN

40,000

03.xx.2024 at TK Opponent

With a TKTKTK (fill in details of basket/free throw), James becomes the first player in NBA history to eclipse 40,000 regular-season points. When you add in his 8,023 points in the playoffs (also the most ever), he’s approaching a combined 50,000 points for his record-setting NBA career.

Illustration by Flore Maquin
IAN BEGLEY, CHRIS FORSBERG, BAXTER
HOLMES, BOBBY MARKS, DAVE McMENAMIN, ADAM REISINGER, BRIAN WINDHORST AND MICHAEL C. WRIGHT contributed to
this report



This story originally appeared on ESPN

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