April 5, 1984: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers breaks Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA career scoring record with his 31,420th point in a 129-115 win over the Utah Jazz at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Kareem got the record by sinking—what else—a skyhook. He would end up with 38,387 points in his 20-year pro career, six of them with Milwaukee and the final 14 in L.A. Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 at the age of 42.
Before he adopted his Muslim name in 1971 following his first NBA title with the Bucks, he was known as Lew Alcindor. Even before he graduated from Power Memorial High School in New York City in 1965, we knew about Lew Alcindor. I first learned about him as a young Sports Illustrated subscriber. When Alcindor committed to John Wooden and UCLA, it was a big deal. He led the Bruins to three straight national championships and was MVP of the NCAA Tournament each time.
Four other players have since passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list but haven’t caught Kareem: LeBron James, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. James will reach Abdul-Jabbar sometime next season if he keeps playing, and we have no reason to think he won’t (he’s 37 years old). James now has 37,062 career points, 1,325 behind Kareem. Based on his current scoring average, James is 44 games away.
Often we hear talk of Jordan vs. LeBron as the greatest NBA player of all time. Here’s the case for Kareem. He was a six-time MVP. Still a record. He a 19-time NBA All-Star. Still a record. He made 15,837 field goals. Still a record. And he won 1,074 NBA games. Still a record.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)